John Newton's Letters

Blinded by Satan

April 20, 1774
Dear sir,
I have been pondering a good while for a subject, and at last I begin without one, hoping that (as it has often happened) while I am writing one line, something will occur to fill up another. Indeed, I have an inexhaustible fund at hand; but it is to me often like a prize in the hand of a fool—I lack skill to improve it. O for a warm, a suitable, a seasonable train of thought, that might enliven my own heart, and not be unworthy your perusal! Methinks the poets can have but cold comfort, when they invocate a fabled muse; but we have a warrant, a right, to look up for the influence of the Holy Spirit, who ordains strength for us, and has promised to work in us. What a comfort, what an honor is this—that sinful worms have liberty to look up to God! and that he, the High and Holy One, who inhabits eternity, is pleased to look down upon us, to maintain our peace, to supply our needs, to guide us with his eye, and to inspire us with wisdom and grace suitable to our occasions! Those who profess to know something of this fellowship, and to depend upon it, are, by the world, accounted enthusiasts, who know not what they mean; or perhaps hypocrites, who pretend to what they have not, in order to cover some base designs. But we have reason to bear their reproaches with patience.

Well then may the believer say, Let them laugh, let them rage; let them, if they please, point at me for a fool as I walk the streets! If I do but take up the Bible, or run over in my mind the inventory of the blessings with which the Lord has enriched me—I have sufficient amends. Jesus is mine—in him I have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, a saving interest in all the promises and in all the perfections of God. He will guide me by his counsel, support me by his power, comfort me with his presence, while I am here; and afterwards, when flesh and heart fail—he will receive me to his glory!

Let them say what they will, they shall not dispute or laugh us out of our spiritual senses. If all the blind men in the kingdom should endeavor to bear me down, that the sun is not bright, or that the rainbow has no colors, I would still believe my own eyes. I have seen them both—they have not. I cannot prove to their satisfaction what I assert, because they are destitute of sight, the necessary medium; yet their disputations produce no uncertainty in my mind. They would not question me, they could not hesitate a moment, if they were not blind. Just so, those who have been taught of God, who have tasted that the Lord is gracious, have an experimental perception of the truth, which armors them against all the sophistry of infidels.

I am persuaded we have many plain people here, who, if a wise man of the world was to suggest that the Bible is a human invention, would be quite at a loss how to answer him by arguments drawn from external evidences; yet they have found such effects from this blessed book, that they would be no more moved by the insinuation, than if they were told that a clever man, or set of men, invented the sun, and placed it in the skies! So, if a wise Socinian was to tell them that the Savior was only a man like themselves, they would conceive just such an opinion of his skill in divinity, as a philosopher would do of a clown's skill in astronomy, who would affirm that the sun was no bigger than a cart-wheel.

It remains therefore a truth, in defiance of all the cavils of the ignorant, that the Holy Spirit does influence the hearts of all the children of God; or, in other words, they are inspired, not with new revelations—but with grace and wisdom to understand, apply, and feed upon the great things already revealed in the Scriptures, without which the Scriptures are as useless as eye-glasses to the blind. Were it not so, when we become acquainted with the poverty, ignorance, and wickedness of our hearts—we must sit down in utter despair of being ever able to think a good thought, to offer a single petition aright in prayer, or to take one safe step in the path of life. But now we may be content with our proper weakness, since the power and Spirit of Christ are engaged to rest upon us; and while we are preserved in a simple dependence upon this help, though unable of ourselves to do anything, we shall find an ability to do everything that our circumstances and duty call for.

What is weaker than a worm? yet the Lord's "worm" shall, in his strength, "thresh the mountains, and make the hills as chaff!" But this life of faith, this living and acting by a power above our own, is an inexplicable mystery, until experience makes it plain.

I have often wondered that Paul has obtained so much quarter at the hands of some people, as to pass with them for a man of sense; for surely the greatest part of his writings must be, to the last degree, absurd and unintelligible upon their principles. How many contradictions must they find, for instance, if they give any attention to what they read in that one passage, Gal. 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

And as believers are thus inspired by the Holy Spirit, who furnishes them with desires, motives, and abilities, to perform what is agreeable to his will; so I apprehend, that those who live without God in the world, whom the Apostle styles sensual, not having the Spirit, are, in a greater or less degree, recipients, under what I may call a black inspiration. After making the best allowances I can, both for the extent of human genius, and the deplorable evil of the human heart, I cannot suppose that one half of the wicked wit, of which some people are so proud, is properly their own. Perhaps such a one as Voltaire would neither have written, or have been read or admired so much, if he had not been the amanuensis of an abler hand in his own way. Satan is always near, when the heart is disposed to receive him and the Lord withdraws his restraints, to heighten the sinner's ability of sinning with a vengeance, and assisting him with such strokes of blasphemy, malice, and falsehood, as perhaps he could not otherwise have attained. Therefore I do not wonder that they are clever and smart, that they raise a laugh, and are received with applause among those who are like-minded with themselves.

But, unless the Lord is pleased to grant them repentance (though it is rather to be feared some of them are given up to judicial hardness of heart), how much better would it have been for them had they been born idiots or lunatics, than to be distinguished as the witty and successful instruments of the powers of darkness—in beguiling, perverting, and ruining the souls of men! Alas, what are abilities and talents, or any distinctions which give pre-eminence in life, unless they are sanctified by the grace of God, and directed to the accomplishment of his will and glory!

From the expression, "Bind them in bundles and burn them," I have been led to think, that the deceivers and the deceived; those who have prostituted their abilities or influence to encourage others in sin, and those who have perished by their means; may, in another world, have some peculiar and inseparable connection, and spend an eternity in fruitless lamentations that ever they were connected here on earth!

I doubt not, that you feel the force of that line:
"Oh to grace how great a debtor—
 daily I'm constrained to be!"

Had not the Lord separated you for himself—your rank, your abilities, your influence, which now you chiefly value as enlarging your opportunities of gospel usefulness; might, nay certainly would, have been diverted into the opposite channel!