John Newton's Letters

Our imperfect knowledge of Christ's love

April 29, 1776.
My dear Miss M,
I thank you for your last letter; and I rejoice in the Lord's goodness to you. To be drawn by love; to be exempted from those distressing terrors and temptations which some are beset with; to be favored with the ordinances and means of grace, and connected with those, and with those only, who are disposed and qualified to assist and encourage you in seeking the Savior—these are special privileges, which all concur in your case. He loves you, he deals gently with you, he provides well for you, and accompanies every outward privilege with his special blessing; and I trust he will lead you on from strength to strength, and show you still greater things than you have yet seen.

Those whom he teaches, are always increasing in knowledge, both of themselves and of him. The heart is deep, and, like Ezekiel's vision, presents so many chambers of imagery, one within another, that it requires time to get a considerable acquaintance with it, and we shall never know it thoroughly. It is now more than twenty-eight years since the Lord began to open mine to my own view; and from that time to this, almost every day has discovered to me something which until then was unobserved; and the farther I go, the more I seem convinced that I have entered but a little way. A person who travels in some parts of Derbyshire may easily be satisfied that the country is cavernous; but how large, how deep, how numerous the caverns may be, which are hidden from us by the surface of the ground, and what is contained in them—are questions which our most discerning inquirers cannot fully answer. Thus I judge of my heart—that it is very deep and dark, and full of evil; but as to particulars, I know not one of a thousand!

And if our own hearts are beyond our comprehension, how much more incomprehensible is the heart of Jesus! If sin abounds in us—grace and love superabound in him! His ways and thoughts are higher than ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth; his love has a height, and depth, and length, and breadth, which passes all knowledge! The riches of his grace are unsearchable riches! Eph. 3:8, Eph. 3:18, Eph. 3:19. All that we have received or can receive from him, or know of him in this life, compared with what he is in himself, or what he has for us—is but as the drop of a bucket—compared with the ocean; or a single ray of light—compared with the sun. The waters of the sanctuary flow to us at first almost ankle deep—so graciously does the Lord condescend to our weakness; but they rise as we advance, and constrain us to cry out, with the Apostle, O the depth! We find before us, as Dr. Watts beautifully expresses it,

A sea of love and grace unknown,
Without a bottom or a shore!

O the excellency of the knowledge of Christ! It will be growing upon us through time—yes, I believe through eternity! What an astonishing and what a cheering thought—that this high and lofty One should unite himself to our nature, that so, in a way worthy of his adorable perfections, he might by his Spirit unite us to himself! Could such a thought have arisen in our hearts, without the warrant of his Word (but it is a thought which no created mind was capable of even conceiving until he revealed it), it would have been presumption and blasphemy! But now he has made it known, it is the foundation of our hope, and an inexhaustible spring of life and joy. Well may we say, Lord what is man, that you should thus visit him!