John Newton's Letters
Our life is a warfare
Our experiences pretty much tally. They may be drawn out into books—but the
sum total may be comprised in a short sentence; "Our life is a warfare."
For our encouragement, the Apostle calls it a good warfare. We
are engaged in a good cause, fight under a good Captain, the victory is sure
beforehand, and the prize is a crown—a crown of eternal life. Such
considerations might make even a coward bold. But then we must be content to
fight; and, considering the nature, number, situation, and subtlety of our
enemies, we may expect sometimes to receive a wound. But there is a
medicinal tree, the leaves of which are always at hand to heal us.
We cannot be too attentive to the evil which is always
working in us, or to the stratagems which are employed against us; yet our
attention should not be wholly confined to these things. We are to look
upwards likewise to him, who is our head, our life, our strength. One glance
of Jesus will convey more effectual assistance—than poring upon our own
hearts for a month! The one is to be done—but the other should upon no
account be omitted. It was not by counting their wounds—but by beholding the
brazen serpent, the Lord's instituted means of cure—that the Israelites were
healed. That was an emblem for our instruction.
One great cause of our frequent conflicts is, that we
have a secret desire to be rich—and it is the Lord's design to make us poor.
We want to gain an ability of doing something—and He suits his
dispensations, to convince us that we can do nothing. We want a stock of
power in ourselves—and He would have us absolutely dependent upon Him. So
far as we are content to be weak—that His power may be magnified in us—so
far we shall make our enemies know that we are strong, though we ourselves
shall never be directly sensible that we are so. Only by comparing what we
are, with the opposition we stand against—we may come to a comfortable
conclusion, that the Lord works mightily in us. Psa. 41:11.
If our views are simple, and our desires towards the
Lord—it may be of use to consider some of your faults and mine, not as the
faults of you and me in particular—but as the fault of that depraved nature,
which is common with us to all the Lord's people, and which made Paul groan
as feelingly and as heartily as we can do. But this consideration, though
true and Scriptural, can only be safely applied when the mind is sincerely
and in good earnest devoted to the Lord. There are too many unsound and
half-professors, who eagerly catch at it, as an excuse for those evils they
are unwilling to part with. But I trust I may safely recommend it to you.
This evil nature, this indwelling sin, is a living
principle, an active, powerful cause; and a cause that is active will
necessarily produce an effect. Sin is the same thing in believers as in the
unregenerate; they have, indeed, a contrary principle of grace, which
counteracts and resists it, which can prevent its out breaking—but will not
suppress its rising. As grace resists sin, so sin resists grace, "For the
sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is
contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that
you do not do what you want." Gal. 5:17. The proper tendency of each is
mutually weakened on both sides; and between the two, the poor believer,
however blameless and exemplary in the sight of men, appears in his own view
the most inconsistent character under the sun! He can hardly think it is so
with others, and judging of them by what he sees, and of himself by what he
feels—in humility he esteems others better than himself.
This is the warfare. But it shall not always be so. Grace
shall prevail. The evil nature is already enervated, and before long it
shall die the death. Jesus will make us more than conquerors!