For me, one difficult part of the Christian life is the troubling sinful thoughts that burden my mind daily. Sometimes I know why a sinful thought arose in my mind; other times I have no clue why and no idea where a thought came from. Satan is for sure to blame for at least some of our evil thoughts! Speaking of horrifying thoughts, wouldn’t it be a terrible nightmare if other people knew all of our sinful thoughts? If thoughts were crimes, I’d have been tried, found guilty, and executed long ago!
John Newton wrote a letter to a certain Miss W who had talked to him about her anxiety over sinful thoughts. Newton’s pastoral note is outstanding; this comforted me today.
As to evil thoughts, they as unavoidably arise from an evil nature, as steam from a boiling tea-kettle. Every cause will have its effect, and a sinful nature will have sinful effects. You can no more keep such thoughts out of your mind than you can stop the course of the clouds. But, if the Lord had not taught you, you would not have been sensible of them, nor concerned about them. This is a token for good. By nature your thoughts would have been only evil, and that continually. But you find something within you that makes you dislike these thoughts; makes you ashamed of them, makes you strive and pray against them. These evil thoughts convince you, that, though you do not willfully speak or do evil, yet upon the account of your evil thoughts alone, you are a sinner, and stand in need of such great forgiveness; that if there were not a precious, compassionate, and mighty Savior, you could have no hope.
Now, this something that reveals and resists your evil thoughts—what can it be? It cannot be human nature; for we naturally have vain imaginations. It is the grace of God! The Lord has made you sensible of your disease, that you might love and prize the great Physician. The knowledge of his love shall make you hate these thoughts; and faith in his blood shall deliver you from the guilt of them; yet you will be pestered with them more or less while you live in this world, for sin is wrought into our bodies, and our souls must be freed from our bodies—before we shall be fully freed from the evils under which we mourn!
Later in the letter Newton talked about how Satan temps God’s people. He then wrote:
Be thankful, my dear, that he treats you as his enemy; for miserable is the state of those to whom he behaves as a friend. And always remember that he is a chained enemy! He may terrify, but he cannot devour those who have fled for refuge to Jesus. And the Lord shall over-rule all for good. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil!” Ephesians 6:10-11.
Sinful thoughts are difficult to deal with; I hate them! But, as Newton noted from Scripture, there is forgiveness now and in the future there is victory in Christ!
The above quote is found in volume 6 of Newton’s Works (p. 254-5).
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