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Newton on suffering

Of a particular trial John Newton wrote:

he it is that hath laid this trial on me for my good. I believe it to be necessary, because he is pleased to appoint it; and, though at present it is not joyous, but grievous, I trust that in the end he will cause it to yield the peaceable fruits of righteousness. I desire to submit to his will in all things; and though I feel the depravity of my nature too often, yet, upon the whole, he enables me to trust to him, and leave all in his hands.

Alas! I have but a very slight perception of the evil of sin, of the deceitfulness of my own heart, of the force and subtilty of my spiritual enemies, of the strictness and spirituality of the holy law, or of the awful majesty and holiness of the great God with whom I have to do. If, in the moment while I am speaking to you, he should be pleased to impress these solemn realities upon my mind, with a conviction and evidence tenfold greater than I have ever known hitherto (which I conceive would still be vastly short of the truth), unless my faith was also strengthened by a tenfold clearer and more powerful discovery of the grace and glory of the Savior, you would probably see my countenance change and my speech falter. The Lord, in compassion to our weakness, shows us these things, by little and little, as we are able to bear them; and if, as we advance in the knowledge of ourselves and of our dangers, our knowledge of the unsearchable riches of Christ advances equally, we may rejoice in hope, we may even possess an assured hope.

The kingdom of our Lord in the heart, and in the world, is frequently compared to a building or house, of which he himself is both the foundation and the architect. (Isa 28:16; Isa 54:11–12) A building advances by degrees, (1Co 3:9, Eph 2:20–22) and while it is in an unfinished state, a stranger cannot, by viewing its present appearance, form an accurate judgement of the design, and what the whole will be when completed. For a time, the walls are of unequal height, it is disfigured by rubbish, which at the proper season will be taken away; and by scaffolding, which, though useful for carrying on the building, does not properly belong to it, but will likewise be removed when the present temporary service is answered. But the architect himself proceeds according to a determinate plan, and his idea of the whole work is perfect from the beginning. It is thus the Lord views his people in the present life. He has begun a good work in them, but as yet every part of it is imperfect and unfinished; and there are not only defects to be supplied, but deformities and encumbrances that must be removed. Many of the dispensations and exercises which contribute to form their religious character, do not properly belong to that work which is to abide, though they have a subservience to promote it. When that which is perfect is come, the rest shall be done away.

John Newton, Handel’s Messiah – Sermon 37 The Extent of Messiah’s Spiritual Kingdom the Extent of Messiah’s Spiritual Kingdom

But true Christians will, and do, set a high value upon the ministers who, with simplicity and godly sincerity, preach the Gospel of peace, in such a manner as to evidence that they are influenced by a regard to the glory of God, and to the good of souls; and they give proof of their affection in more ways than by speaking well of them.

By taking kindly and in good part his most searching discourses in public, or even his reproofs and admonitions in private, if needful. For they know that he watches over their souls, as one who must give an account. And because they love him, they do all in their power to make the service a pleasure, and not a grief to him. They do not wish him to speak smooth things to them, or to entertain them with the discussion of points in which they have little concern, but to hear that which is suitable to their own case and circumstances. And if the preacher discovers to them, that, through inadvertence, they have allowed themselves in any wrong practice, or have lived in the omission of any duty, instead of being offended with his plain dealing, they love him the better for it.

By their tenderness and sympathy with him in all his exercises; and by their care, according to their ability, to make his situation comfortable, and to avoid every thing that might give him just occasion for complaint or grief. The trials of a faithful minister are neither few nor small. His work is great; he is sure to meet with enemies and discouragements. He travails in birth for souls; he is pained by the opposition of the wicked, the inconstancy of the wavering, and the inconsistency of many who make profession of the truth. He feels many anxieties for those who are inquiring the way to the kingdom, lest they should be turned aside and hindered; and too often the hopes he had indulged, of some who discovered a concern for religion, are disappointed. His inward conflicts are many. He often walks in much weakness, fear, and trembling. When he considers what he is, what he ought to be, and what he has to do, he is often distressed, afraid, and ashamed, and unable to speak. His path is spread with snares, his heart wounded with temptations. But his judicious hearers have some knowledge of what he endures for their sakes and in their service; they love him, pity him, and pray for him, and their kind attention comforts him under all his tribulations.

[A] true minister will account it his honor and pleasure to preach to an enlightened people, who love and study the Bible, and, like the Bereans, search the Scripture, to see if things are so as represented.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

‘Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair
.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest
.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part
.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death
?
“‘Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

(John Newton, Olney Hymns, Book 3, 36. Prayer Answered By Crosses p.729)

Volume 02
TWENTY SERMONS PREACHED AT OLNEY, IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
THE MYSTERIES OF THE GOSPEL ARE HID FROM MANY

Let me suppose a person to have a curious cabinet which is opened at his pleasure, and not exposed to common view: he invites all to come to see it, and offers to shew it to any one who asks him.

It is hid, because he keeps the key; but none can complain, because he is ready to open it whenever he is desired. Some perhaps disdain the offer and say, Why is it locked at all? Some think it not worth seeing, or amuse themselves with guessing at the contents.

But those who are simply desirous for themselves, leave others disputing, go according to appointment, and are gratified. These have reason to be thankful for the favor; and the others have no just cause to find fault. Thus the riches of Divine grace may be compared to a richly furnished cabinet, to which Christ is the door.

The word of God likewise is a cabinet generally locked up; but the key of prayer will open it. The Lord invites all: but he keeps the dispensation in his own hand. They cannot see these things, except he shews them; but then he refuses none that sincerely ask him.

The wise men of the world can go no farther than the outside of this cabinet: they may amuse themselves, and surprise others, with their ingenious guesses at what is within; but a babe that has seen it opened can give us more satisfaction, without studying or guessing at all.

Letter by John Newton – the fourth letter of Four Letters to Mrs. P****

It is a shame for a Christian and a minister to say he has no subject at hand, when the inexhaustible theme of redeeming love is ever pressing upon our attention. I will tell you then, though you know it, that the Lord reigns. He who once bore our sins, and carried our sorrows, is seated upon a throne of glory, and exercises all power in heaven and on earth. Thrones, principalities, and powers, bow before him. Every event in the kingdoms of providence and of grace are under his rule. His providence pervades and manages the whole, and is as minutely attentive to every part as if there were only that single object in his view. From the tallest archangel to the meanest ant or fly, all depend on him for their being, their preservation, and their powers. He directs the sparrows where to build their nests, and to find their food. He over–rules the rise and fall of nations, and bends, with an invincible energy and unerring wisdom, all events; so that while many intend nothing less, in the issue their designs all concur and coincide in the accomplishment of his holy will.

The Sword Drawn

Letter by John Newton – the third letter of Four Letters to Mrs. P****

I hope the good people at Bristol, and every where else, are praying for our sinful, distracted land, in this dark day. The Lord is angry, the sword is drawn, and I am afraid nothing but the spirit of wrestling prayer can prevail for the returning it into the scabbard. Could things have proceeded to these extremities, except the Lord had withdrawn his salutary blessing …? It is a time of prayer. We see the beginning of trouble, but who can foresee the possible consequences? The fire is kindled; but how far it may spread, those who are above may perhaps know better than we. I meddle not with the disputes of party, nor concern myself with any political maxims, but such as are laid down in Scripture. There I read that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is the reproach, and, if persisted in, the ruin of any people.

Some people are startled at the enormous sum of our national debt: they who understand spiritual arithmetic may be well startled if they sit down and compute the debt of national sin. Imprimis, Infidelity: Item, Contempt of the Gospel: Item, The profligacy of manners: Item, Perjury … It would take sheets, yea quires, to draw out the particulars under each of these heads, and then much would remain untold. What can we answer, when the Lord saith, "Shall not I visit for these things? Shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?" … I am just so much affected with these things as to know, that I am not affected enough. Oh! my spirit is sadly cold and insensible, or I should lay them to heart in a different manner: yet I endeavor to give the alarm as far as I can. There is one political maxim which comforts me: "The Lord reigns." His hand guides the storm; and he knows them that are his, how to protect, support, and deliver them. He will take care of his own cause; yea, he will extend his kingdom, even by these formidable methods. Men have one thing in view; He has another, and his counsel shall stand.

When ministers themselves are convinced of sin, and feel the necessity of an almighty Savior, they presently account their former gain but loss, and determine, with the Apostle, to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. In proportion as they do this, they are sure to be wondered at, laughed at, and railed at, if the providence of God, and the constitution of their country, secure them from severer treatment. But they have this invaluable compensation, that they no longer speak without effect. In a greater or less degree a change takes place in their auditories: the blind receive their sight, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed; sinners are turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God; sinful practices are forsaken: and a new course of life in the converts, evidences that they have not followed cunningly devised fables, nor taken up with uncertain notions; but that God has indeed quickened them by his Spirit, and given them an understanding to know him that is true. The preachers, likewise, while they attempt to teach others, are taught themselves: a blessing descends upon their studies and labors, upon their perusal of the Scripture, upon their attention to what passes within them and around them: the events of every day contribute to throw light upon the word of God; their views of Divine truth grow more enlarged, connected, and comprehensive; many difficulties, which perplexed them at their first setting out, trouble them no more: the God whom they serve, and on whom they wait, reveals to them those great things, which, though plainly expressed in the letter of the Scripture, cannot be understood and realized without Divine teaching. Thus they go on from strength to strength, hard things become easy, and a Divine light shines upon their paths.

But the great and good Husbandman watches over what his own hand has planted, and carries on his work by a variety of different and even contrary dispensations.

John Newton on God allowing sin and temptation to continue in our lives. I found the following encouraging from Newton’s Second Letter to a Nobleman.

How can these things be, or why are they permitted? Since the Lord hates sin, teaches his people to hate it and cry against it, and has promised to hear their prayers, how is it that they go thus burdened? Surely, if he could not, or would not, over–rule evil for good, he would not permit it to continue. By these exercises he teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part. His method of salvation is likewise hereby exceedingly endeared to us: we see that it is and must be of grace, wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and his perfect righteousness, is and must be our all in all. His power likewise, in maintaining his own work notwithstanding our infirmities, temptations, and enemies, is hereby displayed in the clearest light; his strength is manifested in our weakness. Satan likewise is more remarkably disappointed and put to shame, when he finds bounds set to his rage and policy, beyond which he cannot pass; and that those in whom he finds so much to work upon, and over whom he so often prevails for a season, escape at last out of his hands. He casts them down, but they are raised again; he wounds them, but they are healed; he obtains his desire to sift them as wheat, but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith. Farther, by what believers feel in themselves they learn by degrees how to warn, pity, and bear with others. A soft, patient, and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is not perhaps attainable in any other way. And, lastly, I believe nothing more habitually reconciles a child of God to the thought of death, than the wearisomeness of this warfare. Death is unwelcome to nature ;––but then, and not till then, the conflict will cease. Then we shall sin no more. The flesh, with all its attendant evils, will be laid in the grave. Then the soul, which has been partaker of a new and heavenly birth, shall be freed from every encumbrance, and stand perfect in the Redeemer’s righteousness before God in glory.

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