Friday, February 5, 2010

Think of the Bridge!

I recently had the privilege of hearing Dr. T. David Gordon speak at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Huntsville, Alabama (by the way, the pastor at WPC, Charlie Wingard, has a blog well worth reading, Dr. Gordon is the author of a fascinating book, Why Johnny Can’t Preach. Another book, Why Johnny Can’t Sing, is soon to be available. Dr. Gordon makes several good points about letter writing in his book (see the side-bar). He also includes a letter written by C. R. Vaughn to R. L. Dabney that is wonderful in its pointed message of encouragement. I include the portion of the letter quoted by Dr. Gordon, and his introductory information about the letter. The letter was written February 3, 1890.

Dr. Gordon says, “One of the great articulations of this reality in the history of Christian literature [that faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ] occurs in a letter written by Clement Read Vaughn to the renowned Southern Presbyterian theologian Robert Lewis Dabney. Dabney moved from Virginia to Austin, Texas, almost twenty years after the Civil war and lived there for another fifteen years. In his latter years, he became blind and weak, and knew his death was near. He wrote to his old friend Vaughan, wondering whether he would have strong enough faith to face his impending death, and Vaughan’s reply was as theologically trenchant as it was pastorally lovely. He wrote back to Dabney and asked Dabney what a traveler would do if he came to a chasm over which a bridge was spanned:”

What does he do to breed confidence in the bridge? He looks at the bridge; he gets down and examines it. He don’t [sic] 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 milk-maid or to a plow-boy. 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!

The Life and Letters of Robert Lewis Dabney, by Thomas Cary Johnson, first published in 1903, reprinted by the Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, p. 480. The above letter is found in Why Johnny Can’t Preach, by T. David Gordon, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2009, pp. 76-77.

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