John Newton's Letters

Difficulties and snares

April 15, 1776.
My dear Sir,
I often rejoice on your behalf. Your call out of the world was a singular, comfortable instance of the power of grace. And when I consider the difficulties and snares of your situation, and that you have been kept in the middle path, preserved from undue compliances on the one hand, and unnecessary singularities on the other, I cannot doubt but the Lord has hitherto helped and guided you. Indeed you have need of his guidance. At your young years, and with your expectations in life, your health firm, and your natural spirits lively—you are exposed to many snares. Yet if the Lord keeps you sensible of your danger, and dependent upon him, you will walk safely. Your security, success, and comfort, depend upon him; and in the way of means of grace—chiefly upon your being preserved in a humble sense of your own weakness.

It is written, "Fear not, I am with you." It is written again, "Blessed is the man who fears always." There is a perfect harmony in those seemingly different texts. May the wisdom which comes from above, teach you and I to keep them both united in our view. If the Lord is with us—we have no cause of fear. His eye is upon us, his arm is over us, his ear is open to our prayer; his grace sufficient, his promise unchangeable. Under his protection, though the path of duty should lie through fire and water—we may cheerfully and confidently pursue it.

On the other hand, our hearts are so deceitful, fallible, and frail; our spiritual enemies so subtle, watchful, and powerful; and they derive so many advantages from the occasions of every day, in which we are unavoidably and unexpectedly concerned; there is so much combustible materials within us, and so many temptations arising from without, capable of setting all in a flame; that we cannot be too jealous of ourselves and our circumstances.

When we can say, in the Psalmist's spirit, "Hold me up" we may warrantably draw his conclusion, "and I shall be safe!" But the moment we lean to our own strength and wisdom—we are in imminent danger of falling. The enemy who wars against our souls, is a consummate master in his subtle devices, prolific in stratagems, and equally skillful in carrying on his assaults by sap or by storm. He studies us, if I may so say, all round, to discover our weak sides. He is a very proteus for changing his appearances, and can appear as a sly serpent, a roaring lion, or an angel of light—as best suits his purpose. It is a great mercy to be in some measure acquainted with his devices, and aware of them. Those who wait humbly upon the Lord, and consult carefully at his word and throne of grace, are made wiser than their enemy—and enabled to escape and withstand his wiles.

I know you will not expect me to apologize for putting you in mind of these things, though you know them. I have a double warrant; the love I bear you, and the Lord's command, Heb. 3:13. Use the like freedom with me; I need it, and hope to be thankful for it, and accept it as one of the best proofs of friendship.

May the Lord bless and keep you. Pray for us, and believe me to be sincerely yours.