Exercises of sin and grace

(Letters of John Newton)

Alas, how vain is man! What a contradiction is a believer to himself!

If I were to describe him from the Scriptural portrait—I would say that he is one whose heart is athirst for God, for His glory, and for His presence; that his affections are fixed upon an unseen Savior; that his treasures, and consequently his thoughts, are on eternal realities, far beyond the bounds of sense. Having experienced much God's forgiveness, he is full of mercy and forgiveness to all around. Having been often deceived by his own heart, he dares trust it no more—but lives by faith in the Son of God—for wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification, and derives from Him grace upon grace; sensible that without Him—he has not sufficiency even to think a good thought! In short—he is dead to the world, to sin, to self; but alive to God, and lively in His service. Prayer is his breath, the Word of God is his food, and Christ is more precious to him than the light of the sun. Such is a believer—in his judgment and prevailing desires.

But was I to describe him from his actual experience, especially at some times—how different would the picture be!

Though he knows that communion with God is his highest privilege, he too seldom finds it so; on the contrary, if duty, conscience, and necessity did not compel him—he would leave the throne of grace unvisited from day to day!

He takes up the Bible, conscious that it is the fountain of life and true comfort; yet perhaps, while he is making the reflection, he feels a secret distaste, which prompts him to lay it down, and give his preference to a newspaper!

He needs not to be told of the vanity and uncertainty of the world, and all beneath the sun; and yet he is almost as much elated or cast down by a trifle—as those who have their only portion in this world!

He believes that all things shall work together for his good, and that the most high God appoints, adjusts, and overrules all of his concerns; yet he feels the risings of fear, anxiety, and displeasure, as though the contrary was true!

He owns himself to be ignorant, and liable to be deceived by a thousand fallacies; yet he is easily betrayed into flattering views of himself, and self-conceit! He feels himself to be an unprofitable, unfaithful, unthankful servant—and therefore blushes to harbor a thought of desiring the esteem and commendations of men—yet he cannot suppress it!

By these exercises of sin and grace—the Lord teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature—that we are indeed defiled in every part! His method of salvation is hereby exceedingly endeared to us! We see that it is and must be of grace, wholly of grace; and that the Lord Jesus Christ, and His perfect righteousness, is and must be—our all in all.

God's power likewise, in maintaining His own work, notwithstanding
our infirmities, temptations, and enemies—is hereby displayed in the clearest light; His strength is manifested in our weakness!

Satan likewise, is more remarkably disappointed and put to shame—when he finds bounds set to his rage and wiles, beyond which he cannot pass; and that those in whom he finds so much evil to work upon, and over whom he so often prevails for a season—escape at last out of his hands!
He casts them down—but they are raised again!
He wounds them—but they are healed!
He obtains his desire to sift them as wheat—but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith!

Further, by what believers feel in themselves—they learn by degrees how to warn, pity, and bear with others. A soft, patient, and compassionate spirit, and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down—is not perhaps attainable in any other way!

I believe that nothing more habitually reconciles a child of God to the thought of death, than the wearisomeness of this warfare with sin and temptation. Death is unwelcome to human nature. But the Christian knows that not until death—will the conflict cease! Then we shall sin no more! The flesh, with all its attendant evils, will be laid in the grave. Then the soul, which has been partaker of a new and heavenly birth, shall be freed from every encumbrance, and stand perfect in the Redeemer's righteousness before God in eternal glory! When we see Jesus, we shall be transformed into His image—and be done with sin and sorrow forever!