The Letters of Ruth Bryan, 1805-1860
Counsels to a young man entering the ministry
(To Mr. Macdonald. June 1855. Written by request, after a long conversation.)
Dear brother in the Lord,
You have set me a task in again requesting me to write the substance of our conversation. You are surrounded with many deep streams in books and in experienced servants of the Lord, and you have at hand "the well-spring of wisdom, which is a flowing brook;" also you have within the well of living water (John 4:14) springing up, and the anointing to teach; (1 John 2:27) but as you have again expressed the desire, I must try, in humble dependence upon the blessed Spirit, of whom our Lord said, "He shall teach you all things, and shall bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said unto you."
I think we first spoke of preaching to dead sinners—that they should be told of their guilty, lost condition, and entire corruption, their sin set before them; (Acts 2:23; and 3:13-15) also the only way of escape, and that continuing in sin, they must perish. (Psalm 9:17) Their responsibility must be appealed to, (Acts 17:28-31; 2 Cor. 5:10, 11) and that not on the ground of their capability—but of God's rightful sovereignty, He not having lost His right to command, though they have lost all power to obey. Their complete helplessness must be stated, not leading them to think there is any power in the creature, and yet showing how they are responsible to the Divine law, and that because of transgression the wrath of God comes upon the transgressor. We did not speak of the law—but surely its holy requirements should be set forth in their spirituality, in reaching to the thoughts and intents of the heart, in order to show out transgression; (Rom. 3:20) not because any can meet its demands, yet all are under it until released by the glad tidings of the gospel, coming by the Spirit's power. The law is for "the disobedient," (1 Tim. 1:9) and what it says is to them who are under it, to stop every mouth, and prove all guilty before God. (Rom. 3:19)
Also it is needful to set forth what must be fulfilled before any can be justified. Then comes in the great Law Fulfiller, who could lay His hand on both parties, giving to the Lawgiver rich satisfaction, and to the lawbreaker honorable salvation. Here is "a door of hope," and "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up," and when the Spirit opens the eyes, the sin-bitten look and live! Thus while the law shows out man's utter deformity, (Rom. 7:8, 13) it shows the Savior's beauty, for He was fully conformed to its pattern. (Matt. 5:17; John 17:4) By faith in Him the soul experiences full benefit of all He did and suffered, which is the only way of salvation, (Acts 13:38, 39; John 3:36) and this faith is the gift of God. (Eph. 2:8)
As to direct addresses to dead sinners, it has been said, "You might as well stand in a churchyard and call to a corpse to come out of the grave," which is most true as regards the state of a sinner, and the power of a merely human call. But God told Ezekiel to prophesy to dead and dry bones, (Ezek. 37:2-4) which was like preaching to dead sinners. The Lord's ministers speak to all dead in sin, warning and teaching every man, being at the same time quite sure that the word will only be used to gather out those who are chosen, (Acts 13:48, and 15:14) and equally sure that this can only be done by the power of the Spirit. They, feeling much for perishing sinners, "preach the word," and warn with great earnestness, yet place no dependence upon their feeling or their earnestness or their use of the letter of Scripture—but entirely on the Spirit, without whose power there will be no signs following, neither the quickening of the dead, nor the comforting, reproving, and edifying of the living. Therefore, while warning and teaching in season and out of season, as Col. 1:28, 2 Tim. 4:2, they continually recognize that God must give the increase. (1 Cor. 3:6, 7; 2 Cor. 4:4-7)
We spoke of exhorting dead sinners to pray. Prov. 28:9, and Prov. 15:8, seem to be against this, the sacrifice of the wicked being there said to be "an abomination to the Lord;" but it is evident that Peter did so exhort Simon Magus, (Acts 8:22, 23) for he told him to repent and pray for forgiveness, even while plainly perceiving that he was "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." Also, he exhorts the Jerusalem sinners to repent, (Acts 3:19) yet not with any view to creature power either in them or himself, for, in Acts 5:31, he clearly states that repentance is the gift of Christ; but while he so exhorted them, the Lord blessed the Word, for we read that many which heard it believed. (Acts 4:4) Ministers should so use the Word as the sower does the seed, knowing that the Spirit alone can prepare the heart and give it entrance as well as cause it to spring up.
We spoke of the invitations of the gospel as being given to character. Are not the hungry invited to the bread? the thirsty to the waters? and the weary and heavy laden to Christ for rest? And while the character is described, many poor and needy ones will find their token. But, then, we saw they are not to rest in being the character—but seek relief and rest alone in the Savior, as He says, "Look unto me and be saved;" and it is written, "They looked unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed." The Spirit does not direct to His own work in them—but to the work of Jesus, "He shall glorify me, for he shall receive of mine and shall show it unto you." The Spirit says, "come," and the bride echoes His word "come;" and why? "Come," because the fountain is so full and free—the blood so life-giving and strengthening—the rest so refreshing! "Come," because the blood is so efficacious to cleanse, the righteousness to justify. Come to Jesus as sinners, His benefits are for sinners. This encourages seekers who do not know their "election" of God, which is a glorious truth—but not the first step on the ladder—they have to do with "calling," and that is to sinners. (1 Tim. 1:15) The Spirit makes them feel that they are sinners, and the Spirit directs them to the Savior as crucified for sinners, and He often does both by the preaching of the word. And as the soul is enabled to come to Jesus, and to look away from self to Jesus, the Father is honored who gave Jesus, (2 Cor. 9:15) and draws sinners to Jesus, (John 6:44) and accepts them in Him. (Eph. 1:6) The Spirit is honored who testified of Jesus, (1 Pet. 1:11) and Jesus is honored in what He has done and suffered. (1 Pet. 2:24) Thus the Triune Jehovah is glorified, and the soul strengthened to "walk up and down in the name of the Lord." (Zech. 10:12)
We spoke a little of preaching personal experience. Experience must not be put in the place of Christ, (2 Cor. 4:5) nor encouragement from experience used instead of encouragement in the Lord our God; (1 Sam. 30:6) yet to tell somewhat, at times, of personal deliverances may more reach the case of tried and tempted souls, than only stating the Lord's power and willingness to deliver. To describe the malady and tell the skill of the physician may be the principal thing; yet for the minister to mention occasionally some feature in his own case, and how the efficacy was personally proved, may tell home on the heart of those who are in soul-distress.
Paul did not scruple to tell what he had experienced when cited before the rulers of his people, (Acts 22, 26) though this may not be considered as an example of preaching. But may not 2 Cor. 1:4-6 bear favorably upon some use of personal experience? You know we fully saw that some of the Lord's ministers are more used for comforting and edifying His people, and others for the calling of His dead—the Spirit working in each individually as He will.
On personal experience we remarked, that while it is good to live in a constant sense of dependence, feeling that without divine power we cannot think, speak, or do anything to the divine glory--yet that it is making a wrong use of this, if therefrom we draw excuse for an inactive or unexercised state of soul, which rather betokens unhealthiness than true dependence.
The Lord having given us natural life, we look for Him to give power for the exercise of that life (when we are in health) in eating, drinking, walking, and working. And so being made spiritually alive in Christ Jesus, it is our privilege to look for divine power to exercise the spiritual faculties and the graces of the Spirit; not only to recognize that we have life—but that we may be feeding on Christ, rooting in Him and growing up into Him; so that while deeply feeling the truth of His words, "Without me you can do nothing," we may also come to the experience of His servant, who said, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Not only acknowledging that "in Him all fullness dwells," but seeking, by the Spirit's power, to have the exercise of faith thereupon, and be receiving of that fullness grace for grace. By exercise, faith is strengthened.
These were the points of our converse, and both our ideas are embodied, though many fresh scriptures have flowed in writing.
You must be sure to send me word wherever you differ, as it may tend to edification. Further search into truth is not labor in vain, and most sweet is the promise, John 16:13. The Lord ever bless you and set you apart for Himself by the Spirit's anointing. "Meditate upon these things, give yourself wholly to them."
Ever yours in Jesus,
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