Dear Friend, — I received yours, and have now sat down to write to you, though never more conscious of my utter weakness, foolishness, and inability. I know that some people confess this in a mock-modest way, but I speak the truth from my heart, for I really feel it. I took your letter to the Lord, and begged him to answer it himself, for he knew that I could do nothing. "Who by searching can find out God? who can find out the Almighty to perfection? His way is in the sea, his path in the mighty waters, and his footsteps are not known." I would not wish you to lay too much stress upon your feelings, as it respects faith, for it will not do to make faith a foundation, either for providential mercies, or yet for spiritual blessings. Christ is the foundation for faith to build upon for the soul's salvation; and as he is the heir of all things in providence, we shall have as much of them as shall be for our good and his glory; and at times I can say with all my heart, Amen, but not at all times. As to what you say of there being no likelihood or appearance of God's answering you according to your faith, I answer that faith must be tried; for if it be not tried, how can you tell the difference between natural faith and spiritual?
Read carefully the account of the children of Israel. It is plain that when God told Moses he had heard their groanings, and was come down to deliver them, Moses believed and expected it directly; and, God not appearing according to his expectations, he told the Lord that he had not delivered his people at all. For the way God took was to lay heavier burdens upon Israel, and that Pharaoh should use them very cruelly to ripen him and his hosts for damnation, and to humble Israel greatly; so that the Lord might be glorified both as a God of judgment, and as a God of salvation. You may see also in Abraham, the father of the faithful, how long his faith was tried about a son; and when he prayed as follows, "O that Ishmael might live before thee," he had some hope and some confidence that God would hear him. If this be denied, then I ask how it is possible for a man, without the least faith or hope, to put up such a petition to God? But God says, No, I will not answer him according to his desire. I believe that God's children are not without natural faith, though they may have spiritual also; but spiritual faith is sure to be well tried; natural faith goes by the appearance of things; and if things look favorable, this faith works well; but spiritual faith works best without these appearances, and against hope in nature believes in hope through grace. What a great deal poor Abraham had to cope with! For there is no doubt when the Lord promised him all the land of Canaan, and it is said that "he believed God," that his; faith understood something more literal than to have only a burying place, and to have to purchase that. But he was to be brought off from confidence in the flesh. If you deny this, how can it be true that they were "men of like passions" with us, as the scriptures affirm? For if God were to make such a promise in particular to one of us, do you think we should steadfastly believe he meant it only spiritually, so as to hold fast that faith, and never doubt it at all? Or that natural faith would not try to come in, and carnal reason say, "It may be, perhaps, that God intends literally to give me the promise?" I say that this is very likely, as we are all of like passions; and if this be denied, then we are not at all of like passions, which is contradicting the holy word. And after Abraham got the promised seed, then was it not a great trial to offer him up as a sacrifice?
Now what I wish to lead your mind to is, the delay of the promise; and that it is for the trial of the faith — yet it was not a denial. Consider David also; how long he was tried before he got the kingdom, whereas at first how fair he bid for it in killing Goliath of Gath; surely he would secretly conclude that he should be established king, by giving such a deliverance to Israel. But, alas, David must be humbled again and again; yes, and have many fears, and conclude that he should one day fall by the hand of Saul, so that he fled from him. You see how deliberately God goes on with his works; but our time is always ready. As it respects myself being tried in this way that you speak of in your letter, I really have again and again; and it has puzzled me not a little. When I have been out of work, I have at times been highly favored with the Lord's presence in writing, insomuch that I have wished from my heart to be wholly engaged in the Lord's work. I had a large family in real want of everything, and no work; but many a miserable hour, yea, and day too, have I got over while writing, and reluctantly have gone to look for work, leaving that which I was sure I had the approbation of God upon; and when I have gone, I have lost the enjoyment of his presence, and got more and more shut up in bondage. Well, when I have been discharged, and got again to writing, I have felt all right again; so that it appeared as if God were angry with me for looking out for work, which could never be the case, for "he that provides not for his own house has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel." But there is a great deal of human, fleshly wisdom hanging about us, which God will surely cripple, and many of God's family find it the same. I went out lately to look for work very comfortably, and according to my feelings as if the Lord would appear, and with a spirit of prayer, from the real sense of my need; and when the day has been over, I could not see it to be of the least use my going out that day, for nothing has appeared in my favor, and I have walked miles in vain. But such dealings bring us from a confidence in the flesh; we are looking for God to work this and that way, because he has worked so before; but he does not; this is to keep us from trusting to the instrument, and making an idol of it; yet we wonder why it is so. I have walked with some that were good people, and have known my affairs, what a family I have, and how hard put to it from day to day, and, according to my reason, they could have put pounds in my pocket; but though they knew my circumstances, they did not try to help me, when they might without being a penny out of their own pocket, but have given advantages to ungodly men. And how is all this to be settled? I answer, in God's sovereignty, and no other way; and it has made me know by experience, what at one time I could not believe, the truth of this text, "Who is he that saith and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not?" So that I have been brought to this conclusion, that no person, good or bad, is any more to me than God is pleased to make him in a sovereign way. But as I said before, you must not lean too hard upon your faith, but remember that "as far as the heavens are above the earth, so are God's ways above ours, and his thoughts also."
Genuine faith of a spiritual nature takes in these following things: 1st, sooner or later, suddenly or more deliberately, God is pleased to convince all his people that they are sinners; not in their judgments only, but in their hearts; and they are enabled to set to their seal that God is true, in the testimony he has given of man's heart in the holy word; so that we can go at certain times in secret to the Lord, and he gives us power to confess our vile, base, and abominable hearts to him; and we can say at that time with truth, from feeling experience, that from "the sole of the foot to the crown of the head, we are full of wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores," and that "every imagination of our hearts is evil, only evil, and that continually." Now this is real faith, and such people have an honest and a good heart; an honest heart because they tell the truth as it is — they are "children that will not lie," as some do, when they say they never at any time transgressed God's commandments; and it is a good heart, because such are partakers of God's Spirit. "Thy Spirit is good," says David; and God's word, which is called by Paul, "the good word of God," has a place in such a heart. The Holy Spirit works agreeably with the word, and persuades us that we are such sinners as that word speaks of, and enables us to confess it from the heart; and this discovery will go on till death; for the longer we live, the worse we shall see and feel ourselves, and the worse we see and feel ourselves, the nearer we are to God; "But now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself;" (Job 42:5,6) "Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5) And when Daniel saw him, all his comeliness was turned into corruption.
But 2ndly, another lesson we have to learn, and which proves that we have real faith is this, that we are altogether without the least power to help ourselves. It is easy to say, "I have no power," but not to say so from feeling experience; and therefore God lets us try to overcome our secret lusts, our besetting sins, idols, &c., and we pray him to help us; and every fall into them that we have, we are sorry for, and feel determined not so foolishly to fall again the next time, and we really expect that we shall not. But, alas, Satan and sin work on our corrupt affections, and with open eyes we go again and again into sin, and bring a heavy burden of guilt upon our consciences. The law that Paul speaks of in his members, is nothing else than a love to sin. This is too strong for you and me; and we try to be more diligent in reading, hearing, praying, repenting, believing, &c., all of which we think is within our power in some way or another; and we go on at it till all we once thought we had appears now to be lost. We read till we appear nothing but confusion, and at last feel a dislike to the Bible and good books. We hear the word, but it appears of no use, for we feel gospel-hardened; and that text sometimes will shake us, "I have commanded the clouds that they rain no rain upon it;" and we seem like the door upon the hinges. We pray, but it appears all in vain, for the more we pray against sin, the stronger it works; so that we go very reluctantly to that also. And as for repentance, our hearts are like stones, and we conclude that God has given us up like Pharaoh, and we can no more believe that we are God's children and under his teaching, than we can create a world, so strong do we feel unbelief. "I know that thou wilt not hold me innocent," said Job (9:28); and "if I had called and he had answered, yet would I not have believed that he had hearkened to my voice." Now all this, and much more, for I cannot enlarge, is to teach you and me that we are all altogether without strength. Therefore God says, "when the Ethiopian can change his skin and the leopard his spots, then may we that are accustomed to do evil learn to do well;" and we are brought to a full point in this by experience. Now how could we find it out any other way than by our trying our own heart and our own arm, and finding our supposed strength to be weakness?
Now we have two more lessons to learn, in order to prove the reality of our faith. Thirdly, then, we have to learn that there is salvation in no other name under heaven but in Christ Jesus. This some may think is very easy; but it is not so easy to trust our own soul's salvation wholly on him in a storm, when our souls are sinking in despair, and feelingly we conclude that our hope is gone. From not having a steadfast faith here, and not being enabled to come naked, stripped of all for free salvation, arises that legal, working spirit; but depend upon it, that we shall be brought to give all up, and say, with Esther, "If I perish I perish." Now every thought is brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. But, though I have experienced these things, yet to this day I feel in a storm, that legal, working spirit, trying to pray, read, watch, &c., and a secret leaning this way for the storm to abate. It is very hard under peculiar sinkings of soul, to trust wholly to Christ, believing that all salvation, temporally and spiritually, is in him.
And, lastly, the crowning work, or the full assurance of a complete faith, is to believe that he is our Saviour, and to say, "my beloved is mine, and I am his."
Now, certainly you can tell whether you have a measure of the faith I have been describing or not, and if you say No, I cannot say that I find anything clear. But I can go a step lower, and yet according to truth, which is this, Do you in heart love Zion? I don't say at all times, but at any time; and is there a cleaving to the Lord's people for the truth's sake, as Ruth clave to Naomi, and the disciples did to Paul, when he preached on Mars' hill; and though you appear to have no love, and feel enmity work, yet does this love come again? If it do, grace reigns, or else corruption would have overcome it. Again, when the light shines on a verse, in reading the Bible, or in reading a good book, so that you see a beauty in it, do you feel a love to it also? If you say Yes, this is receiving (not truth only) but the love of the truth, and it is that you may be saved. Again, do you feel an earnest desire at times to come to the light? I believe, by your letter, you do; and this shows honesty of heart. Wait, then, on the Lord, for he says, "They shall not he ashamed that wait for me," and "Blessed is the man that heareth me," (there is a circumcised ear to know his voice from all others, and such are blessed already, and the blessing is everlasting life,) "watching daily at my gates." Not having entered as yet into justification, the gate of righteousness, we therefore cannot as yet praise the Lord — ("thou shalt call thy gates praise") — but watching and waiting like a beggar; not in the hall, but at the posts of the door. Here Hannah was, but God raised her up from the dust and from the dunghill, and set her amongst the princes of his people. Again, do you feel an appetite at times for Christ Jesus? I believe you do, and love to hear his truth; and if so, you are blessed, and shall be filled: "Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled;" hence Paul says, "The Lord fill you with all joy and peace in believing." But you and I shall ever have changes while in this world, let us have ever so clear an experience; for the fulfillment of the promises of God is ever to needy people, which need will be kept up till death. In this way we are kept on the look out — many enemies within and without — so that we shall find it a painful path, tribulation a daily cross, self-denial, and hating our own life. Faith is to be tried by fire; many waters are to try to quench love, that we and others may know that it cannot he quenched, "for charity suffereth, long, and is kind." Every grace will be tried by a corruption to oppose it, and this is part of faith's fight. Every visit our souls have from Jesus, and we feel victory by faith in his finished work, is faith's triumph. But what a blessed thing I have often thought it is, that the promises (unconditional promises) are made to the weak, foolish, needy, destitute, ignorant, fatherless, widow, hungry, thirsty, lost, fearful, helpless, feeble, &c., so that you and I can come in some of these things. You know that those that were with David, who were so weak that they could not go over the brook to war, still abode by the stuff; and David made it a statute, that as his part was that went to battle, so should his be that abode by the staff — they should all partake alike. If anything spiritual is to be understood here, as I firmly believe there is, Christ is the captain of our salvation, of whom David was a type. Now, there are some valiant soldiers that are engaged in this war, but there are others that appear to be valiant, as there were in David's day — men of Belial — and these, never knowing their own weakness, would wish to have degrees of grace. But no, we are chosen in one Head, all loved with one love, all bought with one price, all receive one Spirit, and shall all be glorified alike.
If any of my scribbling is suitable to you, give God the whole glory, and do not forget to pray for your servant in Christ,
January 9, 1820. J. RUSK.