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Letters between two lovers

The letters between Elizabeth (Lily) Swift Brengle and Samuel Brengle
Posted February 13, 2023

Colonel Samuel Brengle was described as “One of the most … saintliest characters in Salvation Army history … who shocked his friends and associates by becoming a Salvation Army officer in 1887. His articles and books on practical holiness … established his reputation as the Army’s leading exponent of the doctrine of holiness” (Cyril Bradwell - ‘Fight the Good Fight’ The Story of The Salvation Army in New Zealand 1883 – 1983, p74)

Samuel Brengle was born in 1860 in Fredericksburg, Indiana, USA, of Methodist parents and his father died of wounds received from fighting in the United States Civil War, when Samuel was a boy. 

At the age of 24 Brengle, while studying for ministry at the Boston Theological Seminary, experienced a personal and powerful spiritual transformation that impacted on the rest of his life. 

Elizabeth (Lily) Swift was born in 1849 in Poughkeepsie, New York and had a comfortable rural childhood. In her 20s she travelled with her sister and a friend to Europe. They came across The Salvation Army in Glasgow and later London, were converted, and became members. This was not an organisation Lily’s parents had expected her to join, however when she returned to America she continued to be wholeheartedly involved.

Samuel admired The Salvation Army and first met Lily Swift when he attended meetings where she was the speaker. But, in 1886 when he first proposed to her, she turned him down as she was returning to London for Army research purposes. As a writer, Elizabeth Reeves Swift wrote Drum Taps, later republished as The Army Drum, in 1909, and in total she published four books and wrote several periodicals.

After much soul searching and prayer Lily in 1887, on returning home, accepted Samuel Brengle’s proposal of marriage, believing that God could use them in partnership. They were married on 19 August 1887 and shortly after, Samuel went to be trained as an officer at The International Training College in London. 

They had several officer appointments together, but when Samuel began to travel widely as a teacher and evangelist in 1897, Lily, often remained at home as their daughter’s health was frail. However, her passion for souls never waned and at every opportunity she sought to witness and bring souls to salvation.

Lily and Samuel’s story is one of love, loyalty, and a prayerful commitment to the ministry of each other, which is expressed in their letters to each other over several years. 

In 1930, Brengle gave these letters to the Literary Department of The Salvation Army, in London, however they were not published until 1985, when William Clark edited and arranged the letters in, Dearest Lily… A selection of the Brengle correspondence.


The following are a few samples of their letters to each other, from this book.

January 22 1907 | Harlem | Samuel to Lily
I shall pray, specially, darling, that in my long absences we may, as in the past, be kept without pain, but that we may not get so used to separation that we shall feel we can get along without each other. Indeed, the sense that you are there, loving me, praying for me, interested in all that interests me, that you are my wife, my flesh, my other self, is like a great anchor to me. 


22 January 1907 | Lily to Samuel
I got very hungry for you after supper, and I came off upstairs here to the sewing room and found you in Jesus. There’s a philosophy in that. I know you are abiding in him, and I just turn to him and realize his presence. It isn’t hard to find him because he abides with me. Then it seems as if you were holding one of his blessed hands, and I the other, like two children by their mother’s knee, and we are both resting in his love looking to him and letting the knowledge of his love sink into our hearts. 


February 7 1907 | Stockholm | Samuel to Lily
Your letters are like sunshine and cool air and living water and fragrant flowers to me, my darling. They are always so full of faith and hope and love and consequent good cheer that I laugh and cry and shout over them and pass sweet plums from them among my friends. 


May 2 1907 | Bergen | Samuel to Lily
Was it not 20 years ago today that the Lord said to you, “Have faith in God”? I didn’t know how happy and blessed I was that day, and I am not sure that I know now, though I know much more now than I did then … you darling of my heart and mate of my soul and human joy and peace and comfort and courage of my life … Words fail to express all that I feel in my heart … How poor I should have been without you, my darling, my darling.


January 31 1908 | Lily to Samuel
I love and love you, my own Sam … When you told the people of New York how you always wanted to be a blessing at home I ought to have told them, ‘He always is a blessing to me, who love you so, and you are a blessing to the children in making them happy and making them good.’ We all three love you, devotedly, and count you the biggest blessing the Lord has given us. Go on in faith, my dearest.


April 26, 1910 | Lily to Samuel
It comes over me like a tidal wave sometimes that I am spending my life apart from you. I bear your name, your children are mine, I live in your home, I am the wife of your inmost soul, and yet I am apart from you…Before this, I have been able to live with you in my heart – to follow you closely in my imagination that we never seemed really apart. But now weeks have gone by when I have not even known where you were…We seem apart as never before. Maybe I shouldn’t write this, but I want to keep nothing back from you. I love, love, love you.

May 18, 1910 | Sydney | Samuel to Lily
Twenty-three years ago, tomorrow you became mine, you precious, sweet little wifey of mine! I guess you were mine before, only we didn’t know it, so blind and in the dark are we mortals. How glad I am that God sent you to Boston.

And how I love you, my darling! There is the same freshness and sweetness in my love for you today that there was in those days so far away but added to the freshness and sweetness is a maturity, a ripeness, of nearly a quarter of a century. So today is better and richer than that day. Then there are the darling children. Oh, we are multi-billionaires, or trillionaires. And all these years we have been enjoying and proving the love and faithfulness of God and not one of his words has failed. All have proved true. Bless his holy name!