The Letters of Ruth Bryan, 1805-1860
To Miss M., January 12, 1852.
Faith the gift of God
My beloved friend,
Permit me to greet you affectionately this new year in the name of our glorious Emmanuel, of whom it was truly said, "This man receives sinners, and eats with them." I know you feel yourself the chief of sinners; be encouraged then, for He is Jesus, "the same yesterday, today, and forever." Sinners He still receives graciously, loves freely, pardons fully, and justifies from all things past, present, or to come. Oh! that this might be the year of meeting between your soul and your Surety; then would you find the glad release from all those heavy debts which you feel to be hourly increasing. "The great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come who were ready to perish." You know when the jubilee blast was sounded every Israelite was free. They might not only have wasted their inheritance—but have sold even themselves, yet it mattered not, in either case they became free in the glorious year of release. Mortgaged lands, burdensome debts, and toilsome servitude, all came to an end on that happy morn. The spiritual Israel have their jubilee too—the general one, when the Archangel's trumpet shall awake their sleeping dust, and the purchased possession shall return in glory to Him who redeemed it with blood; and the inward personal one, when each soul hears for itself, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you! I have called you by your name, you are mine!" Ah! then the mountains of guilt are cast into the depths of the sea—that red sea of blood, whose waves overtop them all. Then the mighty debt is known to be cancelled, so that the poor debtor can sing of "sovereign grace over sin abounding," for "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Who knows but this very year may be the one of jubilee in your experience, my beloved? There is a set time to favor Zion individually as well as Zion collectively, and when the time of the promise arrives, nothing shall prevent its accomplishment. Sin, Satan, unbelief, shall all give way; those gates of brass shall open, the fetters fall off, and the imprisoned soul come forth to the light of day, scarcely believing for joy and wondering.
The Lord lift up your head, and may your manifested redemption draw near, which all your sense of poverty and misery will make doubly welcome. My poor namesake had lost all, and was in great destitution; but she found a near kinsman who owned the relationship, and was willing to redeem, though first she had somewhat boldly to make her suit for his kindness. "Spread your skirt over your handmaid, for you are a near kinsman." This looks like the plea of faith and necessity; when the poor soul feels its poverty and nakedness, and entreats the heavenly Boaz to cover it with His skirt—that justifying righteousness which alone can hide its shame. He is never offended with such apparent presuming; and never rejects such a forsaken and desolate one. As surely as Boaz did redeem and marry the Moabitish damsel, so surely Jesus has redeemed and will acknowledge every coming sinner. (John 6:37) "Ah!" say you, "this matter of faith is one thing which troubles me; the blessings of salvation are enjoyed by faith—but I cannot get at it. I seem shut up in unbelief, and I cannot come forth."
"Oh! could I but believe,
Then all would easy be!
I would—but cannot; Lord, you know
My help must come from Thee."
Well, my loved friend, I feel most incompetent to speak to you upon the important but dear subject of precious faith; and when I read your question upon Eph. 1:13, a sense of inability to answer almost deterred me from writing at all. But, however, I can speak from experience, that I once felt exactly as I have described; seeing the importance of faith, and that without it I could not be saved, and yet finding it impossible to believe to the saving of my soul, so that I said with deep feeling, "I thought that I could as soon make a world as believe." But, say you, "Is it thus still?" Nay, truly. I was then shut up—but not unto despair; it was unto the faith which has since been revealed. Christ as the object of faith was yet to be revealed in His glorious person, finished work, and amazing love; and power put into the soul to receive, take hold of, and enjoy Him and His benefits as its personal portion. Living faith is, indeed, as you say, something more than a "declaration of belief," or mere "assent to the truth of the written Word," or belief in the divinity of the Savior. All this I had many times when painfully feeling I had not the faith which enters into rest, (Heb. 4:10, 11) and is accompanied with joy and peace, (Rom. 15:13) or I had it not so in exercise as to be followed by those blessed effects: for I humbly conceive all the graces of the Spirit (of which faith is one) are communicated in regeneration; but, like the powers of an infant, they must have growth and development before they come to strong exercise. Moreover, when living faith is implanted it must have an object; and the effects in the soul will be correspondent to that object.
Oftentimes, at the first, faith has to do with the law, justice, and holiness of Jehovah, and His threatenings against sin. These it may fully believe with personal application; and as the soul falls down condemned before Him, not only in the judgment—but also in feeling, believing its own vileness, and that He will be righteous in casting it out of His sight, faith justifies the Lord, and ascribes righteousness to its Maker, while the soul is filled with compunction, and abhors itself in dust and ashes. Here is repentance towards God, and here is faith—but not that faith in Jesus which has the sealing of the Spirit. No living soul is, however, left here. Faith is caused to grow, in hearing (Rom. 10:17)—in hearing that there is a way of escape, that God can still be just, and yet justify the ungodly who believe in Jesus. Faith, receiving this report of the great salvation through a great Savior, and of the exact suitability thereof to the soul's case, there is a growing confidence that if He will He can pardon the sin, heal the leper, loose the prisoner, and forgive the arrested debtor who has "nothing to pay."
Now the soul begins to feel a love and tenderness towards this Friend of sinners, and says, "Oh, that He were my friend! Oh, that He would save and speak comfortably to me! Oh, that I could know He loves me! This would be heaven below! There is now full faith in His ability and His suitability; but there is not the spirit of adoption, or the sealing of the Spirit. There is not the venture of faith, casting the whole weight of soul and sins upon Him or believing in Him for the personal benefit of His blood and righteousness, His life, death, and resurrection, or, as Hart so expressively calls it in his 79th hymn, "Believing into Him." This is the "work of faith with power;" and they who thus believe are manifestly saved (1 John 4:13)—do know that they have eternal life, and by the renewings of the Holy Spirit are kept believing, for they live by the faith of the Son of God. The justified shall live by faith, and they are sealed by the Spirit of promise unto the day of redemption; which redemption plainly refers to the resurrection of the body, see also Rom. 8:23.
By this sealing they have manifestly to their own consciences God's mark upon them as His property, and thereby they are assured of a glorious resurrection to life eternal. Though now they carry this body as a body of sin and death, and often groan under its burden, and though soon it shall be laid in the grave as a body of corruption, yet it is a "purchased possession." They are sealed unto the day of redemption. God has wrought them for the self-same thing. (2 Cor. 5:4, 5)The Spirit witnesses to it with or in their spirits, and they joyfully look for their Redeemer, who is mighty, and "who shall change their vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto His glorious body, according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself." Truly, this sealed state is an immense privilege, and a free one—the gift of Heaven—the work of God—a royal grant of grace and love, as all will most joyfully acknowledge who do truly possess it. True, the Spirit seals the soul (Eph. 1:13) after believing, (Gal. 3:14) but not for it. By the appointment of Heaven the seal is annexed to the faith—but in nowise conditionally, for both are a free gift—both the work of God. Faith honors God by its seal, and God honors faith by His. John 3:33; 2 Cor. 1:22.
Let this make the poor heart cry more importunately, "Lord, increase my faith," for He who is its Author is its Finisher, and He will have respect to the work of His own hands. It is also true that the Spirit (1 John 5:10; Rom. 8:16) witnesses to the soul's adoption in believing, and thus we are manifestly children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26) This is not because faith is a creature work, and the witnessing of the Spirit a rewarding the creature for that work; but is because it is the pleasure of our heavenly Father that His children, while in the body, shall walk in the way of faith, not by sight and sense. He is much honored in every believing soul who is brought by His Spirit, not only to felt need—but felt nothingness, and enabled to glory in His Son as the "Lord our righteousness;" and therefore He has in the written Word very abundantly set forth the spiritual blessings which are experimentally enjoyed (Gal. 3:9) in this way of faith, (Rom. 1:16, 17) and in no other way, that His people may be the more encouraged to seek for this good old path, and inquire for it.
Also, He has given abundance of "wills" and "shalls" to insure their finding it, and all are most needful, for it is a way most contrary to our fallen nature and legal minds. Everything that is in us by nature opposes it; and, when quickened by the Spirit, how do unbelief, self, and Satan, strive to hold us back. We might say, in the words of Job, "There is a path which no fowl knows, and which the vulture's eye has not seen: the lion's whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed by it." Ah! indeed, in the pathway of faith all nature's keenness, swiftness, and strength are in vain; but those ransomed of the Lord, who feel themselves as "fools," shall find it, and shall not err therein. (Isa. 35:8, 10) The promise is sure to all the seed—"He that believes shall be saved;" "for by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."
Therefore, be not discouraged, dearest, because you cannot work faith out of your own barren heart; it was never intended you should. Jesus gives it freely, and He will increase it. You cannot say you have not the buddings of it as first described: you have faith in a holy sin-avenging God; and you have faith in a holy sin-atoning Savior, as able to save you, and just the Savior you need. Do you want to believe in Him more fully and firmly, venturing the weight of all upon His obedience and sacrifice? What can you do better than ask Him to reveal Himself more clearly in your soul, like him of old, who said, "Who is the Lord, that I might believe on Him?" Hearken to the gracious answer: "You have both seen Him, and it is He who talks with you;" and he said, "Lord, I believe; and he worshiped Him." Now I think this is just your case. Jesus has been talking to you, and you know Him not, just as He talked to the woman of Samaria, and told her all things that ever she did. May He open your eyes and your heart that you may receive Him, believe on His name, (John 1:12) and have privilege to know that you are a child of God. Faith is the very outgoing of heart and soul upon the person and work, blood and righteousness of Jehovah Jesus, and that under a deep sense of unworthiness, guiltiness, and hell-deserving. Unbelief would put these things as obstacles and barriers in the way—but faith will not have it so, seeing such richness and efficacy in the blood and obedience of Him who is mighty to save, that it says, "Therefore He is able to save to the uttermost--all who come unto God by Him. And now farewell; I trust the Lord will bruise Satan under your feet shortly.
With much affection, I remain your unworthy friend,
"And in view of this, we always pray for you that our God will consider you worthy of His calling, and will, by His power, fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified by you, and you by Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
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