The following quote from a 1763 letter shows why John Newton is one of my favorite Christian authors. Notice how a violent struggle against indwelling sin does not weaken Newton’s assurance of faith. He is deeply disturbed by his indwelling sin, but he does not despair over it because of God’s sovereign and preserving grace. Take a few moments this weekend and read Newton’s edifying words:
“All my complaints may be summed up in this one—a proneness to wander from him. This is too frequently the case with me, I hardly know how or why. Through mercy, I am in a measure delivered from the love of this present evil world; the desire of my heart is towards God; I account his loving-kindness to be better than life, and esteem all his precepts concerning all things to be right, and just, and good. I do not even wish for a dispensation to admit any rival into my heart; he richly deserves it all, and I am willing and desirous to be his alone, and to be wholly conformed to him. Yet still I find the effects of a depraved nature; and, not withstanding all my struggles against inward and outward evil, I am too often carried away from the point of simple faith and dependence.
The lively experience of a Christian is not hard to be described; neither is it hard to say much about it. But, to feel what we say, to sit down under the shadow of the tree of life, to abide in Christ, to feed on him in my heart by faith with thanksgiving, this I find a rare attainment, easily lost, and not so soon regained. I know enough of it to make me desirous of more, and yet so little, that I have frequent cause to cry out, ‘My leanness, my leanness!’ and to lie low in the dust before God. A remaining root of pride and self-righteousness often springs up and interrupts my peace. Indeed, as to the ground of my hopes and acceptance, I am mercifully kept from doubts and fears; I trust in him who has wrought out a perfect righteousness for my justification, and has stretched out an everlasting arm for my salvation. I see the honor of the divine attributes effectually secured, and that God is not only merciful and good, but faithful and just, in saving an unworthy believing sinner.
But what I want, is not only to expect a heaven hereafter, but to experience a heaven begun below, to live up to the privileges of the Gospel, to have enlarged desires after holiness, and those desires abundantly answered. I want more of the influences of the Holy Spirit under His various characters, as the Teacher, Quickener, Comforter, and Sealer of the people of God.
I want to know more clearly what the apostle desired for his friends, in those two comprehensive prayers, Ephesians 1:17-20, and Ephesians 3:16-19. How little do I understand of that height and depth, and breadth and length, he there speaks of! How faint are my ideas of the glorious hope of his calling, and the exceeding greatness of his mighty power! Well, blessed be God for the little I have; I trust it is a pledge of more; he has given me to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and he has said I shall be filled.
I remember the time when I was easy enough about these things; the language of my heart was, ‘Depart from me!’ Yes, I resisted his Spirit, despised his mercy, and counted the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing. But, oh, he ‘was found by me that sought him not!’ He passed by me, and bid me live; he saved me in spite of myself; he would not give me up; be appeared in the hour of my distress, snatched the prey from the hand of the mighty, and delivered the lawful captive.
And ever since, how good has he been to me! How gently has he led me! How often has he restored me when wandering, revived me when fainting, healed my breaches, supplied my needs, heard my prayers, and set up a seasonable standard against my enemies, when they have been coming in upon me like a flood! And even now he is with me, he is never weary of doing me good, and I believe he will be with me, even to the end, until at length he brings me home to his kingdom to be near him forever.
Hence, indeed, arises a great part of my grief, to think that I should be so cold, and barren, and unprofitable, under such amazing displays of undeserved love. O Lord, touch the rocky heart, and cause the waters to flow; soften and inflame my heart, that I may at length become your disciple indeed.”
We might sum this up with a few scriptural words, Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!