Letters of Love
About the Guest
Trying to reach your loved one's heart? Why not try a love letter! Church history professor Michael Haykin shares some revealing letters written by some of our most beloved theologians from the past, including Samuel Pierce, Benjamin Bedham, and Martin Lloyd Jones.
Trying to reach your loved one’s heart? Why not try a love letter!
Letters of Love
Bob: Let’s ask a historian if that is the case. Don’t you think?
Dennis: Yes, Dr. Michael Haykin joins us. Is that the case, Michael?
Michael: That we kind of fantasize or romanticize?
Bob: We glamorize history.
Michael: Oh yes, I think part of it has to do with the movies—the way that Hollywood has presented the past. It can’t get into some of the challenges—the smells, for example—that would have confronted the average person living in the past—the pain that most people lived with—physical pain. There were no pain killers; you know?
Michael: We forget those sorts of things.
Bob: I think one reason why we do tend to idealize or romanticize these relationships is because we have letters that don’t sound like the letters that we write to one another today. Do you know what I mean?
Dennis: Well, they were thoughtful letters because they didn’t have a spell check and a quick-erase button to hit on a computer.
Bob: No email, no cell phones, no instant communication.
Dennis: They had to sit down with a piece of parchment, and permanent ink, and thoughtfully craft those words on a piece of paper.
Bob: In fact, I have often heard it said that some of these letters that were written in times past were often—someone would sit down and do a draft of the letter before they would actually write the letter in a format that they would send. Is that right?
Michael: That would be true, but probably not with many of these letters because these letters are not intended for—in the eyes of the writers—for permanency, in one sense. They are intended for the eyes, alone, of the individual. That, in fact, is one of the challenges of reading these letters. Some of my favorites in here are the letters of Samuel and Sarah Pearce. He’s often described as the Brainerd—the Baptist Brainerd—because it is just a powerful life—70 years of piety, crammed into 10—or like Jim Elliot, or Robert Murray M’Cheyne.
Dennis: So, he was a courageous warrior for the faith.
Michael: Amen; very much so.
Dennis: Some of our listeners are probably wondering, “How does this guy know all of these facts about Samuel Pearce?” Well he is a Church historian.
Bob: We didn’t make that clear, at the beginning; did we?
Dennis: We didn’t make that clear, at the beginning. He has written a book called The Christian Lover, and it is about some of these letters that were written.
Bob: So Samuel Pearce, living in England—friend of William Carey—he is married to his wife—
Michael: Sarah. They had met at the church where he was pastoring. He went to a church in downtown Birmingham, England, in a very heavy industrial area or an area that was becoming that way. Most of his congregation were illiterate, and so he starts Sunday schools to start to teach them. He meets her within a year of his becoming pastor there. They are married.
Once he became involved in the missionary endeavors that Carey was involved in, he was frequently traveling—thus, the letters then, as a vehicle for making himself present in his wife’s life, when he is actually away—absent, on preaching missions.
Bob: Now, are these letters—I hate to sound crass here but—smarmy kind of gooey romance?
Bob: Well, you know, some love letters just have that kind of a gooey, sentimental, “Oh my dear Darling,” —this and that stuff.
Dennis: These guys were writing from the frontlines of battle, in many regards, in ministry.
Michael: They are. Yes, they are.
Dennis: So were they?
Bob: Are they smarmy?
Michael: Well, I am not sure I would ever use the word “smarmy”.
Michael: Some of them sound like they come out of a Jane Austen novel.
Dennis: Oh, really? So they are really—
Michael: Well, it’s the same period. Jane Austen is writing about ten years after him.
Bob: Here is one of the letters that you have included in the book. This is from Samuel to Sarah, written in London, September 7, 1795. He writes:
Every day improves not only my tenderness but my esteem for you. Called, as I now am, to mingle with much society and all its orders, I have daily opportunity of making remarks on human temper. And after all I have seen, and through my judgment, as well as my affections, still approves of you as the best of women for me. We have been too long united by conjugal ties to admit a suspicion of flattery in our correspondent conversation.
Dennis: Now, is that smarmy right there, Bob?
Bob: No, that—that’s—
Dennis: It is a good line there; isn’t it?
Bob: Yes, I like that line. Yes.
Bob: “We have been too long united by conjugal ties to admit a suspicion of flattery in our correspondence or conversation. I begin to count the days, which I hope will bring me to a re-enjoyment of your dear company.”
Dennis: Whew! [Laughing]
Bob: She probably smiled when she read that; don’t you think?
Dennis: I would think so. You mentioned before we came into the studio that Samuel Pearce had a unique love for his wife—that is displayed in these letters. What do we pick up about a biblical approach of a man’s love for his wife as we read what he has written?
Michael: Well, I think what you find is—this sort of language is what you would typically associate with courtship—with the period just prior to marriage and then, maybe, just a few months after. What you find in Pearce is—there is a sustained passion for his wife that deepens as the years go by. For me, Pearce has been a model. Reading his letters to his wife—and I have transcribed most of those letters—he is modeling, for me, what my relationship needs to be with my wife.
Bob: So, do you write letters like this to your wife?
Michael: Not exactly in that sort of language, but I do write letters.
Dennis: How often?
Michael: Usually, once a week because I come down to Southern. Before I leave, I will actually write her a card that I will leave on the dresser. I leave, usually on a Wednesday morning. Around four in the morning, she is still asleep. So, she will get the card when she gets up.
Dennis: For some of our listeners, just a good letter, here at Valentine’s Day, would be a home run.
Bob: I’m thinking of the folks who attend the Weekend to Remember® marriage conference. One of the projects we have couples do is write a love letter as a part of the conference. For many of these couples, it has been the duration of their marriage since they have written anything out in their own hand to one another.
We have heard from couples, years later. That love letter is a treasure—something that they would go grab out of the house if the house was burning down. There is something about our expression of love for one another that really binds us together; isn’t there?
Michael: There is. Yes.
Dennis: Yes. It is interesting these love letters have an enduring quality that can communicate love to the next generation. There was a couple who went to our conference, a number of years ago, in another city. I was recently with this couple in Atlanta.
Bob: Mm, hmm.
Dennis: The wife had pulled out her husband’s love letter out of her purse. Her teenage daughter saw the letter and wanted to hear about the letter.
Bob: She still had it in her purse after how many years?
Dennis: Oh, she kept it. It had been, I think, close to 25 years.
Bob: She brought it out so she could show it to you at the lunch; right?
Bob: She didn’t carry it around in her purse every day; did she?
Dennis: I think so.
Dennis: Yes, I think the teenage daughter saw how it had been read several times.
Dennis: The teenage daughter started reading that love letter and was, “Wow! This is hot!”
Bob: “Dad said this to you?” [Laughing]
Dennis: It marked a new beginning that this couple had, over 25years ago, at a Weekend to Remember, because there were things expressed that had been hidden in the heart. That is what really you are talking about here, Michael, as you share these love letters. We need to get our love out in the open and express it for our spouse.
Bob: Now some of the letters you have included in the book are expressions of love from one person to another—where the other person did not respond or reciprocate; aren’t they?
Michael: Yes, there is. One of them is a letter of a man named Benjamin Beddome—he was a very well-known Baptist minister—18th century hymn writer—his letter of proposal to a woman named Anne Steele. He quotes John Milton’s formation—where God forms Eve for Adam in the Garden. He quotes his text. It is quite, quite powerful. Anyway, she refuses him.
Dennis: She turned him down!
Michael: She turns him down.
Dennis: She was a hymn writer. He was a—
Michael: She is a hymn writer and her response was—later, her sister asked her, “Why would you turn such a man down?” She said, “Well, I looked over into that field,”—and she is talking about the field of marriage with Benjamin—“and all I saw were thorns and prickles.” [Laughter]
Dennis: So, even though he wrote a good letter, he came out—he didn’t quite have it.
Michael: Exactly! There is more to marriage than being able to write a good love letter.
Bob: Now, Thomas Charles and Sally Jones—it worked out a little better for them; didn’t it?
Michael: Yes, again he is a great preacher—a Calvinistic Methodist in Bala, North Wales. He is smitten with her, and she is not taken with him. It takes a couple of years before she starts to warm up and come around. But he perseveres.
Bob: He pursues her with letters—
Michael: He pursues her with letters. Oh, yes.
Bob: —and, ultimately—?
Michael: She is won over. They had some connection—they met each other, from time to time. Ultimately, she recognizes that this is the man whom God has called.
Bob: For some of our single listeners, this may have given them courage.
Dennis: I am thinking of some guys, who may be listening right now, who are single—who need to pull out a pen and paper. If they are trying to really persuade a young lady, in their own direction, then, perhaps, they need to think about crafting a—not a swarmy—what did you call it?
Dennis: —a smarmy letter? Not a smarmy letter, but a sweet letter—a letter of courtship—a letter of interest.
Bob: Listen to what Thomas Charles wrote to Sally Jones. He said, “I now put in execution, writing you, and solicit the favor of a correspondence with you until such time as kind Providence indulges me with an interview, which on my part, is most ardently desired.” So, basically, “Can I write to you before we get a date?”
Then, he writes: “You are the only person that I ever saw and the first I ever addressed on the subject, with whom, I thought I could spend my life in happy union and felicity and, for whom, I possess a particular affection and esteem, requisite for conjugal happiness. You are the only temporal blessing I have, for some time past, asked with importunity, of the Lord.”
Well, he says “You’re the one for me!” I mean, he is saying that, “You’re the only person I ever saw and the first I have addressed on the subject.” Imagine that expression of desire and purity. Do you think, in our culture today, how many guys could say, “You’re the only women I have ever seen and had this kind of affection for or been drawn to in this way”? He writes and requests, “I hope that your determination will happily convince me that the Lord’s answer is favorable.” [Laughter]
Dennis: You know, after the knot is tied, everybody who is married, knows that there can be conflict in a marriage relationship. You tell one story of John Broadus. Is that his name? Is that correct?
Michael: John Broadus was one of the founding four men of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I teach—a name that is renowned, in Southern Baptist circles, for his homiletics. He had a textbook on homiletics that is well-known.
Dennis: Yes, he may have been known for his theology; but he had a letter that had a disclaimer on it that said, “Read with care”?
Michael: That’s correct.
Dennis: Because why?
Michael: Well, once you get into the letter, you suddenly find that he is away. I think he is in Virginia; and his wife is, back, in Kentucky. There has obviously been a quarrel between them before he left. He is, basically, asking for forgiveness. It is not just, “Please forgive me,” it is, “Please, please!” It goes on for a number of lines where he is repeating the same thing, “I do love you. I dearly love you.”
You can obviously see why a Victorian—who are very prudish in some of these matters were—this is not the sort of thing you want for PR going out about a very well-known public figure—thus, the “Read with care.” Again, it shows you that, in even the best of marriages, there will be times of conflict and tension. The critical question is dealing with those things, biblically.
Dennis: Yes, how are you going to handle it?
Bob: Let me read just a portion of one of John Broadus’ letters to his wife—this written in the middle of the Civil War—Wednesday, September 2, 1863. He writes to her and says:
Oh, my Darling! The love of my life is bound up in your love. Tell me—tell me that, without reserve, from a full, overflowing heart—you love me and that you will always love me with your whole heart!
Then, I am happy; and there is nothing Earth can give or take away that shall render me really unhappy. For are we not both trying, amid all our weaknesses, to trust in the yet loftier and richer love of God our Savior? Then love me, Lottie, love me! See how much more you can love me! I claim to deserve it only on one ground—that I love you. Love me, dearest. Love me! Love me! Love me!
Dennis: This written by a theologian.
Bob: Then he goes on to say:
I am unwilling to cease writing. I want to keep begging for you to love me. Not that I doubt you, dearest. Oh, no—fond, faithful, true, self-sacrificing, devoted wife, gentle, tender, sweetheart wife. I know that you love me dearly; and for that very reason, I want you to love me more, dearest, more.
While I write, I feel not so far distant; and when I stop, the wires seem to be cut and the blank impassable space stretches out between us. Lottie, won’t you love me? Ever tenderly yours, John Broadus
Dennis: Let me ask you a question about that, Michael. You listen to a letter where he is saying “Love me. Love me. Love me.” Does that concern you that maybe he was a little pre-occupied with her loving him, instead of him expressing his love for her?
Michael: It could be taken that way, if it is read out of context, but I think I have read enough of the letters of Broadus. I read about 25 or 30 of them—maybe, even more to his first wife, Lottie. There is more going on in their marriage than simply that. I take it there has been a conflict. He has come away, and he is trying to resolve that. The difficulty of resolving that—when there is no other means of communication, beyond a pen and paper—
Dennis: How long would it have taken that letter to have gotten back to her?
Michael: Probably the best part of a week, I would think, depending on where he was. It is in the middle of the Civil War.
Bob: You also reflect some more contemporary letters. In fact, you go to the great British doctor—the prince of preachers—Martyn Lloyd-Jones—and found some of his love letters to his wife.
Michael: There is one. Well, there are a few that are being reprinted. One of the Banner of Truth books, of the letters of Lloyd-Jones, came out. I found this letter in there, in which he talks about how he is crazy about his wife. He is away on a trip, across the Atlantic, and she is back in Wales. What we know about their marriage is— that after that trip, he vowed he would never take another trip of such length, without taking her along with him. He was away for about six weeks to two months, I think.
Bob: We can get this picture because I have read Lloyd-Jones’ sermons. I have listened to some of his preaching. You would not think of him as a romantic, as you listen to him; would you?
Michael: No. This was a surprise when I read through that volume of letters. Lloyd- Jones, probably in terms of his understanding of ministry in certain areas of life and theology, has been an enormous influence on me, personally. What a surprise to find that letter. So, when I was drawing this volume up, with my daughter, I thought: “Man! We have got to include that.”
Bob: I am just going to read a portion of it, as well. This was written on the 25th of September, 1939—Martyn to Bethan Lloyd-Jones:
My dear Bethan, Thank you for your letter of this morning, though I am very angry that you should have been up until 11:30 p.m.writing it! I see that you are quite incorrigible. The idea that I shall become used to being without you is really funny. I could speak for a long time on this subject as I have told you many, many times. The passing of years does nothing but deepen and intensify my love for you.
When I think of those days in London, in 1925 and 1926, when I thought that no greater love was possible, I could laugh! But honestly, during the last year, I have come to believe that it was not possible for a man to love his wife more than I loved you. Yet, I see that there is no end to love and that it is still true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
I am quite certain that there is no lover, anywhere, writing to a girl, who is quite as mad about her as I am. Indeed, I pity those lovers who are not married. Well, I’d better put a curb to things or I shall spend the night writing to you, without a word of news. Ever yours, Martyn
Dennis: You know, what I get out of that letter is the maturity of love. What he basically said was—when he started, it was puppy love. Now, he compares what he has for his wife and there is no comparison.
What you’re really sharing in your book here, Michael, is example after example of letters that come from the heart—that are expressed—not just a fond affection, but there is also great theology. These letters point people to God and remind their spouses of the truth of God’s Word. I am thinking of the illustration of 1,600 letters by this guy. For some of our listeners, you just need to write one. You need to write one love letter to your wife, or to your husband, and then, may I challenge you to read it to them, face to face. If you go to a Weekend to Remember—
Bob: I am going to be at the conference in Hershey, Pennsylvania. We have conferences going on all over the place this weekend, Valentine’s weekend. It is a part of what we will do at the conference.
Dennis: We help people write these letters by really stirring up their hearts about what attracted them to one another in the first place.
Michael, I appreciate your work on this book. Thanks for doing the unearthing of some really sacred texts of sorts—letters from great Christian heroes of times past—I think, putting some humanity on Martin Luther, and John Calvin, and Martyn Lloyd-Jones—men that I admire and who had a great impact. I appreciate you doing this, and thanks for being on FamilyLife Today.
Michael: Thank you very much. It has been a real privilege.
Bob: There may be some listeners who want to get a copy of this so they can get some crib notes before they write their own.
Dennis: I am thinking there are a couple of lines in there, Bob—
Bob: —you are going to borrow from?
Dennis: I am. Would that be—
Michael: That would be perfectly okay, as long as you put it in quotes. [Laughing]
Bob: We do have copies of Dr. Haykin’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and look for the book, The Christian Lover: the Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers by Dr. Michael Haykin.
Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. While you’re online, get more information about the upcoming season of FamilyLife Weekend to Remember marriage getaways—the one where I’m going to be speaking, this weekend, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, or any of the upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaways. We have events happening, throughout the spring, in cities, all across the country. More information is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions, 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. This weekend, I’m going to be in Hershey, Pennsylvania, along with my friends Brian and Jen Goins. We’re going to be speaking at the Hershey Lodge for our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway.
One of the topics that we always tackle at a Weekend to Remember is the issue of marital intimacy. We talk candidly and straight-forwardly, and hopefully, appropriately, about the sexual dimension of the marriage relationship. I spoke on this subject, recently, at a Weekend to Remember. The message was recorded for audio. This week, we are making that CD available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation. We are listener-supported. The cost for producing and syndicating this daily program is covered by folks, like you, who help support us, either with monthly donations, as a Legacy Partner, or with an occasional donation, as God leads you.
Again, this week, if you can make a donation, we’ll send you a copy of the CD on marital intimacy. All you have to do is go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”, and make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation over the phone. If you do, make sure you ask for the marital intimacy CD. We’re happy to get it out to you. Again, thanks for being a part of what God is doing through the ministry of FamilyLife Today and for helping to keep it on the air in your community and in cities, all around the country. We appreciate you.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. I hope you can be here on Monday. Barbara Rainey is going to join us. We’re going to talk about what moms and dads can do, during the Lenten season, to help spiritually-focus the family on the upcoming Easter celebration. How can we have the Resurrection in our hearts and on our minds throughout the weeks leading up to Easter? We’ll talk about that Monday. Barbara has a creative new tool that we’re going to tell you about—so, I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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