John Newton's Letters
C; or, The full corn in the ear
"First the blade, then the ear, after that the full
corn in the ear". Mark 4:28
By way of distinction, I assigned to 'A' the
characteristic of desire, to 'B' that of conflict. I can think
of no single word more descriptive of the state of 'C' than contemplation.
His eminence, in comparison of 'A', does not consist in the sensible warmth
and fervency of his affections: in this respect many of the most exemplary
believers have looked back with a kind of regret upon the time of their
espousals, when, though their judgments were but imperfectly formed, and
their views of Gospel truths were very indistinct, they felt a fervor of
spirit, the remembrance of which is both humbling and refreshing; and yet
they cannot recall the same sensations. Nor is he properly distinguished
from 'B' by a consciousness of his acceptance in the Beloved, and an ability
of calling God his Father; for this I have supposed 'B' has attained to.
Though, as there is a growth in every grace, 'C', having
had his views of the Gospel, and of the Lord's faithfulness and mercy,
confirmed by a longer experience, his assurance is of course more stable and
more simple, than when he first saw himself safe from all condemnation.
Neither has 'C', properly speaking, any more strength or stock of grace
inherent in himself than 'B', or even than 'A'. He is in the same state
of absolute dependence, as incapable of performing spiritual acts, or of
resisting temptations by his own power, as he was at the first day of his
setting out. Yet in a sense he is much stronger, because he has a more
feeling and constant sense of his own weakness. The Lord has been long
teaching him this lesson by a train of various dispensations; and through
grace he can say, that he has not suffered so many things in vain. His
heart has deceived him so often, that he is now in a good measure weaned
from trusting to it; and therefore he does not meet with so many
disappointments. And having found again and again the vanity of all
other helps, he is now taught to go to the Lord at once for "grace to help
in every time of need." Thus he is strong, not in himself, but in the grace
that is in Christ Jesus.
But C's happiness and superiority to 'B' lies chiefly in
this, that, by the Lord's blessing on the use of means—such as prayer,
reading and hearing of the word, and by a sanctified improvement of what he
has seen of the Lord, and of his own heart, in the course of his experience—he
has attained clearer, deeper, and more comprehensive views of the mystery of
redeeming love; of the glorious excellency of the Lord Jesus, in his
person, offices, grace, and faithfulness; of the harmony and glory of all
the Divine perfection's manifested in and by him to the church; of the
stability, beauty, fullness, and certainty of the Holy Scriptures; and of
the heights, depths, lengths, and breadths of the love of God in Christ.
Thus, though his sensible feelings may not be so warm as when he was in the
state of 'A', his judgment is more solid, his mind more fixed, his thoughts
more habitually exercised upon the things within the veil. His great
business is to behold the glory of God in Christ; and by beholding, he is
changed into the same image, and brings forth in an eminent and uniform
manner the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the glory
and praise of God. His contemplation's are not barren speculations, but have
a real influence, and enable him to exemplify the Christian character to
more advantage, and with more consistence, than can in the present state of
things be expected either from 'A' or 'B'. The following particulars may
illustrate my meaning.
I. Humility. A measure of this grace is to be
expected in every true Christian: but it can only appear in proportion to
the knowledge they have of Christ and of their own hearts. It is a part of
C's daily employment to look back upon the way by which the Lord has led
him; and while he reviews the Ebenezers he has set up all along the road, he
sees, in almost an equal number, the monuments of his own perverse returns,
and how he has in a thousand instances rendered to the Lord, evil for good.
Comparing these things together, he can without affectation adopt the
Apostle's language, and style himself "less than the least of all saints,
and of sinners the chief." 'A' and 'B' know that they ought to be humbled;
but 'C' is truly so, and feels the force of that text which I mentioned in
my last; Eze. 16:63. Again, as he knows most of himself, so he has seen most
of the Lord. The apprehension of infinite Majesty combined with infinite
Love, makes him shrink into the dust. From the exercise of this grace he,
derives two others, which are exceedingly ornamental, and principal branches
of the mind which was in Christ.
The one is submission to the will of God. The
views he has of his own vileness, unworthiness, and ignorance, and of the
Divine sovereignty, wisdom, and love—teach him to be content in every state,
and to bear his appointed lot of suffering with resignation, according to
the language of David in a time of affliction, "I was silent, and opened not
my mouth, because you did it."
The other is, tenderness of spirit towards his
fellow-Christians. He cannot but judge of their conduct according to the
rule of the word. But his own heart, and the knowledge he has acquired of
the snares of the world, and the subtlety of Satan, teach him to make all
due allowances, and qualify him for admonishing and restoring, in the spirit
of meekness, those who have been over taken in a fault. Here 'A' is usually
blameable; the warmth of his zeal, not being duly corrected by a sense of
his own imperfections, betrays him often into a censorious spirit. But 'C'
can bear with 'A' likewise, because he has been so himself, and he will not
expect green fruit to be ripe.
II. Spirituality. A spiritual taste, and a
disposition to account all things as worthless and vanity—in comparison of
the knowledge and love of God in Christ—are essential to a true Christian.
The world can never be his prevailing choice; 1Jo. 2:13. Yet we are renewed
but in part, and are prone to an undue attachment to worldly things. Our
spirits cleave to the dust, in defiance to the dictates of our better
judgments; and I believe the Lord seldom gives his people a considerable
victory over this evil principle, until he has let them feel how deeply it
is rooted in their hearts. We may often see people entangled and clogged in
this respect, of whose sincerity in the main we cannot justly doubt;
especially upon some sudden and unexpected turn in life, which brings them
into a situation they have not been accustomed to.
A considerable part of our trials are mercifully
appointed to wean us from this worldly propensity; and it is gradually
weakened by the Lord's showing us at one time the vanity of the creature,
and at another his own excellence and all-sufficiency.
Even 'C' is not perfect in this respect; but he is more
sensible of the evil of such attachments, more humbled for them, more
watchful against them, and more delivered from them. He still feels a
fetter, but he longs to be free. His allowed desires are brought to a point;
and he sees nothing worth a serious thought, but communion with God and
progress in holiness.
Whatever outward changes 'C' may meet with, he will in
general be the same man still. He has learned, with the Apostle, not only to
suffer need, but (which is perhaps the harder lesson) how to abound.
A palace would be a prison to him, without the Lord's presence; and with the
Lord's presence, a prison would be a palace. From hence arises a peaceful
reliance upon the Lord: he has nothing which he cannot commit into his
hands, which he is not habitually aiming to resign to his disposal.
Therefore he is not afraid of evil tidings; but when the hearts of others
shake like the leaves of a tree, he is fixed, trusting in the Lord, who he
believes can and will make good every loss, sweeten every bitter, and
appoint all things to work together for his advantage. He sees that the time
is short, lives upon the foretastes of glory, and therefore accounts not his
life, or any inferior concernment, dear, so that he may finish his course
III. A union of heart to the glory and will of God,
is another noble distinction of C's spirit. The glory of God, and the good
of his people, are inseparably connected. But of these great ends the first
is unspeakably the highest and the most important, and into which everything
else will be finally resolved. Now, in proportion as we advance nearer to
him, our judgment, aim, and end will be conformable to his, and his glory
will have the highest place in our hearts. At first it is not so, or but
very imperfectly. Our concern is chiefly about ourselves; nor can it be
otherwise. The convinced soul inquires, 'What shall I do to be saved?' The
young convert is intent upon sensible comforts; and in the seasons when he
sees his interest secure, the prospect of the troubles he may meet with in
life makes him often wish for an early death, that he may be at rest, and
avoid the heat and burden of the day.
But 'C' has attained to more enlarged views: he has a
desire to depart and to be with Christ, which would be importunate if he
considered only himself; but his chief desire is, that God may be glorified
in him, whether by his life or by his death. He is not his own; nor does he
desire to be His own; but, so that the power of Jesus may be manifested in
him, he will take pleasure in infirmities, in distresses, in temptations;
and, though he longs for heaven, would be content to live as long as
Methuselah upon earth, if, by anything he could do or suffer, the will and
glory of God might be promoted. And though he loves and adores the Lord for
what he has done and suffered for him, delivered him from, and appointed him
to; yet he loves and adores him likewise with a more simple and direct love,
in which self is in a manner forgotten, from the consideration of
God's glorious excellence and perfections, as he is in himself. That God in
Christ is glorious over all, and blessed forever, is the very joy of his
soul; and his heart can frame no higher wish, than that the sovereign, wise,
holy will of God may be accomplished in him, and all his creatures. Upon
this grand principle his prayers, schemes, and actions, are formed. Thus 'C'
is already made like the angels; and, so far as is consistent with the
inseparable remnants of a fallen nature, the will of God is regarded by him
upon earth as it is by the inhabitants of heaven.
The power of Divine grace in 'C' may be exemplified in a
great variety of situations. 'C' may be rich or poor, learned or illiterate,
of a lively natural spirit, or of a more slow and phlegmatic constitution.
He may have a comparatively smooth, or a remarkably thorny path in life; he
may be a minister or layman. These circumstantials will give some tincture
and difference in appearance to the work; but the work itself is the same;
and we must, as far as possible, make proper allowances for each, in order
to form a right judgment of the life of faith.
The outward expression of grace may be heightened and set
off to advantage by many things which are merely natural, such as evenness
of temper, good sense, a knowledge of the world, and the like; and it may be
darkened by things which are not properly sinful, but unavoidable, such as
lowness of spirit, weak abilities, and pressure of temptations, which may
have effects that those who have not had experience in the same things
cannot properly account for. A double quantity of real grace, if I may so
speak, that has a double quantity of hindrances to conflict with, will not
be easily observed, unless these hindrances are likewise known and attended
to; and a smaller measure of grace may appear great, when its exercise meets
with no remarkable obstruction. For these reasons, we can never be competent
judges of each other, because we cannot be competently acquainted with the
whole complex case.
But our great and merciful High Priest knows the whole:
he considers our frame, "remembers that we are but dust;" makes gracious
allowances; pities, bears, accepts, and approves, with unerring judgment.
The sun, in his daily course, beholds nothing so excellent and honorable
upon earth as 'C', though perhaps he may be confined to a cottage, and is
little known or noticed by men. But he is the object and residence of Divine
love, the charge of angels, and ripening for everlasting glory. Happy 'C'!
his toils, sufferings, and exercises, will be soon at an end; soon his
desires will be accomplished; and He who has loved him, and redeemed him
with his own blood, will receive him to himself, with a "Well done, good and
faithful servant; enter you into the joy of your Lord."
If this representation is agreeable to the Scriptures,
how greatly are they mistaken, and how much to be pitied, who, while they
make profession of the Gospel—seem to have no idea of the effects it is
designed to produce upon the hearts of believers, but either allow
themselves in a worldly spirit and conversation, or indulge their
unsanctified tempers, by a fierce contention for names, notions, and
parties. May the Lord give to you and to me daily to grow in the experience
of that wisdom which "is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be
entreated, full of mercy and good works, without partiality, and without