Monday, June 29, 2009

Different Shades of Calvinism

A portion of a letter by Andrew Fuller to his wife. He was in the north of England, on his way to Scotland, speaking about and raising money for the mission work of William Carey in India. He wrote to her from York of a doctrinal conversation about Calvinism that he had with a Mr. Richardson and a Mr. Overton. The letter was written August 31, 1802.

R. There are different shades of Calvinism, I suppose, amongst you?

F. Yes; there are three by which we commonly describe; namely, the high, the moderate, and the strict Calvinists. The first are, if I may so speak, more Calvinistic than Calvin himself; in other words, bordering on Antinomianism.

R. Have you many of these?

F. Too many.

O. Do they not reckon you a legal preacher?

F. Yes; at this very time I am represented, throughout the religious circles of London, as an Arminian.

R. On what ground?

F. What I have written in a note in the Gospel its own Witness.

R. I remember that note. We all approve of it, and think it agrees with the doctrine held by our Church. But what do you call a moderate Calvinist?

F. One that is a half Arminian, or, as they are called with us, Baxterians.

R. And what [is] a strict Calvinist?

F. One that really holds the system of Calvin. I do not believe everything that Calvin taught, nor anything because he taught it; but I reckon strict Calvinism to be my own system.

The Works of Andrew Fuller, edited by Andrew Gunton Fuller, first published in 1841, republished by The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007, p. lxvii.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

What We Need Most

A selection from a letter by Rev. J. H. Thornwell, to R. J. Breckinridge about the low state of spiritual life in the Presbyterian denomination to which they belonged, and the solution to what ailed her. The letter was written January 17, 1842.

I am satisfied that what of all things we need most, is a revival of pure religion in all our churches. The cause of Missions lags, and all our interests decay, because the Spirit of Life, to a mournful extent, is withdrawn from our congregations. The Church has almost dwindled down into a secular corporation; and the principles of this world, a mere carnal policy, which we have nick-named prudence, presides in our councils. Until she becomes a spiritual body, and aims at spiritual ends by appointed means, and makes faith in God the impulsive cause of her efforts, our Zion can never arise and shine, and become a joy and a praise in the whole earth. It is my fervent prayer that God would bless us, and that right early.

The Life and Letters of James Henley Thornwell, first published in 1875, republished by the Banner of Truth, 1974, p. 228.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Influence From On High In Preaching

A selection from a letter by J. W. Alexander to his friend, John Hall. These two men carried on personal correspondence for 40 years (1819-1859). Alexander wrote Hall 800 letters which were published after his death. In this letter, written when Alexander was pastor of New York City’s Duane Street Presbyterian Church, which later moved and was known as the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, he shared his views of what kind of preaching was needed. The letter was written December 31, 1846.

What we seem to want here, is not polish or literature in sermons, but something earnest, real, and affectionate; something to make the people hear as if some truth of transcendent present interest was set forth. Never was I more convinced that in order to this there is nothing so necessary as a direct and specific influence from on High. Rhetorical interest is impotent. There was great interest under the Finneyitish revivals, but it was not evangelical, and I am working among its bitter fruits every day. There is a wonderful vitality and permanency in experience which is built on the preaching of Christ. The style of sermons in the Scottish Free Church seems to be the thing. When the new-divinity converts grow cold, they are colder than ice, nothing but a biting censoriousness. I had no idea, even in Jersey [when professor at Princeton], of the modifications wrought in the religion of this city, by the overwrought revivalism of past years. Some, even of those who were once fiery, have degenerated into pulpit-metaphysicians, subtle and elegant.

The Life of J. W. Alexander: Forty Years of Familiar Letters, volume 2, 1844-1859, by John Hall, first published in 1860, republished by Audubon Press, 2008, p. 62.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cause to Bless and Adore God

A portion of a letter by Henry Venn, Church of England minister, to a friend in the ministry, Rev. James Stillingfleet. Several regular attendees had moved away and numbers were low at Lord’s Day meetings, but he continued to preach faithfully and cry out to God for blessing. Great blessing had attended his ministry in a former church in Yorkshire, but the church he was now minister of in Huntingdonshire, was not as responsive to the Word. The letter was written October 9, 1782.

My small parish is very much altered for the worse, within these few years. Three farmers, in whose families there were some hopeful hearers, are removed; and a fourth is upon the point of removing. They have been succeeded by men of a very profane spirit: scarcely will they ever come to church. To this add the departure of a few, in the faith of Christ, I trust. I preach therefore, now, to a handful of people indeed! However, I have cause to bless and adore God, that I can and do cry unto Him, to awake, and glorify His word; and wait in hope He will, before it is long, come down and work mightily, for His own Name’s sake.

Letters of Henry Venn, by John Venn, first published in 1835, republished by the Banner of Truth, 1993, p. 351.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Death to Me

A portion of a letter from James Renwick, a Covenanter known as the last Scottish martyr. He opposed the imposition of Episcopacy upon the Presbyterians and fought for Scottish liberty. This was his last letter, written on the day of his execution, February 17, 1688. It was written to his friend, Sir Robert Hamilton.

This being my last day upon earth, I thought it my duty to send you this my last salutation. The Lord hath been wonderfully gracious to me since I came to prison, He hath assured me of His salvation, helped me to give a testimony for Him, and own before His enemies all that I have taught, and strengthened me to resist and repel many temptations and assaults, O praise to His name…

But I must break off. I go to your God and my God. DEATH TO ME IS AS A BED TO THE WEARY. Now, be not anxious; the Lord will maintain His cause, and own His people. He will show His glory yet in Scotland…

The Life and Letters of James Renwick: The Last Scottish Martyr, by Rev. W. H. Carslaw, published by Solid Ground Christian Books, taken from the 1893 edition, pp. 264-65.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Time is Short

A selection from a letter by Thomas Chalmers to an unconverted friend, a professor of mathematics, whom he often exhorted to become a Christian. He once told him, “I have long had the utmost regard for you. There is not a human being whom, without the circle of my relationship, I like nearly so well.” This part of the letter was written September 13, 1846, just after he had returned from conducting religious services for the elderly at a hospital.

I have returned from my household sermon to the old people. The text was, “The time is short;” but, in addition to this argument, I endeavoured to press home the growing callousness of the heart to the invitations of the Gospel; yet, nevertheless, the perfect freeness of that Gospel, the benefits and immunities of which are theirs if they will; and on their acceptance of these, they will receive a new heart here, and the joys of an unfading inheritance hereafter.

It is my earnest prayer that God may thus dispose and enable you to receive that truth which is to be found in His Word, and which, if gifted by the Spirit to understand it, you will find to be the power and wisdom of God unto salvation.

Letters of Thomas Chalmers, edited by William Hanna, first published 1853, reprinted by The Banner of Truth, 2007, p. 365.

Friday, June 12, 2009

We Do Not Preach for Money

A selection from a letter by Rev. Daniel Baker to his close friend, Rev. John S. Galloway, pastor in Springfield, Ohio, about an invitation to leave his pastorate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for a ministry in Texas. He mentions that he was having some difficulties in his present situation because his salary was not paid promptly. Baker did shortly thereafter move to Texas and had a very fruitful ministry there. The letter was written July 15, 1839.

In an interview with Dr. John Breckinridge, some time since, he expressed a desire that I should go to Texas. He was pleased to say he thought I could do much good there; that I might organize a hundred churches, &c. What do you think of the scheme? My brother, I am in many respects pleasantly situated here, but my field of usefulness is not as large as I could wish it, and I am kept in a very unpleasant state on account of my salary not being promptly paid. We do not preach for money, and yet without it we cannot support our families, nor pay our debts.

Making Many Glad: The Life and Labours of Daniel Baker, by William M. Baker, first published in 1858, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 2000, pp. 218-19.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pray for Two Things

A selection from a letter by John Calvin to the church in the city of Angers, located in the duchy, Anjou, in western France. Calvin often wrote letters of counsel and encouragement to churches with which he was acquainted. This church had been sorely persecuted for the gospel of Christ. The letter was written from Geneva on April 19, 1556.

We can only groan in prayer to God that he would be graciously pleased to preserve you, by the hand of that good and faithful Shepherd to whose keeping he has entrusted you... If, after having given you his support for some time, it should please him to give loose to your enemies, you have to pray him for two things: that you be not tempted beyond your power, and that in the mean time he should fortify you with such courage that you be not so dismayed by whatever may happen to you as to fall away from him. We ought to be all thoroughly convinced that our life is dear and precious to him, and that he will be our protector in all assaults. But this is not to exempt us from persecutions, by which it is his will to put to the proof, the patience of all his children.

John Calvin: Tracts and Letters, edited by Jules Bonnet and translated by David Constable, first published by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1858, republished by The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009, vol. 6, p. 262.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Preaching to the Soldiers on Sunday

A selection from a letter by Robert L. Dabney to his mother about his new job. General Thomas J. Jackson, better known as “Stonewall,” had appointed Dr. Dabney as his adjutant with the promise that he could preach to the troops on Sundays. Colonel Grigsby, of the Stonewall Brigade, a somewhat profane officer, paid a high compliment to Dabney when he said, “Our parson is not afraid of Yankee bullets, and I tell you he preaches like hell.” Dabney’s letter, written May 6, 1862, gave a brief description of his duties in the Confederate army.

The adjutant is pretty much the General’s secretary; and as he must be near the General’s person, he necessarily shares his comforts. I always eat at the same table, and most frequently sleep in the same military pallet. In general, I may say that he treats me with the greatest kindness and consideration; and while he is exact and exacting in an official point of view to all under him, personally he is almost embarrassingly kind. The bargain is that I shall do his army work in the week, and be at liberty to preach to the soldiers on Sundays.

The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, by Thomas Cary Johnson, first published in 1903, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, p. 264.

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Serious Warning

A portion of a letter by Ruth Bryan to an unconverted friend. Three letters in her book of letters (see below) appear to this young man who had been unwell. She was frank about the consequences of remaining in an unconverted state but told him she felt constrained to write him and tell him that Jesus is “the friend of sinners” (from the first letter). She asked to be excused for writing to him about this in the third letter, but told him, “My heart is in it. I long for your salvation.” The letter was written August 1, 1856.

I was truly surprised that you should take the trouble to answer my note, and since you have thus encouraged me, I must again venture a few lines upon the same all-important subject, namely, the salvation of your never-dying soul. It is all-important; and now is the time to consider it; for though you are young, your life is not insured; and you have already had a serious warning in that affliction, which might have opened the gate into an eternal world. Oh! had it been so--where would you now have been? and what would have been your eternal portion? Would you have been "present with the Lord," beholding the beauties of Jesus, and singing in the ever-new song the praises of the Lamb which was slain? Or would you have been banished from His presence, cast into outer darkness, to receive the wages of sin--that eternal death which never, never dies?

These questions may be unpleasing; but it certainly is worth while to ask them, and to answer them, because one of these two fixed states must before long be yours as well as mine. There is no medium state; with every soul of man it must be joy inconceivable--or woe unutterable. And whichever of these be our portion, it will be forever, and ever, and ever. There will be no fear of the happiness ending. There will be no hope of the suffering terminating or even abating; for in that darksome prison, never, never will be heard those precious words, "It is finished!" Sin will never be made an end of, and therefore the consequences of sin can never cease; but while eternal ages roll--it will be "wrath to come!" "Wrath to come!"…

May you by the Spirit be wounded under a sense of sin, then will you, with like earnestness, seek to be led to Jesus, the Savior; for you must die, and, oh, what will you do if you die without finding salvation?

The Marvelous Riches of Savoring Christ: Letters of Ruth Bryan, with a Preface by the Rev. A. Moody Stuart, Reformation Heritage Books, 2005, pp. 138-45.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


A selection from a letter to John A. Broadus by his friend, E. C. Dargan. Dargan edited Broadus’s classic Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, and was author of a two-volume work on The History of Preaching. His letter expressed appreciation for the influence Broadus had on many young scholars, himself included. The letter was written November 19, 1878.

Amid your difficulties and troubles, as I know you have many, it must ever be a source of comfort to you to know that you have helped many a man to be a Christian and a scholar. Your influence is deeply felt by all who ever came near enough to you to realize it’s worth—I see it in others, and I feel it in myself. May God bless you and spare you a long time to us yet.

Life and Letters of John Albert Broadus, by Archibald Thomas Robertson, 1901, reprint by Gano Books, p. 311.

Monday, June 1, 2009


A selection from a letter by Elizabeth Prentiss, hymn writer and author. She also encouraged many with her letters. Her brother once told her, “You excel anyone I know in the kind and gentle art of letter-writing.” This letter was written to a friend at a time when death had invaded her family. Her sister, Anna, had been taken in death and a niece was soon to be removed. The letter was written January 9, 1869.

One of the hard things about bereavement is the physical prostration and listlessness which make it next to impossible to pray, and quite impossible to feel the least interest in anything. We must bear this as a part of the pain, believing that it will not last forever, for nothing but God’s goodness does. How I wish you were near us, and that we could meet and talk and pray together over all that has saddened our lives, and made heaven such a blessed reality!

More Love to Thee: The Life and Letters of Elizabeth Prentiss, George Lewis Prentiss, reprinted by Solid Ground Christian Books, p. 263.