Excerpts from the letters of John Newton
The benefits of affliction
Affliction exercises the graces
Advantages from remaining sin
Temptations & trials
The benefits of affliction
My dear Madam,
I have often preached to others about the benefits of affliction. But my own path for many years has been so smooth, and my trials comparatively so light and few, that I have seemed to myself to speak by rote upon a subject of which I had not a proper feeling. Yet the many exercises of my poor afflicted people, and the sympathy the Lord has given me with them in their troubles, have made this a frequent and favourite topic of my ministry among them. The advantages of afflictions, when the Lord is pleased to employ them for the good of his people, are many and great. Permit me to mention a few of them; and the Lord grant that we may all find these blessed ends answered to ourselves, by the trials he is pleased to appoint us.
- Afflictions quicken us to prayer. It is a pity it should be so, yet experience shows that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship. But troubles rouse our spirits and constrain us to call upon the Lord in good earnest, when we feel a need of that help which we only can have from him.
- Afflictions are useful, and in a degree necessary, to keep alive in us a conviction of the vanity and unsatisfying nature of the present world, and all its enjoyments; to remind us that here is not our rest; and to call our thoughts upwards, where our true treasure is, and where our conversation ought to be. When things go on much as we wish our hearts are too prone to say, It is good to be here. It is probable that if Moses, when he came to invite Israel to Canaan, had found them in prosperity as in the days of Joseph, they would have been very unwilling to leave; but the afflictions they had been previously brought into made his message welcome. Thus the Lord, by pain, sickness, and disappointments, by breaking our cisterns and withering our gourds, weakens our attachment to this world and makes the thought of leaving it more familiar and more desirable.
- By afflictions, a child of God cannot but greatly desire a more enlarged and experiential acquaintance with God’s holy word; and this attainment is greatly promoted by our trials. The far greater part of the promises in Scripture are made and suited to a state of affliction. And, though we may believe they are true, we cannot know their sweetness, power, and suitableness so well unless we ourselves are in a state to which they refer. The Lord says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver.”—Now till the day of trouble comes, such a promise is like a city of refuge to an Israelite, who not having slain a man, was in no danger of the avenger of blood. He had a privilege near him of which he did not know the use and value because he was not in the case for which it was provided. But some can say, “I not only believe this promise upon the authority of the speaker, but I can set my seal to it: I have been in trouble, I took this course for relief, and I was not disappointed. The Lord verily heard and delivered me.” Thus afflictions likewise give occasion of knowing and noticing more of the Lord’s wisdom, power, and goodness, in supporting and relieving, than we should otherwise have known.
- I have not time to take another sheet, and must therefore contract my homily. Afflictions evidence to ourselves, and manifest to others, the reality of grace. And when we suffer as Christians, exercise some measure of that patience and submission and receive some measure of the supports and supplies that the Gospel requires and promises to believers, we are more confirmed that we have not taken up with mere notions. And others may be convinced that we do not following cunningly devised fables.
- Afflictions likewise strengthen our graces by exercise [practice]: as our limbs and natural powers would be feeble if not called to daily exertion, so the graces of the spirit would languish, without something provided to draw them out to use.
- And, to say no more, afflictions are honourable seeing as they advance our conformity to Jesus our Lord, who was a man of sorrows for our sake.
It seems to me that if we could go to heaven without suffering, we would be unwilling to desire it [heaven].Why would we ever wish to go by any other path than that which the Lord has consecrated and endeared by his own example? Especially as his people’s sufferings are not penal. There is no wrath in them: the cup he puts in their hands is very different from that which he drank for their sakes, and is only medicinal to promote their chief good. Here I must stop; but the subject is fruitful, and might be pursued through a quire of paper.
I am, &c.
Affliction exercises the graces
[Cont’d]…The Lord, by his providence, confirms the declarations of his word and ministry. Much we read and much we hear concerning the emptiness, vanity, and uncertainty of the present state. When our minds are enlightened by his Holy Spirit, we receive and acknowledge what his word declares to be truth, yet if we remain long without changes and our path is very smooth, we are for the most part but faintly affected with what we profess to believe. But when some of our dearest friends are taken from us, the lives of others are threatened, and we ourselves are brought low with pain and sickness, then we not only say but feel that this must not, cannot be our rest…though afflictions in themselves are not joyous, but grievous, yet in due season they yield the peaceful fruits of righteousness. Various and blessed are the fruits they produce:
- By affliction, prayer is quickened, for our prayers are very apt to grow languid and formal in time of ease.
- Affliction greatly helps us to understand the Scriptures, especially the promises—most of which, being made for times of trouble, we cannot know in their fullness, sweetness, and certainty, as much as when we have been in the situation to which they are suited, have been enabled to trust and plead them, and have found them fulfilled in our own case.
- We are usually indebted to affliction as the means or occasion of the most significant revelations we are favoured to receive of the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of the Lord. These are best observed by the evident proofs we have that he is near to support us under trouble, and that he can and does deliver us out of it. Israel would not have been so much of the Lord’s outstretched in their behalf, had not Pharaoh oppressed, opposed, and pursued them.
- Afflictions area designed likewise for the manifestation of our sincerity[of faith] to ourselves and to others. When faith endures the fire, we know it to be of the right kind; and others, who see we are brought safe out, and lose nothing but the dross, will confess that God is with us of a truth, Dan.iii.27,28. Surely this thought should reconcile us to suffer, not only with patience but with cheerfulness, if God may be glorified in us. This made the apostle rejoice in tribulation, that the power of Christ might be noticed as resting upon him and working mightily in him.
- Many of our graces likewise cannot thrive or show themselves to advantage without trials; such as resignation, patience, meekness, long suffering. I observe some of the London porters do not appear to be very strong men; yet they will trudge along under a burden which some stouter people could not carry so well: the reason is, that they are accustomed to carry burdens, and by continual exercise their shoulders acquire a strength suited to their work. It is so in the Christian life; activity and strength of grace is not ordinarily acquired by those who sit still and live at ease, but by those who frequently meet with something which requires a full exertion of what power the Lord has given them.
- So again, it is by our own sufferings we learn to pity and sympathize with others in their sufferings: such a compassionate disposition, which excites our feelings for the afflicted, is an eminent branch of the mind that was in Christ. But these feelings would be very faint, it we did not in our experience know what sorrows and temptations mean.
- Afflictions do us good likewise, as they make us more acquainted with what is in our hearts, and thereby promote humiliation and self-abasement. There are abominations which, like nests of vipers, lie so quietly within, that we hardly suspect they are there till the rod of affliction rouses them; they hiss and show their venom. This discovery is indeed very distressing; yet, till it is made, we are prone to think ourselves much less vile than we really are, and cannot so heartily abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes.
But I must write a sermon rather than a letter, if I would enumerate all the good fruits which, by the power of sanctifying grace, are produced from this bitter tree. May we, under our several trials, find them all revealed in ourselves, so we do not complain of having suffered in vain. While we have such a depraved nature and live in such a polluted world, and while the roots of pride, vanity, self-dependence, self-seeking, are so strong within us, we need a variety of sharp dispensations to keep us from forgetting ourselves, and from cleaving to the dust.
I am, &c.
Advantages from remaining sin
MY last two letters turned upon a mournful subject, the depravity of heart, which impedes us when we would do good, and pollutes our best intended services with evil. We have cause, upon this account, to go softly all our days; yet we need not sorrow as they have no hope. The Lord has provided his people relief under those complaints, and teaches us to draw improvement from them. If the evils we feel were not capable of being over-ruled for good, he would not permit them to remain in us. This we may infer from his hatred to sin, and the love which he bears to his people,
As to the remedy, neither our state nor his honour are affected by the workings of indwelling sin in the hearts of those whom he has taught to wrestle, strive, and mourn, on account of what they feel. Though sin wars, it will not reign. And though it breaks our peace, it cannot separate from his love.
Nor is it inconsistent with the Lord’s holiness and perfection, to manifest his favour to such poor defiled creatures or to admit them to communion with himself. For they are not considered as in themselves, but as one with Jesus, to whom they have fled for refuge and by whom they life a life of faith. They are accepted in the Beloved, and they have an Advocate with the Father who once made an atonement for their sins and ever lives to make intercession for their persons. Though they cannot fulfil the law, he has fulfilled it for them; though the obedience of the members is defiled and imperfect, the obedience of the Head is spotless and complete; and though there is much evil in them, there is something good: the fruit of his own gracious Spirit. They act for a principle of love, they aim at no less than his glory, and their habitual desires are supremely fixed upon himself. There is a difference in kind between the feeblest efforts of faith in a real believer, while he is covered with sham at the thoughts of his miscarriages, and the highest and most specious attainments of those who are wise in their own eyes and prudent in their own sight.
Nor will this conflict remain long, or the enemy finally prevail over them. They are supported by almighty power, and led on to certain victory. They will not always be as they are now; yet a little while, and they will be freed from this vile body, which, like the leprous house, is incurably contaminated, and must be entirely taken down. Then they will see Jesus as he is, and be like him, and with him for ever.
The gracious purposes to which the Lord makes the sense and feeling of our depravity subservient, are manifold:
- By our depravity the Lord’s own power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love, are more signally displayed—his power, in maintaining his own work in the midst of so much opposition, like a spark burning in the water, or a bush unconsumed in the flames; his wisdom in defeating and controlling all the devices which Satan, from his knowledge of the evil of our nature, is encourage to practise against us. He has overthrown many a fair professor, and, like Goliath, he challenges the whole army of Israel; yet he finds there are some against whom, though he thrusts solely, he cannot prevail; notwithstanding any seeming advantage he gains at some seasons, they are still delivered, for the Lord is on their side.
- The unchangeableness of the Lord’s love, and the riches of his mercy, are likewise more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon his people, than if they needed no forgiveness at all.
- In view of our sin, the Lord Jesus Christ is more endeared to the soul; all boasting is effectually excluded, and the glory of a full and free salvation is ascribed to him alone. If a mariner is surprised by a storm, and after one night spent in jeopardy, is presently brought safe into port; though he may rejoice in his deliverance, it will not effect him so sensibly, as if, after being tempest-tossed for a long season, and experiencing a great number and variety of hair-breadth escapes, he at last gains the desired haven. The righteous are said to be scarcely saved, not with respect to the certainty of the event, for the purpose of God in their favour cannot be disappointed, but in respect of their own apprehensions, and the great difficulties they are brought through. But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, and repeated proofs of their weakness, wilfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them. They dare not, they will not ascribe anything to themselves, but are glad to acknowledge, that they must have perished (if possible) a thousand times over, if Jesus had not been their Saviour, their shepherd, and their shield. When they were wandering he brought them back, when fallen he raised them, when wounded he healed them, when fainting he revived them. By him out of weakness they have been made strong; he has taught their hands to war, and covered their heads in the day of battle. In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of them, if they had not known so much of themselves.
- Further, a spirit of humiliation, which is both the Decus et Tutamen, the strength and beauty of our profession, is greatly promoted by our feeling, as well as reading, that when we would do good, evil is present with us. A broken and contrite spirit is pleasing to the Lord who has promised to dwell with those who have it; and experience shows, that the exercise of all our graces is in proportion to the humbling sense we have of the depravity of our nature. But that we are totally depraved, is a truth which no one every truly learned only by being told. Indeed if we could receive and habitually maintain a right judgement of ourselves, which is plainly declared in Scripture, it would probably save us many mournful hour. But experience is the Lord’s school, and they who are taught by him usually learn that they have no wisdom by the mistakes they make, and that they have no strength by the slips and falls they meet with. Every day draws forth some new corruption which before was little observed, or at lease reveals it in a stronger light than before. Thus by degrees they are weaned from leaning to any supposed wisdom, power or goodness in themselves; they feel the truth of our Lord’s words, “Without me ye can do nothing;” and the necessity of crying with David, “O lead me and guide me for they name’s sake.”
It is chiefly by this frame of mind that one Christian is differenced from another; for, though it is an inward feeling, it has very observable outward effects, which are expressively intimated: Ezek.xvi.63: “Thou shalt be dumb and not open thy mouth, in the day when I am pacified towards thee, saith the Lord God.” [In other words:] the knowledge of God’s full and free forgiveness of thy innumerable backslidings and transgressions, will make thee ashamed, and silence the unruly workings of thine heart. Thou wilt open thy mouth in praise; but no more boast in thyself or censure others, or repine at my dispensations. In these respects we are exceedingly prone to speak unadvisedly with our lips. But a sense of great unworthiness and much forgiveness checks theses evils. Whoever is truly humbled will not be easily angry and will not be positive and rash. He will be compassionate and tender to the infirmities of his fellow-sinners, knowing that if there be a difference, it is grace that has made it, and that he has the seeds of every evil in his own heart; and, under all trials and afflictions, he will look to the hand of the Lord, and lay his mouth in the dust, acknowledging that he suffers much less than his iniquities have deserved.
These are some of the advantages and good fruits that the Lord enables us to obtain from that bitter root, indwelling sin.
I am, with great deference, &c.
Temptations & trials
WHAT can you expect from me on the subject of temptation, with which you have been so much more conversant than myself? On this point I am more disposed to receive information from you, than to offer my advice. You, by the Lord’s appointment, have had much business and exercise on these great waters; whereas the knowledge I have is gained more from observation than from actual experience. I will not wonder if you think I write like a novice. However, your request has the force of a command with me. I will give you my thoughts; or rather, will take occasion to write not so much to you as to others who, though they may be plunged in the depths of temptation, have not yet seen so much of the wisdom and power of God in these dispensations as you have.
I will first inquire, why does the Lord permit some of his people to suffer such violent assaults from the powers of darkness? Then I will suggest a few advices to tempted souls.
The temptations of Satan (which, though not the most painful afflictions, are in realty the most dangerous) do not directly belong to my present design. I mean those, by which he is too successful in drawing many professors from the path of duty, in filing them with spiritual pride, or lulling them into carnal security. In these attempts he is often most powerful and prevalent when he is least perceived; he seldom distresses those whom he can deceive.
It is chiefly when these efforts [Satanic temptations to pride or carnality] fail, that Satan fights against the peace of the soul. He hates the Lord’s people, grudges them all their privileges and all their comforts, and will do what he can to disquiet them because he cannot prevail against them. And though the Lord sets such bounds to his rage as he cannot pass, and limits him both as to manner and time, he is often pleased to allow Satan to reveal his malice to a considerable degree; not to gratify him, but to humble and prove believers:
a. to show them what is in their hearts,
b. to make them truly sensible of their immediate and absolute dependence upon him, and
c. to quicken them to watchfulness and prayer.
Though temptations in themselves are grievous and dreadful, when by the grace of God they produce these effects, they deserve to be numbered among the “all things which are appointed to work together for the good of those who love him.”
The light carriage, vain confidence, and woeful backslidings of many nominal Christians might (speaking after the manner of men) have been in some measure prevented if they been more acquainted with this spiritual warfare and had drunk from the cup of temptation, which only a few of the humble and upright are exempted from tasting, though not all in the same degree.
Some purposes in temptations:
- One gracious end which the Lord has in permitting his people to be tempted, is the prevention of greater evils: so they not grow proud or careless, or be ensnared by the corrupt customs of the world. In this view, I doubt not, however burdensome your trials may at some seasons prove, you are enabled by your composed judgement to rejoice in them and be thankful for them. You know what you suffer now. But you know not what might have been the consequence if you had never smarted by fiery darts of the wicked one. You might have been taken in a more fatal snare and been numbered with those who, by their grievous declensions and falls, have caused the ways of truth to be evilly spoken of.
- Another purpose is to manifest his power, wisdom and grace in supporting the soul under such pressures as are obviously beyond its own strength to sustain. A bush on fire, but not consumed, engaged Moses’ attention. This emblem is generally applicable to the state of a Christian in the present life, but never more so than when he is in the fire of temptation. And though his heaviest sufferings of this kind are usually hidden from the notice of his fellow-creatures, other eyes are always upon him: “We are,” says the Apostle, “a spectacle to the world;” not only to men, but to angels also. Many things probably pass in the invisible state that concern us more than we are ordinarily aware.
The beginning of the Book of Job throws some light upon this point, and informs us (of which we would otherwise have been totally ignorant) of the true cause of Job’s uncommon sufferings. Satan had challenged him, charged him as a hypocrite, and thought he was able to prove him one if he could have permission to attack him. The Lord, for the vindication of Job’s integrity and for the manifestation of his own faithfulness and power in favour of his servant, was pleased to give Satan leave to try what he could do. The experiment answered many good purposes:
- Job was humbled, yet approved;
- his friends were instructed;
- Satan was confuted, and disappointed; and
- the wisdom and mercy of the Lord, in his darkest dispensations towards his people, were gloriously illustrated.
This contest and the event were recorded for the direction and encouragement of God’s people to the end of time. Satan’s malice is not abated; and though he has met millions of disappointments he still, like Goliath of old, defies the armies of God’s Israel . He challenges the stoutest, and “desires to have them that he may sift them as wheat.” Indeed he is far an overmatch for them, considered in themselves: but though they are weak, their Redeemer is mighty and they are forever secured by his love and intercession. “The Lord knows them that are his, and no weapon formed against them can prosper.” That this may appear with the fullest evidence, Satan is allowed to assault them. We handle vessels of glass or china with caution and endeavour to preserve them from falls and blows because we know they are easily broken. But if a man had the art of making glass malleable, and, like iron, capable of bearing the stroke of a hammer without breaking, it is probable that, instead of locking it carefully up, he would rather, for the commendation of his skill, permit many to attempt to break it if he knew their attempts would be in vain. Believers are compared to earthen vessels, liable in themselves to be destroyed by a small blow; but they are so strengthened and tempered by the power and supply of divine grace that the fiercest efforts of their fiercest enemies against them may be compared to the dashing of waves against a rock. And that this may be known and noticed, they are exposed to many trials. But the united and repeated assaults of the men of the world and the powers of darkness give incontestable demonstration that the Lord is truly with them, and his strength is made perfect in their weakness. Surely this thought, my friend, will afford you consolation; and you will be content to suffer, if God may be glorified by you and in you.
Further, by enduring temptation you, as a living member of the body of Christ, have the honour of being conformed to your head. He suffered, being tempted; and because he loves you, he calls you to participate in his sufferings and to taste of his cup; not the cup of wrath of God—this he drank alone, and he drank it all. But in affliction he allows his people to have fellowship with him. Thus they fill up the measure of his sufferings and can say, As he was, so are we in the world. Marvel not that the world hates you, neither marvel that Satan rages against you. Should not the disciple be as his Lord? Can the servant expect or desire peace from the avowed enemies of his master? We are to follow his steps. And can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers, when his was strewed with thorns? Let us in nothing be terrified by the power of our adversaries, which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to us of salvation—and that of God.
To us it is given, not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for his sake. If we made peace with the world, the world would let us alone. If we could be content to walk in the ways of sin, Satan would give us no disturbance. But because grace has rescued us from his dominion, and the love of Jesus constrains us to live to him alone, therefore the enemy, like a lion robbed of his prey, roars against us. He roars, but he cannot devour; he plots and rages, but he cannot prevail; he disquiets, but he cannot destroy. If we suffer with Christ, we will also reign with him: in due time he will bruise Satan under our feet, make us more than conquerors, and place us where we will hear the voice of war no more for ever.
Again, As by temptations we are conformed to the life of Christ, so likewise, by the sanctifying power of grace, they serve to advance our conformity to his image; particularly as we thereby acquire a sympathy and fellow-feeling with brethren who suffer. This is eminently a branch of the mind that was in Christ. He knows how to pity and help those who are tempted, because he has been tempted himself. He knows what temptations mean, not only with that knowledge by which he knows all things, but by experience. He well remembers what he endured in the wilderness, and in the garden. And though it is for his glory and our comfort that he suffered temptation without sin, yet for that very reason, and because he was perfectly holy, the temptations of Satan were unspeakably more bitter to him than they can be to us.
The great duty and refuge of the tempted saint is now to apply to the Lord Jesus. And they have the highest encouragement to do so, in that they are assured he is touched with a feeling of our infirmities. And for like reason they find some consolation in going to brethren who have suffered the same things. None but these can either understand or pity their complaints. If the Lord has any children who are not exercised with spiritual temptations, I am sure they are poorly qualified to “speak a word in season to them that are weary.” In this school you have acquired the tongue of the learned; and let it not seem a small thing to you, if the Lord has given you wisdom and ability to comfort the afflicted ones: if your prayers, your conversation, and the knowledge they have of your trials afford them some relief in a dark hour, this is an honour and a privilege which, I am sure, you will not think to have purchased too dearly, by all that you have endured.
Once more: Temptations, by giving us a painful sensibility of the weakness of our graces, and the strength of our inward corruptions, tend to mortify the evil principles of self-dependence and self-righteousness which are so deeply rooted in our fallen nature. They make Christ, in all his relations, offices, and characters, more precious to us and convince us that without him we can do nothing.
It would be easy to enlarge upon these and other advantages that the Lord enables his people to draw from the things they suffer, so that they may say, with Samson, “Out of the eater comes forth meat;” and so they may say that what their adversary designs for their overthrow, actually contributes to their establishment. But I have already exceeded my limits. Enough, I hope, has been said to prove that He has wise and gracious ends in permitting his people to be tossed for a season with tempest, and not comforted. Before long these designs will be more fully unfolded to us and we will be satisfied that he has done all things well. In the meanwhile it is our duty, and will be much for our comfort, to believe it upon the authority of his word.
I will now proceed to offer some advices to those who are tempted; but I am ready to say, To what purpose? When the enemy comes in like a flood; when the very foundation of hope are attacked; when suspicions are raised in the mind, not only concerning an interest in the promises, but concerning the truth of the Scripture itself; when a dark cloud blots out, not only the sense, but almost the remembrance of past comforts; when the mind is overwhelmed with torrents of blasphemous, unclean, or monstrous imaginations, things horrible and unutterable; when the fiery darts of Satan have set the corruptions of the heart in a flame; at such a season a person is little disposed or able to listen to advice. But I will mention some things by which, ordinarily, Satan maintains his advantage against them so they may be upon their guard as much as possible.
Satan’s principal purposes, and related advices:
In trials and temptations, Satan purposes to hide from believers the Lord’s designs in permitting him thus to rage. Some of these I have noticed; and they should endeavour to keep them upon their minds.
Advice: It is hard for believers, during the violence of the storm, to conceive that any good can possibly arise from the experience of so much evil. But when the storm is over, they find that the Lord is still mindful of them. Now, though a young soldier may well be startled at the first onset in the field of battle, it seems possible, that those who have been often engaged, should at length gain confidence from the recollection of the many instances in which they have formerly found, by the event, that the Lord was surely with them in them in the like difficulties, and what their fears were only groundless and imaginary. When the warfare is hottest, they have still reason to say, “Hope though in God; for I shall yet praise him.”
Satan wants to make believers utter impatient speeches, which only aggravate their distress. It is said of Job, under his first trials, “In all this he sinned not with his lips, nor charged God foolishly.” For this long, Satan was unable to prevail. But afterwards, he opened his mouth, as Jeremiah did likewise, and cursed the day of his birth. When he once began to complain, his causes of complaint increased.
Advice: We cannot prevent dreadful thoughts from arising in our hearts; but we should be cautious of giving them vent, by speaking unadvisedly. This is like letting in wind upon a smothering fire, which will make it burn more fiercely.
Satan wants to persuade the saints that all they feel and tremble at arises immediately from their own hearts.
Advice: Indeed it is a most awful proof of our depravity, that we feel something within ready to close with the suggestions of the enemy, in defiance of our better judgment and desires. But it is not so in all cases. It is not always easy, nor is it necessary, to precisely draw the line between the temptations of Satan and our own corruptions. But sometimes it is possible to distinguish them. When a child of God is prompted to blaspheme the name that he adores, or to commit such evils as make even unsanctified nature recoil, the enemy has done it and will be answerable for all the guilt. The soul in this case is passive, and suffers with extreme reluctance what it dreads more that the greatest evils which can affect the body. Nor do the deepest wounds of this kind leave a scar upon the conscience when the storm is over, which is proof that they are not our own act.
Satan wants to drive believers from the throne of grace.
Advice: Prayer, which is at all times necessary, is especially so in times of temptation. But how hard is it to come boldly to obtain help in this time of need! but, however hard, it must be attempted. By discontinuing prayer we give the enemy the greatest encouragement possible, for then he sees that his temptations have the effect he intends, to intercept us from our stronghold. When our Lord was in an agony he prayed the more earnestly. The ardour of his prayer increased with the distress of his soul. It would be happy if we could always imitate him in this; but too often temptations and difficulties, instead of rousing our application, dishearten and enfeeble us, so our cries are the faintest when we are in most need of assistance. But so long as prayer is restrained, our burden is increased. (Psalm 32: 3,5)
If Satan cannot make the saints omit praying, he will repeatedly endeavour to weary them by working upon the legality that cleaves so close to the heart. He is a hard taskmaster when he interferes in the performance of our spiritual duties. This he does perhaps more frequently than we think, for he can, if it serves his purpose, appear as an angel of light. When the soul is in a tempest and attempts to pray, he will suggest that prayer should be protracted to such a length, and performed with such steadiness, as is in the season quite impracticable. Such constrained efforts are wearisome and Satan takes occasion to fix fresh guilt upon the conscience for the manner of the performance of the prayer. Yet short, frequent, and fervent petitions, which will almost necessarily arise from what is felt when temptation is violent, are best suited to the case. We need not add to the burden by tasking ourselves beyond our power, as if we expected to be heard for our much speaking.
Blessed be God that we fight with an enemy already vanquished by our Lord, and that we have a sure promise of victory. The Lord is our banner.
I am, &c.
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Edited by Ruth Davis
From the letters of John Newton. Some reorganization has been applied, such as bulleted numbering of his points, for easier reading; also some editing for comprehension and of older English style. In no sense was the meaning changed. The teaching of John Newton on all these points is very precious and uplifting, moving the heart of the faithful in godly paths, and any change of meaning would be completely undesirable.
© Baruch House Publishing, 2008.