Thursday, October 13, 2011

A True Calvinist

A selection from a letter by Rev. Henry Venn to a pastor friend, Rev. James Stillingfleet. Mr. Venn spoke of John Berridge preaching at his church. Berridge was the vicar of Everton and was a much beloved preacher of the gospel. Spurgeon wrote a chapter about him in a book entitled, Eccentric Preachers. Venn commented on Berridge's Calvinism. Would that there were more Calvinist like him! The letter was written November 22, 1771.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Berridge was here, and gave us a most excellent sermon. He is a blessed man—a true Calvinist; not hot in doctrine, nor wise above what is written, but practical and experimental.

Letters of Henry Venn, by John Venn, first published in 1835, republished by the Banner of Truth, 1993, p. 189 (photo of John Berridge).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No Inclination to Turn Back

A portion of a letter by the missionary to the Indians in Oklahoma, Isaac McCoy (1784-1846), to a critic, a Mr. Samuel Dedman of Pike County, Indiana, who opposed his plans to live among the Indians and give his life, if necessary, in reaching them with the gospel. The letter was written on January 12, 1820.

I assure you, my brother, that every opposing difficulty, the opposition of the association not expected, has only tended to increase my missionary ardour. May my merciful God forgive me if I be wrong, and set me right. I would rather be a missionary to the Indians, than fill the President's chair, or sit on the throne of Alexander, emperor of Russia. I would rather preach Jesus to the poor Indians in a bark camp, than address the thousands who assemble in Sansom Street meeting house, Philadelphia [the General Missionary Convention had been held there, May 7, 1817]. Something has turned my attention towards the Indians, and every feeling of my soul is enlisted in their cause, yet still I may be wrong. But I feel not the least inclination to turn back, but would drive on with the vehemence of Peter, the meekness of Moses, and the wisdom of Solomon.

Kansas Historical Quarterly, "Isaac McCoy and the Treaty of 1821," by Lela Barnes, vol. 5, no. 2, p. 128. Thanks to Gary Long of Particular Baptist Press for sending me a digitized copy of this letter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Good From Scripture for One's Own Soul

A portion of a letter from Andrew Fuller (1754-1815) to a young minister about preaching. Fuller wrote several letters to this person under the title, "Thoughts on Preaching." The emphasis in this paragraph is the need for searching the Scriptures for one's own benefit, not just to find sermons.

To understand the Scriptures in such a manner as profitably to expound them, it is necessary to be conversant with them in private; and to mix, not only faith, but the prayer of faith, with what we read. There is a great difference between reading the Scriptures as a student, in order to find something to say to the people, and reading them as a Christian, with a view to get good from them to one’s own soul. That which is gained in the latter of these ways is, beyond all comparison, of the greatest use, both to ourselves and others. That which we communicate will freeze upon our lips, unless we have first applied it to ourselves; or, to use the language of Scripture, "tasted, felt, and handled the word of life."

The Works of Andrew Fuller, "Thoughts on Preaching," volume 1, letter 1, p. 713.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Cannot Hate Them In Return

A selection from a letter by Augustus Toplady to John Ryland, Jr. Toplady addressed the conflict he had with those of "Wesley's party," that is, the Arminians. He was greatly despised for his defense of Calvinism but sought to love those who differed with him, though he himself could be very sharp in disputation. The letter was written April 30, 1773.

The envy, malice, and fury of Wesley's party, are inconceivable. But, as violently as they hate me, I dare not, I cannot hate them in return. I have not so learned Christ.—They have my prayers and my best wishes, for their present and eternal salvation, But their errors have my opposition also: and this is the irremissible sin, which those red-hot bigots know not how to forgive.

The Works of Augustus Toplady, volume 6, London, reprint, p. 173.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Soldiers Converted in a Foreign Land

A portion of a letter from missionary William Carey, to his sisters back home in England. He writes about the conversion, this time, not of the Indian people he was attempting to reach with the gospel, but European soldiers stationed there, most of whom were surely British. The letter was written from Calcutta, May 4, 1810.

There has, of late, been a great awakening among the European Soldiers in several Regiments now in India. Bro. Chamberlain has baptized near fifty, mostly belonging to one Regiment. There are thirteen now in Fort William, who are under hopeful impression, who constantly attend worship at our Chapel in Calcutta. One of them, who has been long under very strong convictions is a native of Flower near Daventry, and another from the neighborhood of Bedford. Thus the Lord takes these people from a Land of Gospel light, to a land of gross Idolatry, and there reveals his grace to them.

The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey, collected and edited by Terry G. Carter, Smyth & Helwys, 2000, p. 186.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

I Really Don't Like This Guy

A portion of a letter written by a forty-three-year old black man from Tennessee, to John MacArthur. This gentleman had been influenced by the Black Power movement and had turned away from Christianity. In listening to MacArthur preaching on the Grace to You radio broadcast, he was converted and began to live for Christ.

I bought into the teaching against a "white" Jesus, and the pro-Black teachings became my religion… When I first heard you on radio about nine years ago, I thought to myself, "I really don't like this guy and what he is saying." I was pretty sure you were white. Then one day I heard you preach on forgiveness of sins and love, and the veil was lifted from my eyes. Up until then, I had never truly heard the gospel preached, never truly understood the holiness of God. The Word of God began to have an incredible impact on me as I listened to your preaching daily. By God's grace, I've been living for Him, studying His Word, and listening to your broadcast for the last nine years.

John MacArthur: Servant of the Word and Flock, Iain H. Murray, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2011, p. 180.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Total Despair Unless

A portion of a letter by Francis Schaffer to a friend who had spent time with his family at L’Abri in Switzerland, a retreat center for Christian study and growth. Schaffer’s friend was struggling with depression. He himself experienced depression at times and knew by experience, not just in theory, the pain of ups and downs in mind and heart. His suggestion to her is to keep in mind the objective work of Christ on the cross. The letter was written January 4, 1971.

We all have our times of being strong and our times of being weak. The swings of the pendulum cover different ground for different ones of us, and the swings of the pendulum are of greater intensity for one of God’s children than another. But the swings are there for all of us—for weakness and unhappiness and also for sin. It is for this reason that any honest person must be totally in despair unless they understand the reality of the finished work of Christ upon the cross for us. If it was not for this, none of us could have any peace of mind either for this world or from the world to come.

Letter of Francis A. Schaeffer, edited with introductions by Lane T. Dennis, Crossway Books, 1985, pp. 118-19.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

We May Hear the Lion Roar But He Cannot Reach Us

A selection from a letter by Mary Winslow (1774-1854). Joel Beeke says that her letters are "a rich treasury of experiential and practical divinity." Widowed at 40 and left to raise nine children, three of whom became faithful ministers of the gospel, Mrs. Winslow knew God's Word and gave sweet counsel to her many correspondents. She once encouraged her son, Octavius, to fill his sermons with Christ, from first to last. She followed that same practice in writing letters. No date is given for this letter nor is the recipient known, but she warned of Satan's devices and set forth Christ as the only refuge.

Satan will keep us poring over our difficulties until they grow into mountains in our imagination. We have but a very imperfect idea of Satan's power and malice towards us. Our only help is to flee at once to our Stronghold, our Refuge, our Hiding-place, where alone we are safe. Oh, how safe! We may hear the lion roar, but he cannot reach us. Sheltered beneath the wing of Jesus we can defy his malice and his power. What does the Lord try us for but to carry on our spiritual education, and thus mature us for our glorious inheritance above?

Heaven Opened: A Selection from the Correspondence of Mrs. Mary Winslow, edited by her son, Octavius Winslow, 1864, reprinted by Reformation Heritage Books, 2001, pp. 253-54.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

He Exhorts His Fellow Sinners

A portion of a letter by James Haldane to his ten year-old daughter, Elizabeth. He and his friend, John Campbell, were away preaching in the northern part of Scotland. He told her about a man that had been converted on a previous trip they had made to the north, who had lost both his hands "by the going off of a gun." This convert was most thankful for the goodness of God in sparing his life that he might come to know Christ. The letter was written June 22, 1805.

He was brought to a knowledge of the truth, by a sermon of Mr. Campbell's, the last time we were north. We did not find him at home, but just as we were setting off, after dinner, he came running to see us, and appears to be very happy in waiting for the coming of Jesus. He occasionally exhorts his fellow-sinners, and sometimes holds out his arms, and calls their attention to the goodness of God, in not allowing him to die when he was ignorant of Christ.

The Lives of Robert and James Haldane, by Alexander Haldane, first published in 1852, reprinted by The Banner of Truth, 1990, p. 349.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Firmer Grip Than Ever

A portion of a letter from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, written to his congregation, four weeks prior to his death. His church was the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, England. He was writing from Menton, France, where he had gone to recover from illness. But recovery was not meant to be. He had gone through the valley of the shadow of death just a short while before, but his health was now worse. He wanted his flock to know that the gospel he had preached for over 40 years was still his hope and joy, and should be theirs too. The letter was written January 6, 1892.

I feel my mind grasping with firmer grip than ever that everlasting gospel which for so many years I have preached to you. We have not been deceived. Jesus does give rest to those who come to him, he does save those who trust him, he does photograph his image on those who learn of him. I hate the Christianised infidelity of the modern school more than ever, as I see how it rends away from sinful man his last and only hope. Cling to the gospel of forgiveness through the substitutionary sacrifice, and spread it with all your might, each one of you, for it is the only cure for bleeding hearts.

The Suffering Letters of C. H. Spurgeon, annotations by Hannah Wyncoll, Wakeman Trust, 2007, pp. 118-19.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Wisdom and Love of God in the Crucifixion

A selection from a letter by John Newton to John Ryland, Jr. The elder Newton, an Anglican, corresponded with the younger Ryland, a Baptist, for a period of 40 years. Newton addresses the subject of God's sovereign control over all events in this letter, in particular, the crucifixion of Jesus. Though it was "the worst action that the worst men ever committed," it must be considered as God's appointment and "the brightest display of His glory ever afforded to his creatures." The letter was written March 15, 1794.

But I compose my mind by considering all hearts and all things as instruments of him who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will [Eph. 1:11], and makes all subservient to the fulfilling it. I think the crucifixion of our Lord, was, taken in one view, the worst action that the worst men ever committed. But instead of scolding Caiaphas, Judas, and Pilate (whose part I should have acted had I been in their places and left to myself), I rather choose to admire the wisdom and love of God in this transaction, which considered as his appointment, was the brightest display of His glory ever afforded to his creatures.

Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letter to John Ryland, Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009, letter #64, pp. 303-04.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hold Fast That No Man Take Your Crown

A portion of a letter by the Puritan preacher, Joseph Alleine, to his church. Alleine was in prison, being held because he preached without the approval of the crown. Disappointing news had come to him that he would not be freed when hoped. The news, however, was more disappointing for his flock than for him, so he exhorted them not to lose their zeal for the Lord and to remain faithful. His letter was more like a sermon, for he said, "I forget that I am writing a letter." No date is given for the letter but it was written sometime in 1663 or1664.

Now is the time that the love of many doth wax cold. But I bless God it is not so with you; I am sure your love to me is, as true friends should be, like the chimmeys, warmest in the winter of adversity; and I hope your love to God is much more, and I would that you should abound yet more and more.

Where else should you bestow your loves? Love ye the Lord, ye his saints, and cling about him the faster, now ye see the world is striving to separate you from him. How many are they that go to knock off your fingers! O, methinks, I see what tugging there is. The world is plucking, and the devil is plucking. Oh! hold fast, I beseech you; hold fast, that no man take your crown. Let the water that is sprinkled, yea, rather poured upon your love, make it to flame up the more.

Are you not betrothed unto Christ? Oh remember, remember your marriage covenant! Did you not take him "for richer for poorer, for better for worse?" Now prove your love to Christ to have been a true conjugal love, in that you can love him when most slighted, despised, undervalued, blasphemed among men. Now acquit yourselves, not to have followed Christ for the loaves. Now confute the accuser of the brethren, you may be ready to suggest of the best of you, as he did of Job, "Doth he serve the Lord for nought?"  And let it be seen that you loved Christ and holiness, purely for their own sakes; that you can love a naked Christ when there is no hopes of worldly advantage, or promoting of self-interest in following him.

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, pp. 206-07.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


A selection from a letter by George Whitefield to a friend who had taken a settled pastorate in London. Whitefield knew that God had called him to an itinerant ministry, at least for the present. He shares some of his reasons why and rejoices in the blessing of God on his labors. The letter was written July 13, 1741.

I have no freedom, but in going about to all denominations. I cannot join with any one, so as to be fixed in any particular place. Every one hath his proper gift. Field-preaching is my plan; in this I am carried as on eagles wings. God makes way for me every where. The work of the Lord increases. I am comforted night and day. O free grace to such an hell-deserving sinner!

Letters of George Whitefield for the Period 1734-1742, published by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, Letter [CCC], p. 277.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Summit of Ambition

A selection from a letter by Andrew Fuller, to Mr. and Mrs. James Chater and Mr. and Mrs. William Robinson, who were following in the train of William Carey, off to do mission work in India. Fuller exhorted each couple regarding their relations to the unconverted, as man and wife, and in regards to one another. He also challenged them to "be very conversant with your Bibles" and to "often think of the dying love of Christ." But above all, he entreated them to focus on Christ. The letter was written April 5, 1806.

My dear Brethren, know nothing but 'Jesus Christ and him crucified' [1 Cor. 2:2]. Be this the summit of your ambition. For you to live must be Christ [Phil. 1:21]. You may never be of that literary consequence which some are; but if you possess a savour of Christ, you will be blessings in your generation; and when you die, your names will be precious, not only in India and Britain, but in the sight of the Lord.

The Armies of the Lamb: The Spirituality of Andrew Fuller, edited and introduced by Michael A. G. Haykin, Joshua Press, p. 209.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mingling Thanksgiving and Mourning

A portion of a letter by Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer, esteemed professor at Columbia Seminary, South Carolina, and later pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, to a friend suffering grief because of the death of his father. This encouraging letter of sympathy was written October 9, 1856.

It would be superfluous to exhort any of you to patience and submission, for I doubt not you have already united in saying, 'The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.' While nature will have her pangs and wring her tribute of tears and grief, you have still so many materials of praise and song that you must mingle thanksgiving and mourning. His pure life, his unstained character, his long devotion to his Master's cause and Church, his pious counsels, and his fervent prayers, his faith and patience and hope—all meeting together in his dying moments; all these will be objects of memory to stay your sorrow and sustain you from despondency and gloom. If, too, the Church below has lost, the Church above has gained. It is only a transfer from one to the other, and the Church is not a loser, though we may miss him much.

The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer, by Thomas Cary Johnson, first published in 1906, printed by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1987, p. 167.

Monday, June 27, 2011

A Sermon Instead of a Letter

A selection from a letter by Rev. Robert L. Dabney to his older brother, Charles William Dabney. The letter is evangelistic. He longed to see his brother, a distinguished lawyer, come to an open profession of Christ. After writing at length about depravity and the necessity of the new birth, Dabney concluded with an earnest appeal. The letter was written December 23, 1855.

You will say I send you a sermon instead of a letter. Well, I will add one more feature of resemblance; and as the preachers follow their sermons with a prayer for the divine blessing, after I have folded up this lame and halting composition, and directed it to you, I will kneel down, and pray to "the God who seeth in secret," to guide you into his truth, to show you the way of salvation, and place you in it, to bless your little ones and make them his children, and to give the sweetest and best influences of his grace to my dear sister; and may the Lord forgive me that I, so poor and beggarly a sinner, should try to unfold the riches of his grace to one less guilty than myself.

The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, by Thomas Cary Johnson, first published in 1903, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, pp. 184-85.

Friday, June 24, 2011

In My Old Age

A selection from a letter by Rev. Henry Venn, a minister in the Church of England, to an acquaintance, Mrs. Braiser, who had lost an infant in death. He gave reasons why "our dear children, taken away almost as soon as we see them, are safe in the hands of their merciful Creator and Redeemer." He also spoke of his trials in old age but of the nearness to God in meditation and prayer. The letter was written March 27, 1781.

My health is very much restored; yet I am forced, I think, to pay dearly for it. I am obliged to be on horseback every day, and cannot study and apply as my heart delights to do. I began to make trial of preaching four times one week; but I smarted for it for more than a fortnight; so that I must be content with doing very little indeed in my old age. Oh that I may enjoy more meditation and prayer, and communion with God, till I am with Him, whose Name is most glorious in my eyes, and His service the highest honor… Oh for an overcoming faith, to possess the inheritance of the saints in light, by hope, before we are translated to it!

Letters of Henry Venn, by John Venn, first published in 1835, republished by the Banner of Truth, 1993, pp. 323-34.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Free Ransom Given for Sold Souls

A morsel of a letter by Samuel Rutherford. It was written to a friend, Alexander Gordon, who promoted and supported the Presbyterian cause in Scotland. No letters ever written by mortal man are so full of Christ as Rutherford's. Spurgeon thought them to be the nearest thing to inspiration than any writings of mere men. This letter is as always, full of Christ. It was written in 1637.

Sinners can do nothing but make wounds, that Christ may heal them; and make debts, that He may pay them, and make falls, that He may raise them; and make deaths, that He may quicken them; and spin out and dig hells for themselves, that he may ransom them. Now, I will bless the Lord that ever there was such a thing as the free grace of God, and a free ransom given for sold souls; only, alas! guiltiness maketh me ashamed to apply to Christ, and to think it pride in me to put out my unclean and withered hand to such a Saviour. But it is neither shame nor pride for a drowning man to swim to a rock, nor for a shipbroken soul to run himself ashore upon Christ.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford: With a Sketch of his Life and Biographical Notices of His Correspondents, by the Rev. Andrew A. Bonar, first published in 1664, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1984, Letter # CCXVII, pp. 425-26.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Peace With God

A portion of a letter from Thomas Charles to a friend, Mr. John Walker. Napoleon Bonaparte was the new Emperor of France and Britain feared a French invasion. Charles wrote to his friend, "I pray that the time may speedily arrive, when they shall learn war no more." He then spoke wonderfully of the peace that Christians have with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The letter was written January 11, 1805.

Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ is to us sinners a blessing, which in value, and in its happy efforts, passeth all understanding. Jesus is our peace – our peace-purchaser, our peace-maker, our peace-ratifier, and our peace-preserver forever. He himself is everything to us.

Thomas Charles’ Spiritual Counsels: Selected from his Letters and Papers, by Edward Morgan, first published in 1836, reprinted by the Banner of Truth, 1993, p. 326.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pedocommunion - The Bible Knows No Such Custom

A selection from a letter by Joseph Kinghorn, pastor of St. Mary's Baptist Church, Norwich, England, to his parents, with whom he had extensive correspondence. He asked his parents a series of penetrating questions about a pedobaptist's proposal to bring infants to the Lord's Table, that are relevant for the 21st Century. Some today, who baptize infants, also receive them for communion. Thankfully, the PCA recently took a strong stand against pedocommunion. Kinghorn speaks to this matter as it relates to the baptism of children. The letter was written April 2, 1792.

One of our Independents, Mr. Newton [not John Newton], has publicly proposed to his people to bring all their children to the Lord's Supper, as baptized persons, thinking they have as much right to one ordinance as to another. Now this is consistent.

But does it not make the absurdity of infant baptism appear greater? Can those have any right to church privileges, who cannot be supposed to make a credible profession of religion? Is not the tendency of this practice contrary to that inquiry and sober decision which ought to distinguish a man's actions, when he takes a part as a professor of Christianity? Is he who has always been in the church, he knows not why or when, likely to make, or has he the opportunity of making, his religious conduct so much his own, as if he had first believed, and then acted upon that belief? Is not this the strongest chain ever yet forged to connect the church and the world together, and to make the connection so intimate as to destroy the very essence of a Christian church? Is it not contrary to the tenor of the New Testament, where an attention to the Lord's Supper is described as not only the effect of professed faith, but also consequent on that examination which must necessarily be personal? And is not the best thing we can say of it, this—the Bible knows no such custom?

The Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn, by Martin Hood Wilkin, reprinted by Particular Baptist Press, 1995, p. 208.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Truth is the Object of Your Inquiry

A selection from a letter by John Newton to Thomas Scott. Both men were neighbors and ministers in the Anglican Church but Scott was unconverted. He entered the ministry for a comfortable career, not because he knew Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and wished to proclaim the gospel. The two began a correspondence that eventually led to Scott's conversion. In this letter, Newton commented on some objections that Scott had set forth. The letter was written August 11, 1775.

Your objections neither displease nor weary me. While truth is the object of your inquiry, the more freedom you use with me the better. Nor do they surprise me; for I have formerly made the like objections myself. I have stood upon your ground, and I continue to hope you will one day stand upon mine. As I have told you more than once, I do not mean to dictate to you, or to wish you to receive anything upon my ipse dixit [because I said it]; but, in the simplicity of friendship, I will give you my thoughts from time to time upon the points you propose, and leave the event to the divine blessing.

Letters of John Newton: with Biographical Sketches and Notes by Josiah Bull, first published in 1869, republished by the Banner of Truth, 2007, p. 253.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Listen and Obey

A portion of a letter from Rev. William Still to his congregation. This Presbyterian pastor of a church in Scotland, wrote a pastoral letter to his congregation every month. His letters are filled with sound doctrine and advice. Someone described his letters as, "sometimes stirring, or provocative, sometimes written with joy, sometimes with a deep anxiety for others." In this letter, Rev. Still touches on things simple that are difficult to accept. The letter was written in the month of June, 1970.

It is the simplest things that are most difficult to understand and accept, and one of those which seems in my experience to have been most difficult for people to understand and accept has been the fact that the Lord demands His servants, each and every one of them, to listen to Him only and obey His will implicitly, irrespective of what it costs.

The Letters of William Still, The Banner of Truth, 1984, pp. 108-09.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Bodily Afflictions

A selection from a letter by Rev. J. C. Philpot, to a dear friend, Thomas Clowes, who was very sick and would be dead and in glory in two months time. Mr. Philpot encouraged his friend to overcome any doubts brought about by unbelief and rest in the Lord for strength. Philpot himself was feeling very poorly and shared his own experience. The letter was written December 17, 1866.

I know from experience with what a heavy weight bodily afflictions press, not only upon our mortal tabernacle, but upon our soul, and how depressing they are to the mind and spirits. I can, therefore, feelingly sympathise with you in the painful trial, and indeed all the more, as just now passing through it myself. But all we can say is, "It is from the Lord, and He must and will deal with us as seemeth good in His sight." You have had for many years a good measure of health and strength, and though rarely free from your stomach affection, yet you have been spared to a good age [78]. You cannot expect to have now that health and strength which you had in younger days, and it will be your wisdom and mercy to bow down before the will of God, and submit with patient resignation to the strokes of His afflicting rod. He had often in times past blessed, relieved, and comforted your soul, and though through the power of unbelief you may at times call in question all He has done for you and in you, yet all your doubts and fears do not affect the reality of His work nor the exceeding riches of His superabounding grace.

Letters and Memoir of Joseph Charles Philpot, first published in 1871, reprinted by Baker Book House, 1981, p.451.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A Beautiful World Ravaged by War

A portion of a letter written by Robert E. Lee, commander of the Confederate army, to his wife, Mary. He comments on the beautiful countryside of Culpeper, Virginia, which had been ravaged by war. He laments the degradation that man had brought to God's creation. The letter was written June 9, 1863. The Battle of Gettysburg would commence in four weeks time.

The country here looks very green and pretty notwithstanding the ravages of war. What a beautiful world God in His loving kindness to His creatures has given us. What a shame that man endowed with reason and a knowledge of right should mar His gifts. May He soon change the hearts of men, shew them their sins and enable them to repent and be forgiven.

The Wartime Papers of Robert E. Lee, edited by Clifford Dowdey, The Da Capo Press, 1961, document #466, p. 507.

Back Online

Since the tornados that ripped through Alabama on April 27, I have been without my desktop computer, until yesterday. But I am finally back online and hope to be posting bits from letters again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hope the Best

A selection from a letter by John Newton to John Ryland, Jr. Newton made reference to Ryland's son, John Tyler Ryland, who was about one year old at the time, who was gravely ill. Mr. Newton expressed his hope that all might be well with the lad and exhorted his father to do the same. The letter was written October 26, 1787.

I hope your little boy will live to be a comfort to you; perhaps he may preach the gospel, when you can no longer speak. However this may be, devote and entrust him to the Lord, and he will take care of him. Sufficient to the present day is the evil thereof [Matthew 6:34]. Why should you burden yourself by looking a great while forward to peradventures and possibilities? Hope the best; and when you meet with a dark cloud, wait and expect to see, in due time, a rainbow painted upon it, or a light and glory springing out of it.

Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letter to John Ryland, Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2009, letter #40, pp. 194-95.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

As Though They Were The Same Age

A portion of a letter from William Falkner to his mother, while visiting a few countries in Europe in 1925. While in Paris, he observed the sweetness of family life one afternoon among French families visiting Luxembourg Gardens. What he saw and conveyed to his mother so beautifully, pictures what family life ought to be. The letter was written August 18, 1925.

I have a nice room just around the corner from the Luxembourg gardens, where I can sit and write and watch the children. Everything in the gardens is for children—its beautiful the way the French love their babies. They treat children as though they were the same age as the grown-ups—they walk along the street together, a man or a woman and a child, talking and laughing together as though they were the same age.

Selected Letter of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph Blotner, Random House, 1977, p. 13.

Friday, April 1, 2011


A selection from a letter by John Broadus to his good friend and co-laborer in teaching, J. P. Boyce. Boyce was president of the Baptist seminary in Greenville, SC. He was responsible for raising funds for the relocation of the school to Louisville, KY. His task was difficult. He faced, in the words of Tom Nettles, "post-Civil War distress, Landmark contrariness, and institutional suspicion." These things made it difficult to secure sufficient financial interest in the school. At a particularly low point, Broadus wrote a letter to boost his low spirits. Eventually Boyce met with success but his endurance through the difficult days was helped by the encouragement of friends like Broadus. The letter was written March 4, 1873.

I do not wonder that you sometimes feel discouraged, painfully. The task is difficult, and the kind of opposition encountered is very depressing. But life is always a battle. My dear Fellow, nobody but you can do this thing. I believe you can do it, and it will be, all things considered, one of the great achievements of our time. To have carried it through will be a comfort and a pleasure to you through life, a matter of joy and pride to many who love and honor you, an occasion of thanksgiving through eternity. Opposition—every good thing encounters opposition. Think of Paul, of Jesus! Nay, Nay, no such words as fail. Somehow, somehow, you are bound to succeed.

James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, by Thomas J. Nettles, P & R Publishing, 2009, p. 255.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

It Is Best to Fall Into His Hands

A selection from a letter by J. C. Philpot to his friend, Mr. Tanner. Philpot was a Strict Baptist pastor and editor of the Gospel Standard magazine. His letters are filled with spiritual counsel of a high quality. He began this letter by reminding his friend that it is better "to suffer from the Lord than to sin against the Lord." The letter was written November 22, 1861.

Our coward flesh shrinks from every affliction and trial, and even though we may have proved in times past that there has been a blessing couched in them, yet our heart murmurs and frets under the weight of the cross. But the Lord, like a wise parent, does not consult us as to where, when, or how He may lay on the chastising stroke. It is best, therefore, to fall into His hands, and to lie at His feet begging that He will sanctify to us every afflicting stroke, not lay upon us more than we can bear, and remove the trial when it has done its appointed work. Of one thing I am very sure, that it is far better to suffer from the Lord than to sin against the Lord. There is no evil which we need really fear except sin; and, though the Lord, in tender mercy, forgives His erring, wandering children, yet He makes them all deeply feel that indeed it is an evil and a bitter thing to sin against Him.

Letters by the Late Joseph Charles Philpot with a Brief Memoir of His Life and Labours, London, 1871, p. 338.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Beautiful Land; A Needy People

A selection from a letter by missionary and doctor to Africa, David Livingstone, to J. H. Parker of Homerton College, London. Livingstone had gone to Mabotsa, and area near where another missionary, Robert Moffat, had been. He gives a description of the lovely countryside but comments on the spiritual condition of the people. The letter was written May 11, 1844.

We came here in Feb last and have fairly made a commencement among the Bakhatla. Our cottage is built about 30 miles North West of what is called the Kurechane. We are in a delightful part of the country. Mr. Moffat's description of the region to the East of us answers in almost every respect to our locality. We have fine scenery, the vegetation luxuriant – the mountains covered with trees (many of them evergreens) to their very summits and abundance of excellent water. But when we think of its moral aspect it is as yet a land of darkness – a {vast} howling wilderness which has never yielded any of those fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory of God the Father.

This letter is found in a collection of Livingstone's letters now online at

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cling Only to Him

Jonathan Watson gave a few samples of letters written by Alexis baron von Roenne in the March, 2011 edition of The Banner of Truth magazine (pp. 21-27). Alexis baron bon Roenne was born in Prussia in 1902 [03?] and was a career officer in the German army. He opposed Nazism and was later implicated in an assassination attempt of Hitler, of which he was not guilty, yet he was executed. He had strong Christian convictions and died with great faith in Christ on October 12, 1944. This letter was written to his wife on the day of his death.

My dearest beloved:

In a moment now I shall be going home to our Lord in complete calm and in the certainty of salvation. My thoughts are with you, with all of you, with the very greatest love and gratitude.

As my last wish, I entreat you only to cling to Him and to have full confidence in Him; He loves you.

Any decision you may take for all of you, after prayer, has my complete sanction and my blessing. If only you knew with what inconceivable loyalty He is standing by my side at this moment, you would be armoured, and calm, for all your difficult life. He will give you strength for everything.

I bless both of our beloved children, and include them in my last ardent prayer. May the Lord let His countenance shine upon them and lead them home.

Heartfelt greetings and thanks to my beloved Mama, to your parents and my brothers and sisters. May they, safeguarded by Him, survive even difficult times in our ardently beloved fatherland.

To you, my very dearest of all, belong my ardent love and thanks to the last moment and until our blessed reunion.

God keep you.

Dying We Live: The Final Messages and Records of Some Germans Who Defied Hitler, edited by Helmut Gollwitzer, Kathe Kuhn, Reinhold Schneider, translated by R. C. Kuhn, Harvill Press, London, 1956.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Living by the Gospel

A portion of a letter from Leonard Ravenhill to one of his closest friends, Al Whittinghill of Woodstock, GA. When Ravenhill wasn't preaching in a meeting somewhere, he was writing letters. And what a ministry of letter writing he had! In one letter to a friend, he spoke of writing 50 letters that week. He preached plainly and powerfully and wrote the same way. Ravenhill made much of Christ in all that he did, including his correspondence, as we see in this letter. This particular letter is undated.

Again we are overloaded, but we must work while it is day. He is a poor butcher who does not eat his own meat. He is a poor preacher who does not live his own gospel. Jesus is the bread of life, bread that is never stale. He is the water of life, water that is never brackish. He is the light of life, light that is never dim.

In Light of Eternity: The Life of Leonard Ravenhill, by Mack M. Tomlinson, Free Grace Press, 2010, p. 441.

Friday, February 25, 2011

To Be Happy

A selection from a letter to a friend by the well-known hymn writer and preacher of the gospel, Augustus Toplady. Toplady wrote simply of what one must be in order to be happy and the means by which one finds it. The letter was written November 9, 1772.

To be happy we must be virtuous; and in order to our becoming truly virtuous, we must experience the grace of God, which bringeth salvation.

The Works of Augustus Toplady, Bookshelf Publications, reprint from the 1794 edition, p. 834.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Fair Testimonial of My Lord Jesus

A selection from a letter by Samuel Rutherford to William Gordon. Rutherford was answering his letter, and as he so often did in correspondence, gave testimony to Christ's worth. He said, "It is my aim and hearty desire, that my furnace, which is of the Lord's kindling, may sparkle fire upon standers-by, to the warming of their hearts with God's love." He followed this with a "fair testimonial" of the Lord Jesus. The letter was written in 1637.

I should be a liar and false witness, if I would not give my Lord Jesus a fair testimonial with my whole soul. My word, I know, will not heighten Him; He needeth not such props under His feet to raise His glory high. But, oh that I could raise Him the height of heaven, and the breadth and length of ten heavens, in the estimation of all His young lovers! for we have all shapen Christ but too narrow and too short, and formed conceptions of His love, in our conceit, very unworthy of it. Oh that men were taken and catched with his beauty and fairness! they would give over playing with idols, in which there is not half room for the love of one soul to expatiate itself.

Letters of Samuel Rutherford, With a Sketch of His Life and Biographical Notices of His Correspondents, by the Rev. Andrew A. Bonar, first published in 1664, republished by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1984, pp. 399-400.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bearing His Sacred Reproach

A portion of a letter from George Whitefield to a friend (perhaps George Stonehouse) in England. Whitefield was in Savannah, Georgia, on one of his many trips to America. Whatever trial this brother was facing, Whitefield wrote an edifying letter. The letter was written June 26, 1740.

Go on, dear Sir, go on, and follow your glorious Master without the camp, bearing his sacred reproach. Never fear the scourge of the tongue, or the threatenings that are daily breathed out against the Lord and against his Christ. Suffer we must, I believe, and that great things. Our Lord, by his providence, begins to shew it. Ere long, perhaps, we may sing in a prison, and have our feet set fast in the stocks. But faith in Jesus turns a prison into a palace, and makes a bed of flames become a bed of down. Let us be faithful today and our Lord will support us tomorrow.

Letters of George Whitefield: For the Period 1734-1742, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976, reprinted from The Works of George Whitefield, 1771, p. 193.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I Much Wish to See this Mission Settle on a Permanent Foundation

A selection from a letter by missionary William Carey, to Andrew Fuller, one of the pastors who held the ropes in England while he mined for souls in India. Carey was concerned that the next generation of Christians in the home churches might not care for the work as Fuller and others had, and that the Mission would fail because of lack of funds. The matter-of-fact statements made by Carey are not reflective of weak faith but were meant to encourage Fuller and others to pass along to the next generation a love for the mission work in Serampore and all of India. The letter was written February 5, 1800.

I fear dear Bro. [Samuel] Pearce is dead [he died Oct. 10, 1799, but Carey did not yet know]. You, Bro. [John] Ryland [Jr.] and a few of the most active to provide funds for the Mission may soon die; and the work may fall through for want of active persons who will feel interested in it as you do.

The Publick mind may tire soon, especially if success is much longer delayed. In that case the Mission must be broken up for want of funds to support it and then all that is done will be lost…

I have written so much about our temporal concerns in all our Letters, because I fear some of them (may) miscarry and also because I much wish to see this Mission settle on a permanent foundation.

The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey, collected and edited by Terry G. Carter, Smyth & Helwys, 2000, pp. 196-97.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Everything Ordered and Directed by Divine Goodness

A selection from a letter by the Welsh preacher, Thomas Charles, to Sally Jones, whom he would later marry. Charles was a spiritual counselor to Miss Jones throughout their courtship. She grew by leaps and bounds in the grace and knowledge of the Lord through her acquaintance with him. In this letter he directed her to gain comfort in knowing that all events are under God's directions. It was written March 1, 1782.

Never was a truer saying than this… "the good God makes all things good, for good to his people." Everything, the smallest as well as the greatest event, is ordered and directed by divine goodness and wisdom for their good. He is as much present with, and takes as much care of, everyone of his children, as if he had no other creature to watch over, and take care of, in the whole universe.

Thomas Charles' Spiritual Counsels, Selected from his Letters and Papers, by Edward Morgan, first published in 1836, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1993, p. 251.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Darkness and Glory

A portion of a letter by Benjamin Morgan Palmer, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans, to a dear friend, Mrs. Edgeworth (Sallie) Bird. There was sadness in Palmer's home because his wife's mother had recently passed away. He said, "I am thankful there is no bitterness in our grief—great soreness, but no repining." He then portrayed in vivid words the benefit of trials. The letter was written December 15, 1888.

As for myself, I perceive as I never knew before—with the intellect perhaps, but not so vividly through the affections—that God's largest, richest, sweetest revelations of Himself come through clouds and darkness which shut out the earth. It was when Moses was taken into the cloud from which shot devouring flame, that he spake with God face to face. And was it not through the appalling darkness which overhung Calvary, that His saving love cut its way down to earth and redeemed our guilty race? So, He has brought down His thick cloud which darkened our home, covering me in it that I might be alone with Him as never before, and behold His glory.

The Life and Letters of Benjamin Morgan Palmer, by Thomas Cary Johnson, Banner of Truth, p. 507.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

His Love to Us Passes Knowledge

A portion of a letter by John Newton to his beloved wife, Mary. They were married for 40 years and loved each other dearly. He feared at times that he sinned in idolizing her. This letter was written when she was away from him for a short while. It conveys his deep love for her but acknowledges their need to love above all others, the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved them so very much. The letter was written July 12, 1764.

I am well, and as comfortably settled as I can desire, during your absence. I feel the want of your company, but hope to bear it without anxiety. I cannot wish to love you less; I hope it is impossible. But I wish for us both, that our regard may be sanctified, and kept in due subordination. While I rejoice, that we are so happily sensible of what we owe to each other, I have cause to mourn that our love to him should be so faint and disproportionate. His love to us passes knowledge. He loved us, when we were enemies, with a love, expensive and interesting, beyond expression; a love, that exposed him to ignominy and torture, that cost him his blood and his life; a love, that makes over to those who believe in him, all the riches of grace and glory.

The Works of John Newton, volume 5, first printed in 1820, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1985, p. 543. Logos Bible Software has recently incorporated Newton's works in their vast electronic library.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Doing Something for Our Lord

A portion of a letter by Henry Venn, Church of England minister, to his friend James Kershaw. Venn had much to say about Lady Huntingdon, a notable woman who used her wealth and influence for the gospel. In commending her as "a star of the first magnitude in the firmament of the Church," Mr. Venn encouraged his friend, and himself, to a life of service for Christ. The letter was written November 5, 1769.

Too apt are we to rest in life received, and not to be every day doing something for our Lord; either earnestly engaging in prayer, speaking affectionately to sinners, overcoming our selfish violent passions, or exercising mercy to our needy brethren; but it is by abounding in every good work, that our light shines before men, and we stand confessed the workmanship of God in Christ. I would urge the duty—and may God press it home effectually upon my own heart?—of "opening our mouths wide," to importune Him for the best gifts; and to live, in the sight of all around us, beyond dispute, zealous conscientious worshippers, and dear obedient children.

Letters of Henry Venn, by John Venn, first published in 1835, republished by the Banner of Truth, 1993, p. 158.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taste the Pleasant Fruits of God's Love

A selection from a letter by the Puritan preacher, Joseph Alleine, to his congregation from prison. He was ejected from the Church of England for nonconformity in 1662 and was imprisoned. Alleine wrote letters to his church while incarcerated. He highlights the theme of love in this letter. He writes of their love for God and says, "How little, how very little, would our love be, if he had it all… Oh that we might love him with our little all!" But he writes mainly of God's love for them. To that we now turn in this letter written October 28, 1663.

This is a love worthy of your ambition, worthy of your adoration and admiration. This is the womb that bore you from eternity, and out of which have burst forth all the mercies, spiritual and temporal, that you enjoy. This was the love that chose you; when less offenders, and those that being converted might have been a hundred-fold more serviceable to their Maker's glory, are left to perish in their sins. May your souls be filled with the sense of this love!

But it may be you will say, "How shall I know if I am an object of electing love?" Lest an unbelieving thought should damp your joy, know, in short, that if you have chosen God, he hath certainly chosen you. Have you taken him for your blessedness? And do you more highly prize, and more diligently seek after conformity to him, and the fruition of him than any, than all the goods of this world. If so, then away with doubts; for you could not have loved, and have chosen him, unless he had loved you first. Now may my beloved dwell continually in the thoughts, the views, the tastes of this love. Get you down under its shadows, and taste its pleasant fruits. Oh the provisions that love hath made for you, before the foundation of the world!

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, pp. 168-69.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Want More Heart Religion

A portion of a letter by Samuel Pearce, pastor of Canon Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, England, to Mr. Steadman, a friend from college days at Bristol Baptist Academy. The letter illustrates some of the difficulties in preaching that every faithful pastor faces. It was written May 9, 1792.

In preaching, I have often peculiar liberty; at other times barren. I suppose my experience is like that of most of my brethren; but I am not weary of my work. I hope still that I am willing to spend and be spent, so that I may win souls to Christ, and finish my course with joy; but I want more heart religion; I want a more habitual sense of the divine presence; I want to walk with God as Enoch walked.

Memoirs of the late Rev. Samuel Pearce, A.M. with Extracts from Some of His Most Interesting Letters, compiled by Andrew Fuller, D.D., fifth American edition, Boston, 1828, pp. 11-12.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Some Exceedingly Difficult Letters to Answer

A selection from a letter by A. W. Pink to his friend, Lowell Green. Mr. Pink received many letters and responded to them, saying in 1946 that he had written "by hand well over 20,000 letters." He was a pastor and counselor to many by means of correspondence. This letter, which was written July 10, 1939, make clear some of the troubles to which he sought to bring light and comfort.

Of late I have had some exceedingly difficult letters to answer: among them one from a Sister who allowed her heart to run away with her head… She thought she was doing God's will, is now satisfied she was deceived by Satan, and wanting to know how the promptings of the Holy Spirit may be distinguished from those of the Evil One.

Another from a preacher of many years' experience: had a nervous breakdown; eventually went to a "Prayer Healer" (a servant of the Devil), since which the spirit of prayer has been stifled in his own soul, all assurance of salvation gone, so that he no longer dares to preach to others.

What saddens me so much is that there seem to be so very few today unto whom these poor souls can turn for helpful counsel. Many who can preach gospel, doctrinal and prophetic sermons appear to be quite incapable of entering into the experiences of the perplexed and distressed and giving them "a word in season" [Isa. 50:4]. Unless pastors are Divinely qualified to be doctors of souls they are "physicians of no value," as Job [13:4] had to say unto those who failed to diagnose his case and minister to him in his trouble. Such "qualification" cannot be acquired in any Seminary or Bible School.

The Life of Arthur W. Pink, Revised and Enlarged Edition, Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth, 2004, p. 216.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


A few selections from letters by John Calvin to a few of his friends. I was struck recently in reading a number of Calvin's letters how warmly and graciously he concluded them. These selections come from closing remarks of Calvin in letters addressed to Heinrich Bullinger, William Farel, Pierre Varet, and John Haller, in that order. All of them illustrate the love and sweetness of the man. These particular letters were penned in the latter part of August and the first part of September, 1549.

Adieu, brother in the Lord, and most honourable and accomplished man, together with all your fellow-ministers, whom you will salute respectfully in our name. May the Lord be ever near you and keep you, and may you be instrumental in advancing the glory of his name!

Adieu, brother and very honest friend, with all your fellow-ministers, especially Christopher, and Michael Faton. May the Lord ever guide and watch over you.

Adieu, most upright brother and friend, together with your wife, your little daughter, and your whole family. May the Lord keep you and guide you by his Spirit! Salute the brethren earnestly in my name. 

Adieu, distinguished sir, and very dear brother in Christ, deserving of my regard. May the Lord guide you and your family!

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. 243-250.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Love Has Replaced Hate

A letter by a surviving World War II Prisoner of War of the Japanese, Louis Zamperini, to Mutsuhiro Watanabe, one of the worst guards in any POW Camp, who had a particular vendetta against him. Zamperini was an Olympic runner before the war, so was well-known and famous. He was bombardier of a B-24 in the Pacific during the war. After his plane went down, he and the pilot survived over 40 days in a raft only to be picked up by the Japanese and was thus interred as prisoner. 37% of POW's in Japan did not survive and many of the men that did were scarred physically and emotionally for the rest of their lives. Such was the case of Zamperini until he found Christ. Conversion took away his nightmares, cured him of alcoholism, and enabled him to love his former enemies, even the guard that mistreated him so badly. Zamperini returned to Japan in 1998 to carry the Olympic torch. He hoped to visit Watanabe, "the Bird," so he could tell him about Christ, but his overture was refused. This letter was sent instead.

To Mutsuhiro Watanabe,

As a result of my prisoner war experience under your unwarranted and unreasonable punishment, my post-war life became a nightmare. It was not so much due to the pain and suffering as it was the tension of stress and humiliation that caused me to hate with a vengeance.

Under your discipline, my rights, not only as a prisoner of war but also as a human being, were stripped from me. It was a struggle to maintain enough dignity and hope to live until the war's end.

The post-war nightmares caused my life to crumble, but thanks to a confrontation with God through the evangelist Billy Graham, I committed my life to Christ. Love has replaced the hate I had for you. Christ said, "Forgive your enemies and pray for them."

As you probably know, I returned to Japan in 1952 and was graciously allowed to address all the Japanese war criminals at Sugamo Prison… I asked then about you, and was told that you probably had committed Hara Kiri, which I was sad to hear. At that moment, like the others, I also forgave you and now would hope that you would also become a Christian.

Louis Zamperini

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand, Random House, 2010, pp. 396-97.