The Letters of Ruth Bryan, 1805-1860
Balm in Gilead
"Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?" Jeremiah 8:22
"I myself said, 'How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.' I thought you would call me 'Father' and not turn away from following me." Jeremiah 3:19
To Miss M., June 3, 1850.
My beloved sister in Jesus,
These "shalls" and "shall nots" reach even your hard case, for, wayward though you may be, you have not power to get away from them.
Spiritual life in the first quickening by the Holy Spirit is as real and as sure of consummation, as it is in the ripest growth thereof--though it is not always as easily discernible. Surely my spirit feels union with yours in the bonds of the Covenant; yes, I feel one with you in the indissoluble ties of love Divine, most truly believing you to be part of the travail of my precious Redeemer's soul. For you, with worthless me, He agonized in sweat of blood and pangs to us unknown, and He shall see of the travail of His soul and shall be satisfied. All your sins shall not be sufficient to prevent it; and, unworthy though I be, I do look in your case to be partaker of His joy, and bid you welcome into the land flowing with milk and honey. For as surely as you are by the quickening Spirit passing under the rod in conviction, felt bondage, and heavy groanings which cannot be uttered, so surely shall you "pass again under the hand of Him who counts them," into the sweet bond of the Covenant, which is everlasting love—a bond which cannot be broken by all the combined powers of earth and hell. Take courage, then; "faithful is He who calls you, who also will do it." Ah indeed, or it would never be done at all; for one step you cannot take, one thought you cannot think, one word you cannot speak to forward your own salvation. Poor hopeless, helpless one, you just lie entirely at the disposal of holy sovereignty; and if He saves you not by His own power for His own holy name's sake, perish you must and will. But He has given commandment to save you, and before long He will pluck your feet out of the net which now entangles your steps, will bring your soul out of prison, and you shall praise His name who has indeed dealt wondrously with you.
You think my case was not half so desperate as yours, and yet again and again you depict to the life the vile workings of my abominably deceitful heart. These workings I would never mention to glory in my shame—but only "for the lifting of Jesus on high," and for the encouragement of those poor souls who are groaning in the pit of corruption, and who feel that by every effort they only sink deeper into the mire. Too well do I know what you describe when you speak of yielding to temptation, feelingly crying out against iniquity, and yet at the same time conscious of, in some sort, regarding it in my heart. Besetting sins I had, and did really loathe them, yet I fell into them again and again, partly in consequence of indulging them. Yet the outward surface was fair, although I thought none on earth could conceive what a monster of iniquity I was. The testimony of sin was at times deeply stamped upon everything I did, said, thought, or looked, so that I was a burden and terror to myself, and would most gladly have exchanged with any of the brute creation to get rid of my polluted but never-dying soul, which trembled at the remembrance of the holiness of Him before whom I must appear. I detested hypocrisy—but feared it, because of being always kept outwardly moral and nurtured among Christian friends and privileges. I trembled at a name to live, while I was dead, and felt that I could make none really believe what a sink of iniquity was working within. This made the feelings and expressions of my more favored moments seem to me like hypocrisy; for if they were really spiritual, how could I return to my filthiness, like the "sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire?" True, I did hate the evil I was the subject of, and yet I felt it had power over me, and also that there was something in me which had a secret liking for it. These things greatly cast me down, and made me think my spots could not be the spots of God's children.
But how often since my deliverance have I seen cause to bless the Lord that I learned war in my spiritual youth—that He brought me into His temple by the north gate—that I felt so keenly the cutting blasts of a long dreary winter, before basking in the beams of the blessed Sun of righteousness—that the fountains of the great deep of iniquity in my heart were broken up, and the flood of evil burst upon me, before I was brought so blissfully into the banqueting-house, and reclined under the banner of love. All the Lord's ways are right ways; but I do now esteem it a favor to have been thus dealt with, because I observe those who have made more slight discoveries of their own corruption before their pardon is sealed, do appear often so astounded to find the enemy still in the land, and are ready to die with fear when the trumpet sounds them from the banquet to the battle. But, O thoroughly vile creatures, such as I have felt myself to be, do know that the moment the sun goes down the beasts of the forest will again creep forth, that the richest feast is only just to strengthen for more conflict or tribulation, and that there can be no long cessation of arms while we carry about this body of death. It may be, my beloved, you cannot yet take any comfort from these thoughts, because you are so severely feeling the painfulness of the discipline—but the end of a thing is better than the beginning. Those "who sow in tears shall reap in joy." Those who feel the heaviest load will prize deliverance most; those who are most beaten off from confidence in themselves will be the least moved as they discover their own weakness; and those who have the sentence of death most deeply inscribed in their hearts will be most constrained to live outside of themselves, and trust wholly in another.
May the Lord cheer your heart, for in the midst of all your casting down He is drawing near you, and giving you cause to sing of mercy as well as judgment. What are all those little bedewings upon your spirit, and beamings of light through the gloom—but drops of mercy betokening a shower of blessings to come. Oh, seek to give the Lord the glory due unto His name! give not place to the devil, who would have you "lie against your right," and say your wound is incurable. There is balm in Gilead which can heal it. There is a Physician there who can reach it; He can cure your body, He can bless your soul; and though the lion has roared so frightfully, yet out of this eater He can bring meat, and out of this strong one He can bring sweetness. You are just fitting for a marvelous display of invincible power and omnipotent grace.
Shall Satan have you? No! you are none of his, though so long disguised in black livery. The prey shall be taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered, not for price or reward on your part. You shall come forth free by a royal grant, without any demand made upon you; but mind it is because another has paid the full cost of your release. And on whom then will your admiring eyes be fastened? Oh, on Him who not merely said He would give—but really has given His own life for your ransom! Eternal praises to this dear Deliverer who was anointed "to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;" yes, bound in affliction and irons, like you and me, the iron bonds of our nature's corruption and evil, and the iron grasp of the law revealing iniquity, and saying, "Pay me that you owe!" Oh, this does bring down the heart, indeed, with labor and sorrow! we fall down, and there seems none to help; then we cry unto the Lord in our trouble, and He brings us out of our distresses. (Read the 107th Psalm, which has been precious to me.) He has brought me out, though encompassed with every improbability. I am free to praise Him and to encourage you, and I would have you know that His prisoners are as safe as His freed ones. He is judging and chastening you now, that you should not be condemned with the world.
As for writing to me "to give you up as a hypocrite," I should just have answered, "How shall I give you up, Ephraim?" "My affections are troubled for you)" and if I should speak or think against you, I should "earnestly remember you still." I can only say of our correspondence,
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform."
Your letters touch a most sensitive chord in my heart, and I weep tears of sympathy with you, and wondering thankfulness, that the Lord should in the least refresh you by my unworthy means. It is condescension indeed! I know not that any one ever so fully described my former self and feelings. You say you write selfishly; so you must and will while the case of your soul is, to your apprehension, pending in uncertainty: it is the sphere where self is all-important and all-absorbing; and it will often tend to produce an unkind fretfulness towards all around, which you deplore, while feeling and manifesting it. But you do not say enough about self. Do tell me about your health. I long to know of any improvement, and how far you are an invalid. The Lord blend your will into His! Your letters are very precious to me—but never write to increase your suffering in mind or body. It is more pleasure and privilege to me to write to you than I can describe, and the freedom of spirit therein is wonderful as a stranger in the flesh—but not strangers now. I feel to know and love you, though I often think you would never love me if you knew me in person; it is all for Jesus' sake, and that is most sweet.
I am quite ashamed to write again so quickly to you—but the Lord our God seemed to bring the portion, and though I have had many misgivings, I felt such a flow of soul, that I feared to grieve or quench the Spirit if I withheld it.
And now, my dear Miss M—, I commend you to that tender Shepherd, who knows all your case and will meet it; and, with much love and sympathy, I am your truly affectionate,
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