Friday, July 31, 2009

Pray For Me

A selection from a letter by John Newton to William Bull. He asked his friend to pray for him in his old age. He was soon to have his 76th birthday and desired to glorify the Lord in the days remaining to him. He wanted to practice what he had preached to others. The letter was written August 1, 1800 [he lived another seven years, dying December 21, 1807).

The almanack tells me that if I live till Monday next, I shall enter my seventy-sixth year. I believe you will pray for me on that day. My eyes, ears, and legs likewise admonish me that I grow older. My writing days seem almost over; I cannot well see to write; but I make an effort to send you one letter more, which may probably be the last you will receive.

I have requested your prayers; shall I tell you what to ask for? You need not pray for my sudden removal, for I have as little reason as most people to be weary of life; and, through mercy, I feel at present quite willing to live my appointed time. Nor need you pray for my long continuance here, for I see little except my profession and ministry worth living for another day. But pray that I may be enabled to leave the time and manner of my dismission entirely in the Lord’s hands; that if He sees fit to summon me suddenly, I may be willing to go without delay; and that if He is pleased to lay me aside, I may be as willing to retire and wait his time.

Pray likewise for me that no gross imprudence or misconduct may stain the latter part of my life, but that I may be enabled to exemplify in myself what I have labored to inculcate upon others from the pulpit. I have observed in some good men and good ministers improprieties in their latter days, which I have been willing to ascribe rather to the infirmities of old age than to a defect in real grace. I pray daily to be preserved from these, and I request your assistance. I have known good men in advanced life garrulous, peevish, dogmatic, self-important, with some symptoms of jealousy, and perhaps envy, towards those who are upon the increase while they feel themselves decreasing. Do, my friend, pray earnestly that it may not be so with me, but that I may retire, if laid aside, like a thankful guest from a plentiful table, and may rejoice to see others coming forward to serve the Lord (I hope better and more successfully) when I can serve him no longer…

Letters of John Newton: with Biographical Sketches and Notes, by Josiah Bull, first published in 1869, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 2007, pp. 313-314.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An Idol of Christ's Kisses

A selection from a letter by Samuel Rutherford, written from prison to John Stuart, in 1637. Mr. Rutherford expressed six burdens that he carried in his heart. The following is the last that he wrote.

Christ’s love hath pained me; for howbeit His presence hath shamed me, and drowned me in debt, yet He often goeth away when my love to Him is burning. He seemeth to look like a proud wooer, who will not look upon a poor match that is dying of love. I will not say He is lordly. But I know He is wise in hiding Himself from a child and a fool, who maketh an idol and a god of one of Christ’s kisses, which is idolatry. I fear that I adore His comforts more than Himself, and that I love the apples of life better than the tree of life.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford, With a Sketch of his Life and Biographical Notices of His Correspondents, by Andrew A. Bonar, first published in 1664, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 1984, p. 303.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Whether It Be To Die Or Live

A selection from a letter by John Calvin to the persecuted Protestant churches in France. A new king had ascended the throne in France, Francis II, and the persecution of evangelical believers had multiplied. Calvin charged them to be courageous and honor Christ, whether by life or by death. The letter was written from Geneva in November, 1559.

So then Satan, on the one hand, is contriving everything to trouble the poor brethren to make them swerve from the truth and turn aside from the path of salvation. With unbridled rage he vents against them all his spite.

While on the other hand, God mean while assists them, and though they suffer extreme anguish according to the weakness of the flesh, yet still do they persevere in the confession of his name. In that you see they are victorious.

Should then the cruelty of the adversaries, which in spite of all their efforts is vanquished, have more weight with you to deaden your hearts, than that power from on high, with which God aids his children, ought to have to increase in you the perseverance which you should maintain in his truth? You see the assistance of God which remains victorious and will you not repose your confidence in it? You see the faith which triumphs in the martyrs, who endure death, and shall it be the cause of annihilating yours?

Wherefore, my brethren, when the tyrants exhaust all their fury, learn to turn your eyes to contemplate the succor which God affords his followers; and seeing that they are not forsaken by him, take new comfort and cease not to war against the temptations of your flesh, till you have attained the full conviction that we are happy in belonging to Christ whether it be to die or to live.

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. 7, pp. 83-84.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Charm to Poverty

A portion of a letter by Rev. Daniel Baker, to his son in Austin, Texas. He spoke of the trials of ministers in Texas due to inadequate support but rejoiced that their opportunities for ministry were abundant. The letter was written November 18, 1850.

Paul, you know, describes Christ as one ‘who, though he was rich, for our sakes became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich.’ And how touchingly does our blessed Saviour allude to this very thing: ‘The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head.’ And John, referring to a certain occasion, says: ‘Every man went unto his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.’ Blessed Jesus! The poorest in the great crowd of his hearers had some house; but Jesus had none. So, when every man went unto his own house, Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Methinks this gives a charm to poverty; at least, it may well serve to reconcile ministers to ‘limited circumstances.’ You recollect my remark—‘We have no feathered nests in Texas, but we have fields of usefulness.’

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. 424-45.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Christian Navigation

A selection from a letter by the Welsh pastor, John Elias, to his son John, who had been struggling spiritually. His father wrote him about Satan’s devices and temptations. He encouraged him to look to Christ, the Captain of our faith, for help. The letter was written March 18, 1820.

It is not well for mariners to gaze in a dreadful storm, on the swelling billows, thinking that every wave they see will plunge them to the deep, and put an end to them. It is far better to be alive, as they are in such cases, and doing their duty with the helm and sails, and to lift up their hearts in prayer unto God, who governs the wind and the waves, and expect to arrive soon at the much-desired-for haven.

As to the warfare of the Christian, none are destroyed that look unto their Captain, depend on him, and follow him. And there is no shipwreck in the Christian navigation, when they sail according to the directions of the Pilot; he not only can, but actually does, in great kindness, govern and rule the sea.

You say that ‘in your fears, you do not love Christ, but rather despair;’ cry unto God then for help to love him better. Do not trouble your mind respecting the profession you have made of him, however poor, but rather pray that you may be faithful to him till death.

John Elias: Life, Letters and Essays, by Edward Morgan, first published in 1844, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 1973, p. 207.

Friday, July 17, 2009

O the Strength of Prayer!

A selection from a letter by the Puritan preacher, Joseph Alleine (1634-1668), to his congregation from prison. He was ejected from the Church of England for nonconformity in 1662 and was arrested and imprisoned because he continued to preach. While in prison he wrote his congregation numerous letters. He expresses thanks to his beloved people in this letter for their intercessions on his behalf. He had been sick but felt the strength of their prayers. No date is given for the letter.

You have wrestled with the Lord for me, you have wrestled me out of the very jaws of death itself. O the strength of prayer! Surely it is stronger than death. See that you even honour the power and prevalency of prayer. Oh be in love with prayer, and have high and venerable thoughts of it. What distresses, diseases, deaths, can stand before it? Surely I live by prayer. Prayer hath given a resurrection to this body of mine, when physicians and friends had given up their hopes.

Life and Letters of Joseph Alleine, by Rev. Richard Baxter, Theodosia Alleine, and others, with a new introduction by Joel R. Beeke and Herb Samworth, Reformation Heritage Books, reprinted in 2003, p. 227.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tears of Joy

A letter written by Ann Judson, wife of missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson. She wrote to Sarah Boardman, whose missionary husband had just died. Mr. Judson regarded George Boardman as “one of the brightest luminaries of Burma.” Mrs. Judson wrote to encourage her friend in the loss of her dear husband. The letter was written March 6, 1831.

While, therefore, your tears flow, let a due proportion be tears of joy. You take the bitter cup with both hands, and sit down to the repast. You will soon learn a secret, that there is sweetness at the bottom. You will find it the sweetest cup that you ever tasted in all your life. You will find heaven coming near to you; and familiarity with your husband’s voice will be a connecting link, drawing you almost with the sphere of celestial music.

The Three Mrs. Judsons, by Arabella W. Stuart, first published in 1851, reprinted by Particular Baptist Press, 1999, p. 188.

Monday, July 13, 2009


A selection from a letter by Rev. Charles Colcock Jones, to Rev. George Howe, informing him of his father’s death. The elder Mr. Jones knew that death was soon to come, and had great peace till the very end. His son recounted a conversation between his father and mother shortly before his death. The letter was written March 19, 1863, three days after the passing of his father.

My mother repeated some of the promises of the Saviour that He would be present with those who trust in Him, even when called to pass through the dark valley of the shadow of death. To which he responded: “In health we repeat these promises, but now they are realities.” My mother replied: “I feel assured the Saviour is present with you.” His answer was: “Yes. I am nothing but a poor sinner. I renounce myself and all self-justification, trusting only in the free and unmerited righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Mother then asked if he had any word for his sons. He replied: “Tell them both to lead the lives of godly men in Christ Jesus, in uprightness and integrity.”

The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, edited by Robert Manson Myers, Yale University Press, 1972, p. 1041. Iain Murray makes reference to this book of letters in a chapter on the Charles and Marry Jones in his excellent book, Heroes (published by The Banner of Truth Trust).

Friday, July 10, 2009

Men Excusing Themselves With Their Own Inability

A selection from a letter by Jonathan Edwards to John Erskine in Scotland. Edwards is deploring the notion taught by some that man is not morally responsible to God. Edwards taught rightly, that though man lacks the self-determining power of will, he is fully accountable to God for his sin. He proffered no excuses to sinners for their rejection of Christ. The letter was written August 3, 1757.

The longer I live, and the more I have to do with the souls of men in the work of the ministry, the more I see of this [making excuses]. Notions of this sort are one of the main hindrances of the success of the preaching of the Word, and other means of grace, in the conversion of sinners. This especially appears when the minds of sinners are affected with some concern for their souls, and they are stirred up to seek their salvation. Nothing is more necessary for men in such circumstances than thorough conviction and humiliation, that their consciences should be properly convinced of their real guilt and sinfulness, in the sight of God, and their deserving of his wrath.

But who is there, that has had experience of the work of a minister, in dealing with souls in such circumstances that don’t find, that the thing that mainly prevents this, is men’s excusing themselves with their own inability? And the moral necessity of those things, wherein their exceeding guilt and sinfulness in the sight of God, most fundamentally and mainly consists: such as living from day to day without one spark of true love to the God of infinite glory, and fountain of all good, their having greater complacence in the little vile things of this world than in him, their living in a rejection of Christ, with all his glorious benefits, and having their hearts still as cold as a stone towards him; their living in such ingratitude for the infinite mercy of his laying down his life for sinners. They, it may be, think of some instances of lewd behavior, lying, dishonestly, intemperance, profaneness, etc. But the grand principles of iniquity, constantly abiding and reigning, from whence all proceeds are overlooked; conscience don’t condemn ‘em for these things because they can’t love God of themselves; they can’t believe of themselves, and the like. They rather lay the blame of these things, and their other reigning wicked dispositions of heart to God, and secretly charge him with all the blame…

Jonathan Edwards: Letters and Personal Writings, edited by George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale University Press, 1998, pp. 719-20.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Infidel's Error is in the Heart

A selection from a letter by James A. Haldane to Captain Patrick Gardner, a friend in his days as a sailor. Prior to his conversion, Haldane himself was in command of the ship, Melville Castle. In those days he undertook a careful study of the Bible and was convinced that it was God’s Word. He later became a preacher of the gospel and a successful author to the surprise of all who had known him. In this portion of the letter, he speaks of the strength of the evidences which confirm the Christian faith. The letter was written June 29, 1801.

The more I read [the Bible] the more worthy it appeared of God; and after examining the evidences with which Christianity is supported, I became fully persuaded of its truth. There is no man who considers the evidences with the smallest impartiality but must come to the same conviction. Even Rousseau admits the strength of the evidence, but he says he remains in suspense, because there are many doctrines which he thinks unworthy of God. In other words, he will not submit his pride of understanding to a book which himself allows is supported by the strongest evidence as coming from God. This suspense is now over [Rousseau died in 1778], and neither he nor any other man shall be able to complain they have been hardly dealt with. The Infidel, whether by profession or practice, shall be convinced they meet with no more than they deserve. The error lies in their heart, not in their understanding; they choose the darkness; they determine to live in sin, and they persuade themselves while here, being blinded by passion, they shall escape punishment.

The Lives of Robert and James Haldane, by Alexander Haldane, first published in 1852, reprinted by The Banner of Truth, 1990, pp. 71-72.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sowing on Ploughed Ground

A selection from a letter by Augusta Toplady to William Romaine, a winsome and effective preacher of the gospel, upon hearing that he had accepted his invitation to come to Broad Hembury in Devonshire, England, to preach. The letter was written September 11, 1773.

God’s Holy Spirit come with you, and speak by you, and bless you to this people. You will sow on ploughed ground, and cannot offend the generality of my hearers; preach free and finished salvation as strongly as you will. May you be enabled to reach their hearts.

The Works of Augustus Toplady, Bookshelf Publications, reprint from the 1794 edition, p. 848.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Attend to the Education of Your Children

A selection from a letter by John Adams, who had just been elected president of the recently formed United States of America, to his daughter Abigail “Nabby” Adams Smith, about a proper education for her three sons. He was as interested in his grandchildren’s education as he had been about his own children’s. The letter was written February 21, 1797, two weeks prior to his inauguration as the second president of the United States.

In your solitary hours, my dear daughter, you will have a delightful opportunity of attending to the education of your children, to give them a taste and attachment to study, and to books. A taste for science and literature, added to a turn for business, never can fail of success in life. Without learning, nothing very great can ever be accomplished in the way of business. But not only a thirst for knowledge should be excited, and a taste for letters be cultivated, but prudence, patience, justice, temperance, resolutions, modesty, and self-cultivation, should be recommended to them as early as possible. The command of their passions, the restraints of their appetites, reverence for superiors, especially parents, a veneration for religion, morals, and good conduct.

You will find it more for your happiness to spend your time with them in this manner, than to be engaged in fashionable amusements, and social entertainments, even with the best company.

Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children, Dorie McCullough Lawson, Doubleday, 2004, p. 26.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nobody Knows But Jesus

A selection from a letter by the beloved hymn writer, Francis Ridley Havergal, to a young correspondent who needed encouragement in the midst of a great trial. The letter was written in 1877.

I can most fully enter into your somewhat complicated trials. I will hand on to you what comforted me exceedingly a night or two ago, though not a text. It is the refrain of an old slave hymn, ‘Nobody knows but Jesus!’ Does it not draw one very near to feel that? Say that to yourself next time you feel troubled, and have no relief of telling it to a human ear. It is so sweet. Just a secret between one’s own sore heart and the dear Lord’s loving heart!

Another thought struck me for you as to the special trial you tell me of. ‘Consider Him, who endured such contradiction!’ [Hebrews 12:3]. There is a whole mine of cheer and help in that. And consider further—if it is a far keener trial to see—‘enduring’ it than if you only had it to bear. ‘Consider’ how God the Father for His great love wherewith He loved us, saw and endured all the contradiction of sinners to His dear Son, and let them go on contradicting and never interfered, and let Him endure it to the bitter end, all because He loved us, so He ‘spared not His own Son’ even in this.

Letters by the Late Frances Ridley Havergal, edited by her sister, Maria V. G. Havergal, first published in 1885, reprinted by Kessinger Publishing’s Legacy Reprints, p. 92.