John Newton Quotes
I am not what I once was!
In his old age, when he could no longer see to read, John Newton heard someone recite this text, "By the grace of God—I am what I am." He remained silent a short time and then, as if speaking to himself, he said: "I am not what I ought to be—ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be—I abhor that which is evil, and I would cleave to that which is good. I am not what I hope to be—soon, soon I shall put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection! Though I am not what I ought to be, what I wish to be, and what I hope to be—yet I can truly say, I am not what I once was—a slave to sin and Satan! I can heartily join with the apostle and acknowledge, "By the grace of God—I am what I am!"
Every man's shoes should be exactly of one size!
The church of Christ is composed of all who are savingly united to Him by genuine faith. They are infallibly known only to Himself. They are scattered far and wide, separated from each other by seas and mountains; they are a people of many nations and languages. But, wherever their lot is cast, they hear His voice, and are under His gracious eye. They do not have equal degrees of spiritual light, or measures of grace—but they are all ‘accepted in the Beloved'. They are all spiritual worshipers, and joint partakers of grace—and all will hereafter appear together at their Savior's right hand in glory! In whatever is essential to their salvation, they are all led by the same Spirit, and mind the same things.
But at present they are in an imperfect state. Though they are new creations—they are not freed from the 'principle of indwelling sin'. Their knowledge is clouded by much remaining ignorance; and their zeal, though right in its aim, is often warped and misguided by the corrupt influence of SELF. They still have many corruptions. They live in a world which furnishes frequent occasions of enticing them. And Satan, their subtle and powerful enemy, is always upon his watch to mislead and ensnare them!
Besides all this—they are born, educated, and effectually called, under a great variety of circumstances. Habits of life, local customs, early relationships with families and friends, and even bodily constitution, have more or less influence in forming their characters, and in giving a bias and turn to their manner of thinking; so that, in matters of a secondary nature—their sentiments may, and often do—differ as much as the features of their faces! A uniformity of judgment among them on these secondary matters is not to be expected, while the wisest are defective in knowledge, the holiest are defiled with sin, and while the weaknesses of human nature, which are common to them all—are so differently affected by a thousand impressions which arise from their various situations.
They might, however, maintain a unity of spirit, and live in the exercise of mutual love, were it not that almost every individual unhappily conceives that they are bound in conscience, to prescribe their own line of conduct—as a standard to which all their brethren ought to conform! They are but few, who consider this "narrow mind-set" to be as unnecessary, unreasonable, and impracticable, as it would be to insist, or expect, that every man's shoes should be exactly of one size!
Thus, though all agree in asserting the authority and right of the Lord Jesus, as King and Head of His church—yet the various ideas they frame of the rule or standard to which He requires them to conform, and their pertinacious attachment to their own conceptions of it—separate them almost as much from each other, as if they were not united to Him by a principle of living faith! Their petty differences form them into so many separate churches; and the fury with which they defend their own ideas, and oppose all who cannot agree with them in every minute point, makes them forget that they are children in the same family, and servants of the same Master! And, while they vex and worry each other with disputations and censures—the world is bewildered by all this, and laughs at them all! The spirit of love is restrained, offences are multiplied, and Satan is gratified by beholding the extensive effects of his pernicious and long-practiced maxim, Divide and conquer!
"Accept one another, therefore, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God." Romans 15:7
Thank Him for His prescription!
Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes, because we need them. He proportions the frequency and weight of them—to what our case requires. Let us trust in His skill—and thank Him for His prescription!
The load will be too heavy for us!
I compare the troubles which we have to undergo in the course of the year—to a great bundle of sticks, far too large for us to lift. But God does not require us to carry the whole bundle at once. He mercifully unties the bundle, and gives us first one stick, which we are to carry today; and then another, which we are to carry tomorrow, and so forth.
We can easily manage our troubles, if we would only carry the trouble appointed for each day. But the load will be too heavy for us—if we carry yesterday's burden over again today, and then add the burden of tomorrow to the weight, before we are required to bear it.
The most generally prevailing and ensnaring sin
"For of this you can be sure: that no sexually immoral or impure nor covetousness person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God." Ephesians 5:5
What is covetousness? Covetousness is a sin from which few people are entirely free. It is eminently a deceitful sin! It is decried and condemned in others—by multitudes who live in the habit of it themselves! It is very difficult to fix a conviction of this sin—upon those who are guilty of it!
Whether drunkards or profligates regard the warnings of the preacher or not, when he declares that those who persist in those evil practices, shall not inherit the kingdom of God—they at least know their own characters, and are sensible that they are the people intended. But if the preacher adds, "nor the covetousness person—such a man is an idolater" —the covetous man usually sits unmoved, and is more ready to apply the threatening to his neighbor—than to himself! If he now and then gives a few dollars to some charity—he does not suspect that he is liable to the charge of covetousness! I consider covetousness as the most generally prevailing and ensnaring sin, by which professors of the gospel, in our materialistic society, are hindered in their spiritual progress. A disposition deeply rooted in our fallen nature, strengthened by the custom of all around us, the power of habit, and the fascinating charm of wealth—is not easily counteracted. If we are, indeed, genuine believers in Christ—we are bound by obligation, and required by our Scriptural rule—to set our affections on the things that are above, not on the things that are on the earth. Christ has called us out of the world, and cautioned us against conformity to its spirit. While we are in the world—it is our duty, privilege, and honor—to manifest that grace which has delivered us from the love of the world. Christians must indeed eat and drink, and may buy and sell, as other people do. But the principles, motives, and ends of their conduct, are entirely different—they are to adorn the doctrine of God their Savior, and to do all for His glory!
The Christian knows that it is not necessary to be rich, or to be admired or envied by the vain unthinking world—and that it is absolutely necessary for him to maintain peace of conscience, and communion with God. In these respects, all God's people, however differently situated—are exactly upon a par.
But, alas! How many who profess to know and value the gospel—are far otherwise minded! The chief mark of their profession is their attendance on Sunday services! At other times, and in other respects—they are not easily distinguished from the ungodly world! Their houses, furniture, tables, and other belongings; and the manner in which they seek worldly things—sufficiently proves them to be covetous! Their love of money, and the desire of more—are always in exercise. They attempt to look two ways at once—and to reconcile the incompatible claims of God—and mammon! They rise early, go to bed late, and eat the bread of worry—that they may be able to vie with the world in their possessions; and to lay up snares, and thorns, and encumbrances for their children!
Often, they already have a lawful employment, which affords a competence for a comfortable support. But if opportunity offers, they eagerly catch at some other prospect of gain, though they thereby double their anxieties, and encroach still more upon that time (too little before) which they should allot to the concerns of their souls!
Such opportunities they call providential openings, and perhaps say they are thankful for them; not considering that such openings of Providence are frequently temptations or tests, which the Lord permits a man to meet with—to prove what is in his heart, and to try him, whether his affections are indeed set on the things above—or still cleave to the earth! For those who, as the apostle expresses it, "long to be rich," who will strain every nerve to be found in the list of the wealthy—may, and often do, obtain the poor reward they seek. As in the case of Israel, when, not satisfied with bread from heaven, they clamored for meat. God gives them their desire—but with it, sends leanness into their souls. They expose themselves to temptations and snares, to foolish passions and pursuits; and thus too many, who promised fair at the first setting out, are drowned in destruction and perdition! For it is written in the Scripture, "For of this you can be sure: that no covetousness person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God." Ephesians 5:5 And the Scriptures cannot be broken!
"For the love of money is the root of all evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows!" 1 Timothy 6:10. Who can enumerate the many sorrows with which the covetous and worldly-minded professor is pierced! Sooner or later, his schemes are broken; losses and crosses, disappointments and anxieties, wear down his spirit. Improper connections, which he formed, because he longed to be rich, become thorns in his sides and in his eyes! He trusted in men—and men deceive him! He leaned upon a weak reed—which breaks, and he falls! Thus he finds that the way of transgressors and backsliders is hard!
If therefore, my dear reader, you wish to avoid trouble, and to pass through life as smoothly as possible, take heed and beware of covetousness!
Dear friend, Allow me to say, that it excites both my wonder and concern, that a Christian minister such as yourself, should think it worth his while to attempt political reforms. When I look around upon the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me, to be no less vain and foolish, than it would be to paint the cabin—while the ship is sinking! Or to decorate the parlor—while the house is on fire!
When our Lord Jesus was upon earth, He refused to get involved in disputes or politics, "Friend, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?" Luke 12:14. "My kingdom is not of this world! If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight!" John 18:36. God's children belong to a kingdom which is not of this world; they are strangers and pilgrims upon earth, and a part of their Scriptural character is, that they are the "quiet in the land." Psalm 35:19.
Satan has many contrivances to amuse people, and to divert their thoughts from their real danger!
My dear sir, my prayer to God for you is—that He may induce you to employ the talents He has given you, in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of every existing evil; and to engage those who love and fear Him, (instead of wasting time in political speculations, for which you are not competent,) to sigh and cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, by prayer, that God's wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged! This, I think, is true patriotism—the best way in which people in private life may serve their country.
I consider the ungodly as saws and hammers in the hand of the Lord. So far as they are His instruments, they will succeed—but not an inch further! Their wrath shall praise Him, and be subservient to His designs!
If our lot is so cast that we can exercise our ministry free from stripes, fines, imprisonments, and death—it is more than the gospel has promised to us! If Christians were quiet when under the cruel governments of Nero and other wicked persecutors, when they were hunted down like wild beasts—then we ought to be not only quiet but very thankful now! It was then accounted an honor to suffer for Christ and the 'offence of the cross'!
Those are to be greatly pitied, who boast of their 'liberty'—and yet they do not consider that they are in the most deplorable bondage as the slaves of sin and Satan, under the curse of God's law and His eternal wrath! Oh! for a voice to reach their hearts, that they may know their true and dreadful state—and seek deliverance from their horrific thraldom! May you and I labor to direct them to the one thing, which is absolutely needful, and abundantly sufficient.
If I had the wisdom or influence to soothe the angry passions of mankind—I would gladly employ them! But I am a stranger and a pilgrim here in this world. My charter, my rights and my treasures, are all in heaven—and there my heart ought to be. In a very short time, I may be removed (and perhaps suddenly) into the unseen and eternal world—where all that now causes so much bustle upon earth—will be of no more importance to me—than the events which took place among the antediluvians!
In the hour, when death shall open the door into eternity—many things which now assume an 'air of importance', will be found as light and unsubstantial as a child's dream!
How crucial then, is it for me—to be found watching, with my lamp burning, diligently engaged in my proper calling! For the Lord has not called me to set governments right—but to preach the gospel, to proclaim the glory of His name, and to endeavor to win souls! "Let the dead bury their own dead—but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God!" Luke 9:60. Happy is that servant, whom his Master finds so doing, when He returns!
As you have forced me to respond—both duty and love have obliged me to be faithful and free in giving you my thoughts. I recommend you to the care and blessing of the great Shepherd and Savior; and remain for His sake, your affectionate friend and brother, John Newton
Perhaps, while we are admiring our gourd
We are in the Lord's school—the school of the cross. His daily providential dispensations are suited to wean our attachment from everything here on earth—and to convince us that this world cannot be our rest, for it are polluted. Our roses grow on thorns; our honey brings a sting. Frequently our sharpest trials—spring from our choicest comforts. Perhaps, while we are admiring our gourd—a worm is secretly preying upon its root! As every bitter thing is sweetened to a believer—so there is some bitterness mingled with every sweet thing. This is wisely and mercifully ordered by our heavenly Father. It is necessary. With such hearts as we have and in such a world as we live in—much discipline is needful to keep us from sleeping upon the enchanted ground.
But the time is short. It will not always be thus. We shall soon be out of the reach of sin and temptation. Happy hour, when troubles and sorrows, hitherto our inseparable companions, shall flee away, to return no more! When Jesus, with joy and gladness shall come forth to meet us, and conduct us to our eternal home! Then we shall drink of the rivers of pleasure that are at His right hand—and our happiness shall be unspeakable, uninterrupted, without abatement, and without end!
The poor worm is secretly indulging self-applause!
Among the many general causes of decline in grace, we may assign a principal place to spiritual pride and self-admiration. If our attainments in knowledge and giftedness, and even in grace—seduce us into a good opinion of ourselves, as if we were wise and good—we are already ensnared, in danger of falling every step we take, of mistaking the right path, and proceeding from bad to worse, without a power of correcting or even of discovering our deviations! That is—unless and until the Lord mercifully interposes, by restoring us to a spirit of humility, and dependence upon Himself. For God, who gives more grace to the humble—resists the proud! He beholds them with abhorrence—in proportion to the degree in which they admire themselves! It is the invariable law of His kingdom, that everyone who exalts himself—shall be abased!
True Christians, through the remaining evil of their hearts, and the subtle temptations of their enemy, are liable, not only to the workings of that pride which is common to our fallen nature—but to a certain kind of pride, which, though the most absurd and intolerable in any person—can only be found among those who make profession of the gospel. We have nothing but what we have received, and therefore to be proud of our titles, wealth, knowledge, success, or any temporal advantages by which the providence of God has distinguished us—is downright sinful! For those who confess themselves to be 'sinners', and therefore deserving of nothing but misery and wrath—to be proud of those peculiar blessings which are derived from the gospel of God's grace—is a wickedness of which even the demons are not capable of! The apostle Paul was so aware of his danger of being exalted above measure, through the abundant revelations and peculiar favors which the Lord had afforded him—that he says, "There was given me a messenger of Satan to buffet me." He speaks of this sharp trial as a great mercy, because he saw that it was necessary, and designed to keep him humble and attentive to his own weakness.
Ministers who are honored with singular abilities and success, have great need of watchfulness and prayer on this account! Simple-hearted hearers are apt to admire their favorite preacher—taking it for granted that he is deeply affected himself with the truths, which, with so much apparent liberty and power—he proposes to them. While, perhaps—the poor worm is secretly indulging self-applause, and pleasing himself with the numbers and attention of those who hang upon his words!
Perhaps such thoughts will occasionally rise in the minds of the best ministers; but, if they are allowed, if they become habitual, and enter strongly into the idea he forms of his own importance; and if, while he professes to preach Jesus Christ—he is preaching himself, and seeking his own glory—he is guilty of high treason against the Majesty of Him in whose name he speaks! And sooner or later, the effects of his pride will be visible and noticed. Doctrinal errors, gross misconduct, an abatement of zeal, of gifts, of influence—are evils, always to be dreaded, when spiritual pride has gained an ascendancy, whether in public or in private life.
"The Lord Almighty has planned it, to bring low the pride of all glory and to humble all who are renowned on the earth." Isaiah 23:9
"For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have—that you did not receive? And if you did receive it—why do you boast as though you did not?" 1 Corinthians 4:7
If he is a liar, a talebearer, a railer, a flatterer or a jester
There is, perhaps, no one test or proof of the reality of a work of grace upon the heart, more simple, clear and infallible—than the general tenor of our speech; for our Lord's aphorism is of certain and universal application, that "out of the abundance of the heart—the mouth speaks."
To the same purpose, the apostle James proposes to all who make a profession of the gospel, a searching criterion of their sincerity, when he says, "If anyone considers himself religious, and yet does not keep a tight bridle on his tongue—he deceives himself and his religion is worthless!" James supposes that the grace of God in a true believer will check the evils of the heart, and prevent them from breaking out by the tongue.
The grace of God will necessarily influence and govern the tongues of those who partake of it, in what they say when they speak of God, of themselves, and of or to their fellow-creatures.
Having seen a glimpse of the holiness and majesty, the glory and the grace, of the great God with whom they have to do—their hearts are impressed with reverence, and therefore there is seriousness in their language. They cannot speak lightly of God, or of His ways. One would suppose that no person, who even but seems to be pious, can directly and expressly profane His glorious name. But there is a careless and flippant manner of speaking of the great God, which is very disgusting and very suspicious. Likewise, the hearts of believers teach their mouths to speak honorably of God under all their afflictions and crosses, acknowledging the wisdom and the mercy of His painful dispensations. And, if an impatient word escapes them—it grieves and humbles them, as quite unfitting to their situation as His creatures, and especially as sinful creatures, who have always reason to acknowledge, that it is of the Lord's mercy alone—that they are not wholly consumed. When they speak of themselves, their tongues are bridled, and restrained from boasting. They speak as befits poor, unworthy creatures—because they feel themselves to be such! In what they say, either of their comforts or of their sorrows, sincerity dictates a simplicity which cannot be easily counterfeited.
In what they say of or to others, the tongues of believers are bridled by a heart-felt regard to truth, love and purity.
Where saving grace is in the heart—the tongue will be bridled by the law of TRUTH. It is grievous to see how nearly and readily some professors will venture upon the borders of a lie; either . . . to defend their own conduct, to avoid some inconvenience, to procure a supposed advantage, or sometimes merely to embellish a story!
Where instances of this kind are frequent, I hardly know a fouler blot in profession, or which can give a more just warrant to fear that such professors know nothing aright, either of God or themselves! The Lord is a God of truth; and He teaches His servants to hate and abhor lying, and to speak the truth from their hearts. I may add likewise, with regard to promises—that the person, whose simple word may not be safely depended upon—scarcely deserves the name of a Christian!
Where grace is in the heart, the tongue will likewise be bridled by the law of LOVE. If we love our neighbor—can we lightly speak evil of him, magnify his failings, or use provoking or insulting language to him? Love thinks no evil—but bears, hopes and endures. Love acts by the golden rule, to "Do unto others—what you would like them to do unto you." Those who are under the influence of Christian love, will be gentle and compassionate, disposed to make the most favorable allowances, and of course their tongues will be restrained from the language of malevolence, harsh censure, and slander—which are as familiar to us as our mother tongue—until we are made partakers of the grace of God.
The tongue is also bridled by a regard to PURITY, agreeable to the precepts, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths!" "Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking!" Ephesians 4:29, 5:4. Grace has taught believers to hate these things! How then can their tongues speak of them?
There are false professors, indeed, who can suit their language to their company. When with the people of God—they call talk very seriously. But at other times, they are well pleased to join in vain, frothy and evil conversation. But this double-mindedness is of itself, sufficient to discredit all their pretenses to a pious character.
Upon the whole, though perfection is not to be expected, though true believers may, on some occasions, speak rashly, and have great cause for humiliation, watchfulness, and prayer, with respect to the government of their tongues; yet Scripture authorizes this conclusion: That, if the tongue is frequently without a bridle; if it may be observed, that a person often speaks . . . lightly of God and of divine things, proudly of himself, and harshly of his fellow-creatures;
if he is a liar, a talebearer, a railer, a flatterer or a jester—then, whatever other good qualities he may seem to possess—his speech betrays him! He deceives himself, and his religion is worthless!
Let us think of these things, and entreat the Lord to cast the salt of His grace into the fountain of our hearts—that the streams of our conversation may be wholesome.
I am sure I cannot endure to the end!
"I will put My fear in their hearts—so they will never turn away from Me." Jeremiah 32:40
Jesus, to whom I have been led to commit myself, has engaged to save me, absolutely, and from first to last. He has promised not only that He will not depart from me—but that He will put, keep, and maintain His fear in my heart—so that I shall never finally depart from Him! And if He does not do this for me—I have no security against my turning apostate! For I am so weak, inconsistent, and sinful; I am so encompassed with deadly snares from the world; and I am so liable to such assaults from the subtlety, vigilance, and power of Satan—that, unless I am "kept by the power of God," I am sure I cannot endure to the end! I do believe that the Lord will keep me while I walk humbly and obediently before Him; but, were this all—it would be cold comfort! For I am prone to wander—and need a Shepherd whose watchful eye, compassionate heart, and boundless mercy—will pity, pardon, and restore my backslidings!
For, though by His goodness and not my own—I have hitherto been preserved in the path of holiness; yet I feel those evils within me, which would shortly break loose and bear me down to destruction, were He not ever present with me to control them.
Those who comfortably hope to see His face in glory—but depend upon their own watchfulness and endeavors to preserve themselves from falling—must be much wiser, better, and stronger than I am! Or at least they cannot have so deep and painful a sense of their own weakness and vileness, as daily experience forces upon me. I desire to be found in the use of the Lord's appointed means for the renewal of my spiritual strength—but I dare not undertake to watch a single hour, nor do I find ability to think a good thought, nor a power in myself of resisting any temptation! My strength is perfect weakness—and all I have is sin.
In short, I must sit down in despair—if I did not believe that He who has begun a good work in me, will carry it out to completion.
"Hold me up—and I shall be safe!" Psalm 119:117
FAITH unites us to Christ; gives us an immediate interest in all the benefits of his life, death, and intercession; opens the way of communication for all needful supplies of grace here, and insures to us the accomplishment of all the Lord has spoken to us of, in a state of glory. "He who believes shall be saved;" (Mark 16:16) —saved in defiance of all the opposition of earth and hell; saved, notwithstanding he is in himself unstable as water, weak as a bruised reed, and helpless as a newborn babe! What Jesus will give—none can take away. Only remember that it is a free gift. Receive it thankfully—and rejoice in the Giver. Let him have all the glory of his own undertaking. Renounce every other hope and every other plea—but his promise and mediation. Commit your souls to him—and then fear nothing. "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms!" (Deu. 33:27) He will fight your battles, heal your wounds, refresh your fainting spirits, guide you by his counsel while here, and at last receive you to himself!