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.