Thursday, March 15, 2007

Counsel from Newton

I have had the six-volume Works of John Newton sitting on my shelves for years. They've hardly been cracked. But the other night I decided to pull one down. (Incidentally, this is why I'm not bothered by owning a lot more books than I've read, nor am I moved by people saying that they're not going to buy any more books till they've read the ones already on their shelves. Years ago Iain Murray drew a connection between God's providence and the timing of reading books. He pointed out that if he had read Jonathan Edwards's Religious Affections as a younger man it would have meant little to him at that stage in his life, but years later--in God's timing--it was revolutionary. I've also been helped by my friend Rick Gamache's comparison of books to "tools in a toolbox." Years may go by without using a certain tool, but when a project comes along where you need it, you're very glad it's in the toolbox. [My wife has heard that illustration on more than one occasion to justify buying more books!]

Okay, back to Newton. The other night I pulled down volume 1 and began reading the book Cardiphonia: or, The Utterances of the Heart, in the Course of a Real Correspondence. It was published in 1780. (Newton's years were N1725-1807.) It contains a series of letters that Newton wrote, offering practical, pastoral, godly gospel counsel.

Here's a quote from one of the letters that was encouraging to my soul:
Since the radical powers of the soul are thus enfeebled and disordered, it is not to be wondered at that the best of men, and under their highest attainments, have found cause to make the acknowledgment of the Apostle, "When I should do good, evil is present with me."

But, blessed be God, though we must feel hourly cause for shame and humiliation for what we are in ourselves, we have cause to rejoice continually in Christ Jesus, who, as he is revealed unto us under the various names, characters, relations, and offices, which he bears in the Scripture, holds out to our faith a balm for every wound, a cordial for every discouragement, and a sufficient answer to every objection which sin or Satan can suggest against our peace.
  • If we are guilty, he is our Righteousness;
  • if we are sick; he is our infallible Physician;
  • if we are weak, helpless, and defenceless, he is the compassionate and faithful Shepherd who has taken charge of us, and will not suffer any thing to disappoint our hopes, or to separate us from his love.
He knows our frame, he remembers that we are but dust, and has engaged to guide us by his counsel, support us by his power, and at length to receive us to his glory, that we may be with him for ever.