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

When Satan Reminds You of Your Sin

Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices (Puritan Paperbacks) Satan is an expert at rubbing our noses in our past sins.  He knows how to plague Christians by telling them their sins are so great they should despair.  He masks the truth (“You have sinned greatly against God in thousands of ways…”) with a lie (“…Therefore you have no hope of salvation”).  Puritan Thomas Brooks (d. 1680) said that this is one of Satan’s wicked devices to keep Christians away from Christ: He suggests to the soul the greatness and vileness of his sins.  Brooks also gives biblical remedies for this wicked device of Satan.  Here are four (of eight) remedies (summarized/edited):

1)  The first remedy against this device of Satan is to consider that the greater your sins are, the more you stand in need of a Savior.  The greater your burden is, the more you stand in need of one to help bear it.  The deeper the wound is, the more need there is of a surgeon.  The Christian says: ‘The greater my sins are, the more I stand in need of mercy and pardon, therefore I will go to Christ, who delights in mercy, pardons sins, and is able to forgive beyond imagination” (Mic. 7:8, Is. 43:25).

2) Another remedy against Satan’s wicked device is to remember that the promise of grace and mercy is to returning souls.  You are never so wicked, if you return to God, that he will be yours, mercy will be yours, pardon will be yours: ‘For the Lord our God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return unto him (2 Chr. 30:9).  See also Jer. 3:12, Joel 2:13, and Is. 55:7.  Christ’s heart and arms are wide open to embrace the returning prodigal.

3) Consider that the greatest sinners have obtained mercy, and therefore all the angels in heaven, all the men on earth, and all the devils in hell cannot testify to the contrary, that you are able to obtain mercy.  Consider Manasseh, Paul, and Mary Magdalene.  Christ still hangs out a white flag of grace and mercy to returning sinners that humble themselves at his feet for favor.

4) The fourth remedy against this device of Satan is to remember that everywhere in Scripture Jesus welcomes the worst of sinners that are willing to receive him and rest upon him for happiness and blessedness.  Those that come to him he will not cast out, be they ever so filthy, sinful, unworthy, or rebellious.  Oh sinners, tell Jesus that he since he has not excluded you from mercy, therefore you are resolved to sit, wait, weep, pray, and knock at the door of mercy until he says to you, ‘Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven, you are justified, and your soul shall be saved.’  See also Heb. 7:25.

Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices (appendix I.1.)

shane lems

No Fishing Allowed

Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross... Every Day I enjoy fishing. In fact, my three boys and I recently returned from a camping trip on which we caught a handful of trout up in the general area of Mt. Rainier, WA.  So this illustration Jerry Bridges referred to in his book The Gospel for Real Life caught my attention.

The verse Bridges is talking about in the following quote is Micah 7:19: [You will] hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea (NIV).

“Notice the forceful verb, ‘hurl,’ that Micah uses.  The picture is of God vigorously disposing of our sins by hurling them overboard.  He doesn’t just drop them over the side or even pitch them overboard; he ‘hurls’ them as something to be rid of and forgotten.”

“The picture here is of God eager to put away our sins.  Because the sacrifice of his Son is of such infinite value, he delights to apply it to sinful men and women.  God is not a reluctant forgiver; he is a joyous one.  His justice having been satisfied and his wrath having been exhausted [through Christ’s work on the cross], he is now eager to extend his forgiveness to all who trust in his Son as their propitiatory sacrifice.”

“He hurls our sins overboard.  What a picture of the way God treats our sins.  Corrie ten Boom, a dear saint of the last century, used to say, ‘And then God put up a sign saying, “No fishing allowed.”’  Why would she say that?  Because she knew that we tend to drag up our old sins, that we tend to live under a vague sense of guilt.  She knew we are not nearly as vigorous in appropriating God’s forgiveness as he is in extending it.  Consequently, instead of living in the sunshine of God’s forgiveness through Christ, we tend to live under an overcast sky of guilt most of the time.”

We have to memorize the verse and remind ourselves of this gospel truth often: God hurls all our iniquities into the depth of the sea (Mic. 7:19).  He doesn’t hurl some of our sins into a shallow pond, but all of them into the depths of the sea.  That is good news!

Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life, p. 62.

rev shane lems

sunnyside, wa

Our Guilt Has Reached The Heavens

Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross... Every Day Here are some great words from a great book: The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges.  This quote is found near the end of the section where Bridges talks about original sin and the sinful guilt/pollution humans have by nature (i.e. Rom. 3:10-20).

“You might be thinking by this time, ‘Why devote so much attention to sin?  It just makes me feel guilty.  I thought you were going to tell us about the unsearchable riches of Christ.’  My reason is to cause us all to realize we have no place to hide.  In our relationship with God we cannot plead our Christian duties, as helpful as they may be, or our external morality, as exemplary as it may be.  Instead, we must confess with Ezra that ‘our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens’ (Ezra 9:6).”

“Furthermore, even a deep, penetrating sense of our sinfulness does not do justice to the reality of our predicament.  Our need is not to be measured by our own sense of need, but by what God had to do to meet that need.  Our situation was so desperate that only the death of his own Son on a cruel and shameful cross was sufficient to resolve the problem.”

“Many people erroneously think that God can just forgive our sins because he is a loving God.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The cross speaks to us not only about our sin but about God’s holiness. …The cross…is an expression of God’s wrath toward sin as well as his love to us.  It expresses his holiness in his determination to punish sin, even at the cost of his Son.  And it expresses his love in sending his son to bear the punishment we so justly deserved.   …We cannot begin to understand the true significance of the cross unless we understand something of the holiness of God and the depth of our sin” (p. 28-9).

Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2003).

rev shane lems

Only the Gospel…

In a sermon on Proverbs 11:30, in 1787, John Newton explained the power of the gospel – the good news that Jesus died and rose to save sinners.  While the law commands, the gospel comforts:

“The Gospel removes difficulties insuperable to human power.  It causes the blind to see, the deaf to hear; it softens the heart of stone and raises the dead in trespasses and sins to a life of righteousness.  No force but that of the Gospel is sufficient to remove the mountainous load of guilt from an awakened conscience, to calm the violence of tumultuous passions, to raise an earthly soul from groveling in the mire of sensuality or greed, to a spiritual and divine life, a life of communion with God.”

“No system but the Gospel can communicate motives, encouragements, and prospects, sufficient to withstand and counteract all the snares and temptations with which the spirit of this world, by its frowns or its smiles, will endeavor either to intimidate or to bribe us from the path of duty.  But the Gospel, rightly understood and cordially embraced, will inspire the slothful with energy and the fearful with courage.  It will make the miser generous, melt the churl [rude person] into kindness, tame the raging tiger in the breast, and, in a word, expand the narrow selfish heart and fill it with a spirit of love to God, a cheerful and unreserved obedience to his will, and benevolence to mankind.”

“…The Gospel, then, is a message from God.  It stains the pride of human glory, and, without regarding the petty distinctions which obtain among men, with respect to character or ranks, it treats them all as sinners in the sight of God, and under the power of depravity strengthened by habit.  As such, it points them to a Savior; it invites and enjoins them to apply to him, to submit to him, and to put their whole trust in him, to renounce all pleas of their own, and to plead his name and his atonement for their pardon and acceptance.  It promises to all who thus plead, that the Holy Spirit of God will visit them, dwell in them, and abide with them, to enable them, by his gracious influence, both to will and to do according to his good pleasure.”

Therefore, we should never be ashamed of the gospel, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

The above quotes are found on pages 198-199 & 202 of volume 5 in Newton’s Works.

rev shane lems

Forgiveness and the Knuckleball

  Ever since I was young, I’ve been fascinated by the knuckleball because throwing it is difficult and hitting it is even more difficult (someone once said “hitting it is like trying to eat soup with a fork”).  And since I follow baseball, I was sad when Tim Wakefield recently retired.  Then I learned about R. A. Dickey, a starting pitcher for the Mets.  To make a long story short, I heard an interview with Dickey and learned he was an English Lit major in college and had recently written a book about his life – a life which included abuse, guilt, shame, anxiety, faith in Christ, forgiveness, and family.  I had to get the book!

Those of you who are not baseball fans might like this book because it is a story of God’s grace to a boy who was lost, lonely, and hurt.  I don’t want to give away the details of the story, but Dickey does a good job of describing the broken home in which he was raised.  He tells of his difficult youth, he talks about excelling in sports to help escape the guilt, and he describes his struggles with failure and success.  While the book isn’t a theological treatise, Dickey does explain how the truths of the Christian faith (specifically forgiveness and providence) gave him purpose and direction since the Lord found him in his teens.  I appreciated the fact that Dickey also showed how the Christian life isn’t one without trials, frustration, and struggles with sin.   He’s honest in depicting the Christian life.

I admit that I usually don’t read “Christian” books like this because they are typically cheesy and poorly written.  This book is neither cheesy nor is it poorly written.  Dickey can write, and the book is not an example of the embarrassing corny Christianity that is prevalent today.  Here’s one example of this.

“To me, prayer is not a me-driven, goal-driven endeavor, something I turn to when I really need to pitch a dominate game or get out of a tight spot or personal crisis.  I’ve never prayed to God and said, ‘Lord, please let me strike out Albert Pujols four times tonight.’  Nor will I ever do that.  God is not a genie in a bottle that you rub when you want something” (p. 286).

Though Dickey doesn’t quote the Westminster Shorter Catechism (I was hoping he would!), this book is not an example of sports-star Christianity.  It’s a story of an average Christian, delivered from sin and misery, who still struggles in life, and happens to be an excellent knuckleball pitcher.

Finally, I enjoyed the baseball aspect of the book.  It was fascinating to read how Dickey had to develop the knuckleball, getting pummeled while doing so – but he got back out there and tried again.  Learning about Dickey being a “4-A” guy (stuck between the minors and majors) was also something I never thought about before.  Baseball fans (even those who are not Mets fans) will also like the book because it shows the beauty of the game.

Here’s the full info: R. A. Dickey, Wherever I Wind Up (New York: Blue Rider Press, 2011).

shane lems

Sorrow, Depression, and Christian Hope

Product DetailsI don’t remember for certain, but I think I’ve mentioned this helpful book here before: Richard Winter, The Roots of Sorrow: Reflections on Depression and Hope (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1986).  Although it is a bit dated, I found it to be a very helpful resource on the topics of sorrow, melancholy,  depression, and other similar things.  Winter has also written other books I’ve appreciated, including Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment and Perfecting Ourselves to Death.  Listen to this paragraph which reveals one great perspective Winter brings to his discussion of depression and illness:

“…Through our weakness, through the brokenness of our bodies and minds, God is working out his purpose of changing us into his likeness.  When we catch a glimpse of God’s perspective [i.e. 2 Cor. 12:8] we learn to deal with the ‘thorns,’ not with cynical resignation or bitterness, but with grief at the fallen world in which we live and joy that we are being changed, and that there is hope beyond death (Rom. 8:18-24).  Then there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more death (Rev. 21:4).  Until then…there are some things such as physical paralysis or blindness which we cannot change, but we can work to reduce the sharpness and depth of the emotional and mental ‘thorns.'”

To be sure, Winter also talks about these topics: guilt, grief, shame, anger, self-esteem, sin, forgiveness, the church, and sanctification (etc.).  While Dr. Winter does interact with non-Christian views on these topics, his views and positions are quite biblical.  Even though the book is a little dated, and even if you’re not convinced by everything Winter says in it, I recommend it for those of you who are struggling with guilt, depression, anger (etc.) or if you counsel someone who does.  It’s a good resource to have.  If you have a counseling shelf, it should be on it.

Before I sign off, I should mention that though I haven’t read it, I just noticed that Winter wrote a different book on depression just a few years ago: When Life Goes Dark: Finding Hope in the Midst of Depression.  I think I’ll add that one to my list.

shane lems

sunnyside wa