The Christian and Death-bed Guilt (Newton)

Some Christians struggle with their guilt, sin, and unworthiness more than others.  Quite a few Christians have a roller coaster experience with guilt.  For awhile their guilt almost disappears and they very much feel the comfort of being forgiven and loved by God.  But other times their guilt brings them grief because they can’t feel God’s forgiveness and love.  John Newton does a great job of talking about grief over sin and comfort in Christ on the death-bed.  This is an excerpt of a letter to a friend in 1774.

We have had trying and dying times here: half my time almost has been taken up with visiting the sick. I have seen death in a variety of forms, and have had frequent occasion of observing how insignificant many things, which are now capable of giving us pain or pleasure, will appear, when the soul is brought near to the borders of eternity. All the concerns which relate solely to this life, will then be found as trivial as the traces of a dream from which we are awakened. Nothing will then comfort us but the knowledge of Jesus and his love; nothing grieve us but the remembrance of our unfaithful carriage to him, and what poor returns we made to his abundant goodness. The Lord forbid that this thought should break our peace!

No; faith in his name may forbid our fear, though we shall see and confess we have been unprofitable servants. There shall be no condemnation to them that are in him: but surely shame and humiliation will accompany us to the very threshold of heaven and ought to do so. I surely shall then be more affected than I am now with the coolness of my love, the faintness of my zeal, the vanity of my heart, and my undue attachment to the things of time. O these clogs, fetters, vales, and mountains, which obstruct my course, darken my views, slacken my pace, and disable me in service! Well it is for me that I am not under the law, but under grace.

As Newton looked ahead and thought about his own death, he knew his own heart well enough to realize that he would probably grieve because his service to Christ was so weak and imperfect.

But Newton understood sovereign grace.  The last line of this quote isn’t a sad concession, but a strong confession that all of his hope in life and in death was that God is gracious to sinners.  “Saved by grace” is not just a slogan.  It is comforting gospel truth in life and in death.  It’s true whether the Christian feels it or not.

I think we can all say this with Newton:

“Well it is for me that I am not under the law, but under grace.”

This quote from Newton is found in volume 2, page 201 of his Works.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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