Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Happy State

A selection from a letter by Henry Venn, Church of England minister, to his son, Rev. John Venn. He stated his satisfaction with Christ as Lord and Saviour and his contentment with a life of preaching the whole counsel of God. The letter was written January 1, 1796.

I have to tell you—and would, if it were with my last breath—that I can wish for nothing more than I now find Christ is to me. And though I discover, more than ever, most lamentable defects in my preaching, and cannot place the smallest confidence in the multitudes to whom God has been pleased to make His Word a blessing by my mouth and pen, yet I am absolutely certain that I have preached the very doctrine that Christ and His Apostles did. The whole Word of God is equally acceptable to me—not less those parts which are the fortress of Arminians, Perfectionists, and Antinomians, than the others; so that I am, and have been for thirty-five years, in the happy state of not being tempted to wrest any Scripture, or pervert it, in order to make it favour my own tenets.

Letters of Henry Venn, by John Venn, first published in 1835, republished by the Banner of Truth, 1993, pp. 531-32.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Country Beyond the Grave

A selection from a letter by Thomas Chalmers to a close friend, Jane Morton. Mrs. Morton’s daughter, Catherine, had recently died and Chalmers wrote to extend his sympathy and offer a word of comfort. He contemplated the day of his own death and charged Jane to join him in proper preparation for meeting the Lord. The letter was written May 4, 1845.

I am now more than half way from sixty to seventy; and certain it is, that though free of any specific complaint, there has been a general decay of strength during the last year, which tells me that I should forthwith set my house in order, and be in readiness for the coming of the Lord.

But this readiness is a duty which lies upon all of every age and condition; and may the death over which we have been called to mourn bring the lesson forcibly home to us. May the event be sanctified and blessed to all your family. Though in itself not joyous but grievous, may it yield to you and yours the peaceable fruits of righteousness. Let us stand, my dear Jane, more disengaged than ever from a world that will soon pass away; and with the feeling that we are strangers and pilgrims here, let our doings plainly declare that we seek a country beyond the grave—that we are looking forward to a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.

Letters of Thomas Chalmers, edited by William Hanna, first published 1853, reprinted by The Banner of Truth, 2007, p. 248.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How Is It With Your Soul?

A selection from a letter by Augusta Toplady to a friend, inquiring about the state of her soul. The preacher who has brought encouragement to us all with his wonderful hymns also encouraged many with his letters. He once said, “Letters are but conversation committed to paper.” Here he has, as it were, a conversation with a friend about her relationship with the Lord. The letter was written November 20, 1772.

Above all, Madam, how is it with your soul? What are your views of God and Christ and heaven? Lively, I trust, and full of glory. Yet if our views are dim and languid, still He abideth faithful, and cannot deny himself. Not upon our frames, but upon the adorable Giver of them, is all our safety built. If we cannot follow him in the light, God help us to follow him in the dark; and if we cannot follow him so, to fall down at his feet, and sink into nothing, under the feelings of our own vileness. They who are enabled thus to fall, shall be raised in due time. I know not why, but I could not forbear writing to you. May the Spirit of the living God write his consolations on your heart, and cause your triumphs in Christ to abound more and more.

The Works of Augustus Toplady, Bookshelf Publications, reprint from the 1794 edition, pp. 834-35.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Public Prayer a Holy Work

A selection from a letter by John Elias to his son about praying in public. The younger Elias requested spiritual counsel from his father for he had been asked to lead in public prayer. His father cautioned him to be watchful and exemplary. He believed that leading in prayer in the assembly of the Lord’s people a task not to be entered into lightly. The letter was written October 18, 1821.

Moreover, consider well carefully what is your own motive in such a great undertaking, especially when you feel some desires and propensity for it. Be very careful that you have no end in view for such a holy work, but to glorify the Lord. Besides, be assured that if you engage in such a public part of the service of God, it will be necessary for you to be more watchful and circumspect in all your conduct and conversation, such as becometh the Gospel of Christ; the more public we may be engaged in his service, the greater will be the dishonor we shall bring upon his cause if we should be inconsistent. If any one takes the place and work of an elder, he should have the spirit and conduct of such a person.

John Elias: Life, Letters and Essays, by Edward Morgan, first published in 1844, published by the Banner of Truth in 1973, pp. 208-09.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Tremble Yet Rejoice

A portion of a letter by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, written to his parents after getting settled in school at Newmarket. He hadn’t been long converted and was joyous of knowing Christ but struggled spiritually because he didn’t want to bring disgrace on his Saviour. He was not yet 16 years old when he wrote this letter, January 30, 1850.

How sweet is prayer! I would be always engaged in it. How beautiful is the Bible! I never loved it so before; it seems to me as necessary food. I feel that I have not one particle of spiritual life in me but what the Spirit placed there. I feel that I cannot live if He depart; I tremble and fear lest I should grieve Him. I dread lest sloth or pride should overcome me, and I should dishonour the gospel by neglect of prayer, or the Scriptures, or by sinning against God. Truly, that will be a happy place where we shall get rid of sin and this depraved corrupt nature. When I look at the horrible pit and the hole from which I have been digged, I tremble lest I should fall into it, and yet rejoice that I am on the King’s highway.

The Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, collected and collated by his son, Charles Spurgeon, first published in 1923, p. 13, now available electronically by Logos Research Systems, Inc.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wounded and Healed

A letter from George Whitefield to an acquaintance in Philadelphia who was an overseer of a Society of “negro women and children.” Whitefield had a great interest in the slaves and often preached the gospel to them. Arnold Dallimore shows in a chapter of his two-volume work on the life of Whitefield entitled, “Whitefield and the American Negro,” how he loved the slaves and how they loved him. Many of them responded to the gospel message as preached by Whitefield. Dallimore even argues that Negro Spirituals originated from the slaves that found Christ as Savior and Lord through Whitefield’s preaching.

May 2, 1740

Dear R______,

Let nothing said to you in my absence affect you. God has lately delivered you out of one snare; take heed how you fall into another. If you watch unto prayer, who knows but God may bless your endeavours amongst the poor negro women and children? I could not wish you more happily situated.—My love to all the society.—Exhort them not to rest in good desires. Shew them, O shew them the necessity of being deeply wounded, before they can be capable of healing by Jesus Christ. Bid them to beware of a light behaviour, and light company. Both do grieve the blessed Spirit of God. Take heed, take heed of those accursed snares. I could say more, but time will not permit. My love to the Negro Peggy, and all her black sisters. Bid them to pray for me. May the blood of Jesus wash away all the pollutions of their sin-sick souls! What if they were put into a society by themselves, and you, or some white woman, met with them? The good Lord direct and bless you in all things.—This is the hearty prayer of

Your sincere friend and servant in Christ,

Letters of George Whitefield: For the Period 1734-1742, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, reprinted from The Works of George Whitefield, 1771, pp. 476-77.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


A portion of a letter by John Calvin to his fellow reformer, Melanchthon. The letter reveals Calvin’s high regard and love for his friend, but he wrote to rebuke him for giving up ground that had been gained in the Reformation. Calvin addressed Melanchthon’s weakness in character in the desire to maintain a good reputation above adherence to the truth. The letter was written June 18, 1559.

Although I am fully persuaded that the fear of death never compelled you in the very least to swerve from the right path, yet I am apprehensive that it is just possible, that another species of fear may have proved too much for your courage. For I know how much you are horrified at the charge of rude severity. But we must remember, that reputation must not be accounted by the servants of Christ as of more value than life. We are no better than Paul was, who held fearlessly on his way through ‘evil and good report’ [2 Cor. 6:8]. It is indeed a hard and disagreeable thing to be reckoned turbulent and inflexible,—men who would rather see the whole world in ruin, than condescend to any measure of moderation. But your ears should have been deaf to such talk long ago. I have not so bad an opinion of you, nor will I do you the injustice, to suppose that you resemble the ambitious, and hang upon the popular breath. Yet I have no doubt but that you are occasionally weakened by those goadings…

You know why I am so vehement. I had rather die with you a hundred times, than see you survive the doctrines surrendered by you…

Adieu, most illustrious sir, and ever worthy of my hearty regard. May the Lord continue to guide you by his Spirit, and sustain you by his might; may his protection guard you. Amen.

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. 5, pp. 273-74.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Patience of Suffering and the Patience of Waiting

A portion of a letter by the Anglican minister, Thomas Scott, to his Baptist friend, pastor John Ryland. The two had a cordial relation together. Rev. Scott followed with great interest the missionary labors of the Baptists, led by William Carey, which he mentions here. The missionary team sent out by the Baptist of England had not long been in India when Rev. Scott wrote this letter to Ryland. The letter was written December 23, 1794.

I rejoice to hear of the prospect that opens before your missionaries in Asia; yet, knowing something of human nature, I cannot but believe that it will rise violently against their message, when the Hindoos and others, generally understand the nature and tendency of it, and the humbling mortifying things it implies. Did I therefore correspond with the missionaries, I exhort them to pray without ceasing, not only for the patience of suffering, but also for the patience of waiting; in my idea, the most essential requisite for a modern missionary. I have, however, no doubt that the Lord will eventually bless the design; and I have the satisfaction to say, that even some of my acquaintance, who are not very favourable to dissenters, highly applaud it.

The Life, Letters, and Papers of the Late Rev. Thomas Scott D.D., to which is added The Force of Truth, by Rev. John Scott, New Haven Publishers, 1827, p. 373.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

In the Midst of Troubles and Difficulties

From the pen of Jonathan Edwards to the Scottish pastor, Thomas Gillespie, after his removal as pastor from his church in Northampton. He explained to his friend the causes of his dismissal and then expressed thanks for the prayers of his Scottish brethren. The letter was written from Stockbridge, the place of his new ministry, July 1, 1751.

I have much to teach me to behave as a pilgrim and stranger on the earth. But in the midst of troubles and difficulties, I receive many mercies. Particularly I have great reason, with abundant thankfulness, to take notice of the great kindness of friends in Scotland. Blessed be God who never forsakes those that trust in him, and never wants instruments for the conveyance of his goodness and liberality to those who suffer in his cause…

Remember me, dear Sir, at the throne of grace, with regard to all my trials, and with regard to my new circumstances, and the important service I have undertaken in this place…

Jonathan Edwards: Letters and Personal Writings, edited by George S. Claghorn, vol. 16 in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale University Press, 1998, p. 387.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tell Him All Your Sorrows

A selection from a letter by Robert Murray M’Cheyne to a friend that was gravely ill. He wrote to lift her spirits by directing her to set her heart upon the Lord. The letter was written August 16, 1840.

If at any time unbelief steals over your heart—if you lose sight of Jesus, our Passover sacrificed for us—if you forget the hand of the all-tender gracious Father of Jesus and of your soul—you will be crying out, All these things are against me. But ah! how soon you will find that everything in your history, except sin, has been for you. Every wave of trouble has been wafting you to the sunny shores of a sinless eternity. Only believe. Give unlimited credit to our God…

Tell Him all your sorrows, all your doubts and anxieties. He has a willing ear. Oh, what a friend is Jesus, the sinner’s friend! What an open ear He has for all the wants, doubts, difficulties of His people! He has an especial care for His sick, weakly, and dying disciples…

Keep your eye upon Jesus and the unsearchable riches that are in Him; and may the gentle Comforter fill your soul, and give you a sweet foretaste of the glory that is to follow. May He leave His deep eternal impress upon your soul, not healing you and going away, but abiding within you, keeping the image of Christ in your heart, ever fresh and full,—Christ in you the hope of glory. The Comforter is able to fill you with calmness in the stormiest hour. May He fill your whole soul, and transform you into a child of light. Good-bye till we meet, if it be the Lord’s will. If not in this world, at least before the throne, casting our crowns at His feet.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne: Memoir and Remains, Andrew A. Bonar, first published in 1884, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 1966, pp. 285-87.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Prayer and a Hymn

A selection from a letter by Mary Jones, wife of the Rev. Charles Colcock Jones, to her granddaughter, Mary. She sent a prayer that she might say before a meal and a hymn for her to memorize. The letter was written March 30, 1864.

I am very much pleased to hear that you go to Sunday school and love your teacher. You must obey all she tells you, and always say your lessons well… The other day we went to Flemington, and Willie and Jimmie both repeated a beautiful hymn they had just learned, and did not miss a word of it—the hymn your mother and Uncle Charles and Uncle Joe used to say when they were small; so that Grandmama remembered it, and now writes it from memory for you and Brother to learn to say to me when I come up. Cousin Marion Glen, one of my dear friends, has been a week with me, and her niece Miss Laleah Dunwody, and she said a sweet little grace for Little Sister to learn; and I write it down here for you to say when there is no one to ask a blessing:

Lord, bless this food which now I take
To do me good, for Jesus’ sake

And this is the hymn:

My Heavenly Father, all I see
Around me and above
Sends forth a hymn of praise to Thee
And speaks Thy boundless love.

The clear blue sky is full of Thee,
The woods so dark and lone.
The soft south wind, the sounding sea
Worship the Holy One.

The humming of the insect throng,
The prattling, sparkling rill,
The birds with their melodious song
Repeat Thy praises still.

And Thou dost hear them every one;
Thou also hearest me.
I know that I am not alone
When I but think of Thee

The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, edited by Robert Manson Myers, Yale University Press, 1972, pp. 1155-56. Iain Murray makes reference to this book of letters in a chapter on the Jones’s in his recent book, Heroes (published by The Banner of Truth Trust).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Design of the Gospel

A selection from a letter by John Newton to Thomas Scott. Mr. Scott was a neighbor to Newton. He was an Anglican minister in a nearby parish but he didn’t know the Lord. It was through his friendship with Newton that he came to understand the gospel and was converted. After his conversion Scott wrote A Commentary on the Whole Bible that went through many editions, being popular both in England and America. He wrote his spiritual biography in a book first published in 1779, published now by The Banner of Truth Trust, The Force of Truth. This letter was written August 11, 1775, during Newton’s witnessing stage to Scott.

The gospel, my dear sir, is a salvation appointed for those who are ready to perish, and is not designed to put them in a way to save themselves by their own works. It speaks to us as condemned already, and calls upon us to believe in a crucified Saviour, that we may receive redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of our sins. And the Spirit of God, by the gospel, first convinces us of unbelief, sin, and misery; and then by revealing the things of Jesus to our minds, enables us, as helpless sinners, to come to Christ, to receive him, to behold him, or in other words, to believe in him; and expect pardon, life, and grace from him; renouncing every hope and aim in which we once rested, ‘and accounting all things loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ.’

Letters of John Newton: with Biographical Sketches and Notes, by Josiah Bull, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, p. 256.