Intimate Friendships Among Christians

original-letters-relative-to-the-english-reformationI have recently had the pleasure of reading a product from Logos Bible Software. As much as I am a lover of the printed book, the benefits that an interactive library such as this can provide are very advantageous. And so I thought I would share a few posts on the first wonderful book that I have at my fingertips, Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation, Vols. 1&2. Just to make my friend Dana jealous, I thought I’d start with three letters written from Lady Jane Grey to Henry Bullinger. Of course, we all know that letters are a much more intimate medium than the forms of social media that we use to communicate today. But I have to say that my first observation was that Lady Jane would be considered quite the kiss-up in today’s culture. Actually, beyond that, I would feel like I’ve crossed the line into inappropriate territory to lavish the compliments on Bullinger the way Lady Jane did. And to keep her young age in mind, our social media would tear these two people up if their correspondence were made public. It would be scandalous. Here are a few examples:
Oh! happy me, to be possessed of such a friend and so wise a counsellor! (for, as Solomon says, “in the multitude of counsellors there is safety;”) and to be connected by the ties of friendship and intimacy with so learned a man, so pious a divine, and so intrepid a champion of true religion![1]
I do this however with diffidence, inasmuch as the great friendship which you desire to exist between us, and the many favours you have conferred upon one who is so entirely undeserving of them, seem to demand something more than mere thanks; and I cannot satisfactorily repay by my poor and worthless correspondence the debt of gratitude I owe you. The consideration also of my unfitness to address a letter to a person of your eminence, greatly adds to my uncomfortable feelings; nor indeed should I either desire or presume to disturb your important labours with my trifles and puerilities, or interrupt your eloquence by my so great rudeness of speech, only that I know I have no other means of testifying my gratitude, and that I have no doubt of your accustomed and long experienced indulgence[2]
My mind, moreover, is fluctuating and undecided: for while I consider my age, sex, and mediocrity, or rather infancy in learning, each of these things, much more all of them, deter me from writing; but when I call to mind the eminence of your virtues, the celebrity of your character, and the magnitude of your favours towards me, the higher consideration yields to the inferior; a sense of what is becoming me gives way to your worth, and the respect which your merits demand usually prevails over all other considerations.[3]
I have to say, reading these letters made me kind of sad. It seems that although there is much good critique about how over-sexualized our culture is, we’ve lost the ability to have appropriate intimacy in our friendships. We’ve become quite prudish and unexpressive so that we will not be suspect of any hint of sexual sin. It seems we have unfortunately made intimacy equivalent with hyper-sexuality, perhaps even in our same-sex friendships as well. I can’t help but think we are missing out on the blessings of rich friendships with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Reading Lady Jane Grey’s letters in full reveals a maturity from a very young woman that most of us just don’t have. If you know her history, then you know that Lady Jane had a very strong faith, one that persevered and trusted in God’s good providence. At a mere 16 years of age, this amazing women was willing to put her life on the line to show the value of true faith. Her correspondence with Henry Bullinger certainly played a role in strengthening her confession of hope and preparing her for her calling. In these letters, Lady Jane also mentions her father’s appreciation for a volume Bullinger sent to her (the Logos helpful references that automatically show up in a sidebar note this was his treatise on Christian Perfection). She testifies to Bullinger’s exhortations to her holiness and a genuine faith in her Savior Jesus Christ, even as she knows that this faith is a gift. And she compliments him with detail that we just wouldn’t dare utter today:
Were I indeed to extol you as truth requires, I should need either the oratorical powers of Demosthenes, or the eloquence of Cicero; for your merits are so great, as to demand not only length of time, but an acuteness of intellect and elegance of expression far beyond that of my age to set them forth.[4]
As I think about how these letters have been preserved and how this housewife theologian can read them so accessibly while sitting at the bar in my kitchen, I am thankful to have such a great example of appropriate Christian friendship. Indeed, Christ was surely the focus and the glory of their relationship, and this fostered a suitable intimacy that factored into the blessings they received from friendship. I know that we don’t communicate in the same way in this day and age, but still, I feel like we are missing out on something special. Letter-writing is certainly more intimate than emails and social media. It is less transient as well. I’m not sure that we will ever recover that practice, but it would be beneficial to at least learn something from these relationships that have been preserved through the art---something we may be missing in Christian friendship. Not all intimacy is shameful. The letters preserved from this friendship also encourage me. On the new heavens and the new earth, we will still be sexual beings in that we will be male and female. Perhaps the Christ-centered intimacy in these letters is a small glimpse into the sibling relationships that we will enjoy without sin for eternity.   [1] Robinson, H. (Ed.). (1846–1847). Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation & 2. (H. Robinson, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 5). Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press. [2] Robinson, H. (Ed.). (1846–1847). Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation & 2. (H. Robinson, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 8). Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press. [3] Robinson, H. (Ed.). (1846–1847). Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation & 2. (H. Robinson, Trans.) (Vol. 1, pp. 10–11). Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press. [4] Robinson, H. (Ed.). (1846–1847). Original Letters Relative to the English Reformation & 2. (H. Robinson, Trans.) (Vol. 1, p. 9). Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press.