The Letters of Ruth Bryan, 1805-1860
The plausibility of unbelief
"The Lord shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought." Isaiah 58:11
To Miss M., June 10, 1856.
My beloved friend,
It has been a pleasure to hear from you and of the Lord's dealings with you, for I cannot but hope that the gloom around you is not quite so dense as in days gone by. The rainbow of safety and peace seems to be more discernible in your cloud. Surely we will praise the Lord for any tokens for good, knowing He is so faithful, that where He gives the least item of covenant favor, it may be safely taken as a pledge of the whole. It is well when faith is watching for any kind word from Him, and does immediately take hold of it and echo it back again, as did the messengers of the king of Syria to Ahab. (1 Kings 20:30-33) But ah! is it not true that "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light?" They quickly take advantage for their own benefit in earthly things—but we are slow of heart in spiritual things—slow to believe what the Lord has done for us—slow to trust Him who has given us such exceeding great and precious promises; and ever ready to listen to Satan, unbelief, and carnal reason, instead of receiving His word with all readiness. What reason have we to cry, "Lord, increase our faith;" for really unbelief works at times so insidiously, it puts on the garb of humility and strives to make us consider it more humble and suitable for such great sinners as we are, to be doubting and holding back from the free promises of the gospel, instead of looking to Him, and expecting to receive of Christ's fullness. Oh! hateful dishonor to that able, willing Savior who "receives sinners, and eats with them."
Many in this day who in their judgment reject all idea of creature merit are yet really stooping under this infirmity wherewith Satan binds them, and which is, in truth, looking at self instead of Jesus—looking for something in the creature, instead of all in Him. I was held so long in this specious snare, and do now see it to be so derogatory to my precious Lord, that my soul burns with indignation against this most hateful sin. I rejoice to hear Bunyan call it "the white devil," and say, "Oftentimes in its mischievous doings in the soul it shows as if it were an angel of light; yes, it acts like a counselor of heaven, for it is that sin which of all others has some show of reason in its attempts, keeping the soul from Jesus Christ by pretending its present unfitness and unpreparedness, pleading a lack of more sense of sin, more humility, more repentance, and more of a broken heart.
It is the sin which most suits with the conscience. The conscience of the coming sinner tells him that he has nothing good, that he stands indictable for a thousand talents, that he is very blind, ignorant, and hard hearted; and will you, says unbelief, in such a case as you now are, presume to come to Jesus Christ?
It is the sin which most suits with our sense of feeling: the coming sinner feels the workings of sin and wretchedness in his flesh, and the wrath and judgment of God due to sin, and often staggers under it. Now, says unbelief, you may see you have no grace, for that which works in you is corruption; you may also perceive that God does not love you, because the sense of His wrath abides upon you; therefore, how can you have the face to come to Jesus Christ?
It is that sin above all others that most suits the wisdom of the flesh. The wisdom of the flesh thinks it prudent to question awhile, to hearken to both sides awhile, to stand back awhile, and not to be too rash or unadvised in a too bold presuming upon Jesus Christ.
It is that sin above all others that weakens our prayers, our faith, our love, our hope, our diligence, and our expectations; it even takes away the heart from God in duty.
This sin, as I have said before, appears in the soul with so many sweet pretenses to safety and security, that it is as it were counsel sent from heaven, bidding the soul to be wise, wary, and considerate, and to take heed of too rash a venture upon believing. Be sure first that God loves you; be not sure of your salvation—but doubt it still, though the testimony of the Lord has been confirmed in you; live not by faith but by sense, and when you can neither see nor feel, then fear and mistrust, then doubt and question all. This is the counsel of unbelief, which is so covered over with specious pretenses that the wisest Christian can hardly shake off these reasonings." So says Bunyan; and these sayings have been very profitable to my soul.
May the Holy Spirit make them so to yours, my dear friend. I do greatly long that the sly workings of this vile sin of unbelief should be discovered, and that we should do with it as Esther did with Haman—bring it into the presence of the King to plead against it, and get its schemes against us broken by His power. I was rejoiced to hear that the Lord has guided you to the house of your Master's brethren, and that you are located in a pilgrim lodge. May the Lord grant you sweet communion, and bless the change to the benefit of your health. You mention our meeting face to face; it does not look likely—but we know not what is before us. I feel sure and certain you would be disappointed; you think much too highly of me. I am reserved, have not conversational powers, and am altogether a very poor creature—but just fit for Jesus to save; and by the grace of God I am what I am. The Lord bless you, and enlarge you abundantly in Christ.
With affectionate love, ever yours warmly in Him,
Excuse the many defects.
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