The age of traditional letter writing has almost gone and we are all the poorer for it. It was common in a former era, after the death of a well known person, to publish his or her letters. How strange that sounds, now that texting and tweeting have bulldozed thoughtful hand-written communication out of our world.
How delighted we should be that one very special letter from Clement Read Vaughan (1827-1911) to Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898) has survived and has been published. Its occasion was the spiritual doubts under which the aged Dabney was labouring. Dabney, a Presbyterian theologian, had become blind and weak and was approaching death. Feeling the weakness of his faith, and beginning to look inwards instead of upwards, Dabney began to doubt.
Vaughan penned a beautiful, eloquent and perspicuous letter, directing the doubting Dabney’s focus back to Christ. Vaughan asked Dabney to imagine what a traveller might do if he came to a chasm over which a bridge was spanned. How might the traveller overcome his nerves and make the crossing? Wrote Mr Vaughan:
“What does he do to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He doesn’t stand at the bridge-head and turn his thoughts curiously in on his own mind to see if he has confidence in the bridge. If his examination of the bridge gives him a certain amount of confidence, and yet he wants more, how does he make his faith grow? Why, in the same way; he still continues to examine the bridge. Now, my dear old man, let your faith take care of itself for awhile, and you just think of what you are allowed to trust in. Think of the Master’s power, think of His love; think how He is interested in the soul that searches for Him, and will not be comforted until He finds Him. Think of what He has done, His work. That blood of His is mightier than all the sins of all the sinners that ever lived. Don’t you think it will master yours?…
“Now, dear old friend, I have done to you just what I would want you to do to me if I were lying in your place. The great theologian, after all, is just like any other one of God’s children, and the simple gospel talked to him is just as essential to his comfort as it is to a milkmaid or to a plowboy. May God give you grace, not to lay too much stress on your faith, but to grasp the great ground of confidence, Christ, and all his work and all his personal fitness to be a sinner’s refuge. Faith is only an eye to see him. I have been praying that God would quiet your pains as you advance, and enable you to see the gladness of the gospel at every step. Good-bye. God be with you as he will. Think of the Bridge!”
For any reader struggling with doubts, weary with ‘trying to believe’, wondering if you have enough faith to be saved, take your eyes off yourself and look to Christ. Put not your faith in your faith. Faith in faith is nothing but a mirage – but faith in Christ brings salvation and assurance.
“He that believeth ON THE SON OF GOD hath the witness in himself” (1 John 5:10)
“He that believeth ON THE SON hath everlasting life” (John 3:36)