Reading People’s Mail

My love of John Newton is no surprise, and one of my favorite books of all time is a collection of correspondence called Letters of John Newton.   First published in 1869 and covering more than 50 years of Newton’s personal correspondence with other preachers, Lords and Ladies, writers, and congregants, Newton’s letters are pithy, pastoral, tender.  Like this:

“When we get safe home, we shall not complain that we have suffered too much in the way.  We shall not say, ‘Is this all I must expect after so much trouble?’ No, when we awake into that glorious world, we shall in an instant be satisfied with His likeness.  One sight of Jesus as He is, will fill our hearts, and dry up all our tears.”

Which of us has ever gotten such admonition in a letter?  You?  Me either, but I sure appreciate reading other people’s mail! And I am indebted to the Banner of Truth Trust for making so much of it accessible.

I am writing this post on the occasion of finishing another such collection, this one by Samuel Rutherford.  Rutherford was born in 1600, a graduate of Edinburgh, Scottish pastor, and one-time banished non-conformist whose whole being yearned to see Jesus and His church glorified in Scotland.  This correspondence is arranged not by recipient, like the Newton collection, but chronologically from 1627 to his death in 1661.

It took me 11 months to read his mail which covered 34 years. 700 pages, 365 letters and 1 focus:  Jesus.  Like this one:

“The whole saints now triumphant in heaven, and standing before the throne, are nothing but Christ’s forlorn and beggarly dyvours.  What are they but a pack of redeemed sinners. . . {who} go to heaven with a broken brow and with a crooked leg. . . Let your bleeding soul and your sores be put in the hand of this expert Physician.” (p. 349)

or this one:

“Oh, that this misled and blindfolded world would see that Christ doth not rise and fall, stand or lie, by men’s apprehensions.” (p. 552)

The letters of his younger days at times romantically describing Rutherford’s love for Christ, but, rather than put the reader off, these descriptions tend to force the question of the reader’s own passion for Christ.

The complimentary closures of people’s correspondence have always seemed to me to be a hint of the writer’s understanding of their own identity:   “In Christ,” “For the Master,” “‘Til they all hear”. . .  And Rutherford’s tag lines do just that–they display the affection with which he writes and his understanding of his role in serving Christ.  Look at these:


Need a project for the coming year? Or a gift for someone? This would be a great one!  You just never know what you will learn when you read someone’s mail.


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