John Newton's Letters

A visitor from heaven!

August, 1775
Dear sir,
I have no apt preface or introduction at hand, and as I have made it almost a rule not to study for what I would write to you, I therefore beg permission to begin abruptly.

It is the future promised privilege of believers in Jesus, that they shall be as the angels; and there is a sense in which we should endeavor to be as the angels now. This is intimated to us where we are taught to pray, "May Your will be done on earth—as it is in heaven." I have sometimes amused myself with supposing that an angel should be appointed to reside awhile upon earth in a human body; not in sinful flesh like ours—but in a body free from infirmity, and still preserving an unabated sense of his own happiness in the favor of God, and of his unspeakable obligation to his goodness. And then I have tried to judge, as well as I could, how such an angel would conduct himself in such a situation. I know not that I ever enlarged upon the thought, either in preaching or writing. Permit me to follow it a little in this paper.

Were I acquainted with this heavenly visitant, I am willing to hope I should greatly reverence him; and, if permitted, be glad, in some cases, to consult him. In some—but not in all; for I think my fear would be equal to my love. Methinks I could never venture to open my heart freely to him, and unfold to him my numberless complaints and infirmities; for, as he could have no experience of the like things himself, I would suppose he would not know how fully to pity me, indeed, hardly how to bear with me—if I told him all. Alas! what a preposterous, strange, vile creature should I appear to an angel, if he knew me as I am!

It is well for me that Jesus was made lower than the angels, and that the human nature he assumed was not distinct from the common nature of mankind, though secured from the common depravity; and because he submitted to be under the law in our name and stead, though he was free from sin himself—yet, sin and its consequences being (for our sakes) charged upon him, he acquired, in the days of his humiliation, an experimental sympathy with his poor people. He knows the effects of sin and temptation upon us, by that knowledge whereby he knows all things; but he knows them likewise in a way more suitable for our comfort and relief, by the sufferings and exercises he passed through for us! Hence arises our encouragement. We have not a high priest who cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities—but was in all points tempted even as we are.

When I add to this, the consideration of his power, promises, and grace, and that he is exalted on purpose to pity, relieve, and save—I gather courage. With him I dare be free; and am not sorry—but glad, that he knows me perfectly, that not a thought of my heart is hidden from him. For, without this infinite and exact knowledge of my disease—how could he effectually administer to my cure?

Where am I rambling? I seem to have lost sight of the angel already! I am now coming back, that, if he cannot effectually pity me, he may at least animate and teach me.

In the first place, I take it for granted this angel would think himself a stranger and pilgrim upon earth. He would not forget that his home was in heaven. Surely he would look upon all the bustle of human life (farther than the design of his mission might connect him with it) with more indifference than we look upon the play of little children, or the amusements of idiots and lunatics, which give us an uneasiness, rather than excite a desire of joining in them. He would judge of everything around him, by the reference and tendency it had to promote the will of him who sent him; and the most splendid appearances, considered in any other view, would make no impression upon him.

Consequently, as to his own concernment, all his aim and desire would be to fulfill the will of God. All situations would be alike to him; whether he was commanded, as in the case of Sennacherib, to destroy a mighty army with a stroke; or, as in the case of Hagar, to attend upon a woman, as a servant. Both services would be to him equally honorable and important, because he was in both equally pleasing his Lord, which would be his element and his joy, whether he was appointed to guide the reins of empire—or to sweep the streets!

Again—the angel would doubtless exhibit a striking example of benevolence; for, being free from selfish bias, filled with a sense of the love of God, and a knowledge of his adorable perfections, his whole heart and soul and strength would be engaged and exerted, both from duty and inclination, to relieve the miseries and advance the happiness of all around him. In this, he would follow the pattern of Him who does good to all, commanding his sun to rise and his rain to fall upon the just and the unjust; though, from the same pattern, he would show an especial regard to the household of faith. An angel would take but little part in the controversies, contentions, and broils, which might happen in the time of his sojourning here—but would be a friend to all, so far as consistent with the general good.

The will and glory of God being the angel's great purpose, and having a more lively sense of the realities of an unseen world than we can at present conceive—he would certainty, in the first and chief place, have the success and spread of the glorious Gospel at heart. Angels, though not redeemed with blood—yet feel themselves nearly concerned in the work of redemption. They admire its mysteries. We may suppose them well informed in the works of creation and providence; but (unlike too many men, who are satisfied with the knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, or history) they search and pry into the counsels of redeeming love, rejoice at the conversion of a sinner, and think themselves well employed to be ministering spirits, to minister to the heirs of salvation. It would therefore be his chief delight to espouse and promote their cause, and to employ all his talents and influence in spreading the savor and knowledge of the name of Jesus—which is the only and effectual means, of bringing sinners out of bondage and darkness—into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

Lastly—though his zeal for the glory of his Lord would make him willing to continue here until he had finished the work given him to do—he would, I am persuaded, look forward with desire to the appointed moment of his recall back to heaven—that he might be freed from beholding and mixing with the sin and vanity of those who know not God, render his account with joy, and be welcomed to heaven with a "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Surely he would long for this, as a laborer for the setting sun; and would not form any connection with the things of time, which should prompt him to wish his removal protracted for a single hour beyond the period of his prescribed service.

Alas! why am not I more like an angel? My views, in my better judgment, are the same. My motives and obligations are even stronger—an angel is not so deeply indebted to the grace of God, as a believing sinner, who was once upon the brink of destruction, has been redeemed with blood, and might justly have been, before now, shut up with the powers of darkness without hope! Yet the merest trifles are sufficient to debase my views, damp my activity, and impede my endeavors in the Lord's service, though I profess to have no other end or desire which can make a continuance in life worthy my wish!