Faith – Spiritual Knowledge – Part 3

December 8, 1775

My Dear Friend,

 …Your comment on the seventh to the Romans, latter part, contradicts my feelings. You are either of a different make and nature from me, or else you are not rightly apprised of your own state, if you do not find the apostle’s complaint very suitable to yourself. I believe it applicable to the most holy Christian upon earth. But controversies of this kind are worn thread-bare. When you speak of the spiritual part of a natural man, it sounds to me like the living part of a dead man, or the seeing part of a blind man. Paul tells me that the natural man (whatever his spiritual part may be) can neither receive nor discern the things of God. What the apostle speaks of himself, Rom. vii. is no more, when rightly understood, than what he affirms of all who are partakers of a spiritual life, or who are true believers, Gal. V.

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The carnal natural mind is enmity against God, not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. When you subjoin, “Till it be set at liberty from the law of sin,” you do not comment upon the text, but make an addition of your own, which the text will by no means bear. The carnal mind is enmity. An enemy may be reconciled: but enmity itself is incurable. This carnal mind, natural man, old man, flesh, for the expressions are all equivalent, and denote, and include, the heart of man as he is by nature, may be crucified, must be mortified, but cannot be sanctified. All that is good or gracious is the effect of a new creation, a supernatural principle, wrought in the heart by the Gospel of Christ, and the agency of His Spirit; and till that is effected, the to uyhlongggkk, the highest attainment, the finest qualifications in man, however they may exalt him in his own eyes, or recommend him to the notice of his fellow-worms, are but abomination in the sight of God, Luke xvi.15.

The Gospel is calculated and designed to stain the pride of human glory. It is provided, not for the wise and the righteous, for those who think they have good dispositions and good works, to plead, but for the guilty, the helpless, the wretched, for those who are ready to perish; it fills the hungry with good things, but it sends the rich empty away. See Rev. iii. 17, 18.

 You ask, If man can do nothing without an extraordinary impulse from on high, is he to sit still and careless? By no means: I am far from saying, Man can do nothing, though I believe he cannot open his own eyes, or give himself faith. I wish every man to abstain carefully from sinful company and sinful actions, to read the Bible, to pray to God for His heavenly teaching. For this waiting upon God he has a moral ability; and, if he persevere thus in seeking, the promise is sure, that he shall not seek in vain.

But I would not have him mistake the means for the end; think himself good because he is preserved from gross vices and follies, or trust to his religious course of duties for acceptance, nor be satisfied till Christ be revealed in him, formed within him, dwell in his heart by faith, and till he can say, upon good grounds, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” I need not tell you these are Scriptural expressions; I am persuaded, if they were not, they would be exploded by many as unintelligible jargon.

True faith, my dear Sir, unites the soul to Christ, and thereby gives access to God, and fills it with a peace passing understanding, a hope, a joy unspeakable, and full of glory; teaches us that we are weak in ourselves, but enables us to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might to those who thus believe, Christ is precious-their beloved; they hear and know His voice; the very sound of His name gladdens their hearts, and He manifests Himself to them as He does not to the world. Thus the Scriptures speak, thus the first Christians experienced; and this is precisely the language which, in our days, is despised as enthusiasm and folly.

For it is now as it was then; though these things are revealed to babes, and they are as sure of them as that they see the noon-day sun, they are hidden from the wise and prudent, till the Lord makes them willing to renounce their own wisdom, and to become fools, that they may be truly wise, I Cor. i. 18, 19; iii. 8; viii. 2. Attention to the education of children is an undoubted duty; and it is a mercy when it so far succeeds as to preserve them from gross wickedness; but it will not change the heart. They who receive Christ are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, John i. 13.

 If a man professes to love the Lord Jesus, I am willing to believe him, if he does not give me proof to the contrary; but I am sure, at the same time, no one can love Him in the Scriptural sense, who does not know the need and the worth of a Saviour; in other words, who is not brought, as a ruined, helpless sinner, to live upon Him for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. They who love Him thus, will speak highly of Him, and acknowledge that He is their all in all. And they who thus love Him, and speak of Him, will get little thanks for their pains in such a world as this:– “All that live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer persecution: the world that hated Him will hate them.”

And though it is possible, by His grace, to put to silence, in some measure, the ignorance of foolish men; and though His providence can protect His people, so that not a hair of their heads can be hurt, without His permission; yet the world will show their teeth, if they are not allowed to bite. The apostles were accounted babblers, and wV perikaJarmata tou kosmou egenhJhmen pantwn periyhma (we are become as the garbage of the world and the offscouring of all things, 1 Cor. 4:13). I need not point out to you the force of these expressions. We are no better than the apostles; nor have we reason to expect much better treatment, so far as we walk in their steps.

 

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Faith – Spiritual Knowledge – Part 2

…..You sent me a sermon upon the new birth, or regeneration, and you have several of mine on the same subject. I wish you to compare them with each other, and with the Scripture; and I pray God to show you wherein the difference consists, and on which side the truth lies.

 When you desire me to reconcile God’s being the author of sin with His justice, you show that you misunderstand the whole strain of my sentiments; for I am persuaded you would not misrepresent them. It is easy to charge harsh consequences, which I neither allow, nor, indeed, do they follow from my sentiments. God cannot be the author of sin in that sense you would fix upon me: but is it possible that, upon your plan, you find no difficulty in what the Scripture teaches us upon this subject?

I conceive that those who were concerned in the death of Christ were very great sinners; and that, in nailing Him to the cross, they committed atrocious wickedness: yet, if the apostle may be believed, all this was according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, Acts ii. 28; and they did no more than what His hand and purpose had determined should be done, chap. iv. 28. And, you will observe, that this wicked act (wicked with respect to the perpetrators) was not only permitted, but foreordained in the strongest and most absolute sense of the word: the glory of God, and the salvation of men depended upon its being done, and just in that manner, and with all those circumstances, which actually took place; and yet Judas and the rest acted freely, and their wickedness was properly their own.

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Now, my friend, the arguments which satisfy you, that the Scripture does not present God as the author of this sin, in this appointment, will plead for me at the same time; and when you think you easily overcome me by asking, “Can God be the author of sin?” your imputation falls as directly upon the Word of God Himself. God is no more the author of sin, than the sun is the cause of ice; but it is in the nature of water to congeal into ice, when the sun’s influence is suspended to a certain degree. So there is sin enough in the hearts of men to make the earth the very image of hell, and to prove that men are no better than incarnate devils were He to suspend His influence and restraint. Sometimes, and, in some instances, He is pleased to suspend it considerably; and, so far as He does, human nature quickly appears in its true colours. Objections of this kind have been repeated and refuted before either you or I were born; and the apostle evidently supposes they would be urged against His doctrine, when he obviates the question, Why doth He yet find fault? Who hath resisted His will? To which he gives no other answer than by referring it to God’s sovereignty and the power which a potter has over the clay.

 I think I have, in a former letter, made some reply to the charge of positiveness in my own opinion. I acknowledge that I am fallible; yet I must again lay claim to a certainty about the way of salvation. I am as sure of some things as of my own existence; I should be so, if there was no human creature upon earth but myself. However, my sentiments are confirmed by the suffrages of thousands who have lived before me, of many with whom I have personally conversed in different places and circumstances, unknown to each other; yet all have received the same views, because taught by the same Spirit. And I have, likewise, been greatly confirmed by the testimony of many with whom I have conversed in their dying hours.

  I have seen them rejoicing in the prospect of death, free from fears, breathing the air of immortality: heartily disclaiming their duties and performances acknowledging that their best actions were attended with evil sufficient to condemn them: renouncing every shadow of hope, but what they derived from the blood of Christ, as the sole cause of their acceptance; yet triumphing in Him over every enemy and fear, and as sure of Heaven as if they were already there. And such were the apostle’s hopes, wholly founded on knowing whom He had believed, and his persuasion of His ability to keep that which he had committed unto Him.

This is faith; a renouncing of every thing we are apt to call our own, and relying wholly upon the blood, righteousness, and intercession of Jesus. However, I cannot communicate this my certainty to you; I only tell you there is such a thing, in hopes, if you do not think I willfully lie both to God and man, you will be earnest to seek it from Him, who bestowed it on me, and who will bestow it upon all who will sincerely apply to Him, and patiently wait upon Him for it.

 I cannot but wonder, that while you profess to believe the depravity of human nature, you should speak of good qualities inherent in it. The word of God describes it as evil, only evil, and that continually. That there are such qualities as stoics and infidels call virtue, I allow. God has not left man destitute of such dispositions as are necessary to the peace of society; but I deny there is any moral goodness in them, unless they are founded in a supreme love to God, have His glory for their aim, and are produced by faith in Jesus Christ.

A man may give all his goods to feed the poor, and his body to be burned, in zeal for the truth, and yet be a mere nothing, a tinkling cymbal, in the sight of Him who seeth, not as man seeth, but judgeth the heart. Many infidels and avowed enemies to the grace and Gospel of Christ, have made a fair show of what the world calls virtue, but Christian virtue is grace, the effect of a new nature and new life; and works thus wrought in God, are as different from the faint partial imitations of them which fallen nature is capable of producing, as a living man is from a statue. A statue may express the features and lineaments of the person whom it represents, but there is no life.

Faith – Spiritual Knowledge – Part 1

December 8, 1775

My Dear Friend,

Are you willing I should still call you so, or are you quite weary of me? Your silence makes me suspect the latter. However, it is my part to fulfil my promise, and then leave the event to God. As I have but an imperfect remembrance of what I have already written, I may be liable to some repetitions. I cannot stay to comment upon every line in your letter, but I proceed to notice such passages as seem most to affect the subject in debate. When you speak of the Scriptures maintaining one consistent sense, which, if the Word of God, it certainly must do, you say you read and understand it in this one consistent sense; nay, you cannot remember the time when you did not. It is otherwise with me and with multitudes; we remember when it was a sealed book, and we are sure it would have been so still, had not the Holy Spirit opened our understandings.

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 But when you add, though I pretend not to understand the whole, yet what I do understand appears perfectly consistent. I know not how far this exception may extend; for perhaps the reason why you allow you do not understand some parts, is because you cannot make them consistent with the sense you put upon other parts. You quote my words, “That when we are conscious of our depravity, reasoning stands us in no stead.” Undoubtedly reason always will stand rational creatures in some stead; but my meaning is, that when we are deeply convinced of sin, all our former reasonings upon the ways of God, while we make our conceptions the standard by which we judge what is befitting Him to do, as if He were altogether such an one as ourselves- all those cobweb reasonings are swept away, and we submit to His autoV efh (authority) without reasoning, though not without reason. For we have the strongest reason imaginable to acknowledge ourselves vile and lost, without righteousness and strength, when we actually feel ourselves to be so.

 You speak of the Gospel term of justification. This term is faith, Mark xvi. I6; Acts xiii. 39. The Gospel propounds, admits no other term. But this faith, as I endeavoured to show in my former letter, is very different from rational assent. You speak likewise of the law of faith, by which if you mean what some call the remedial law, which we are to obey as well as we can, and such obedience, together with our faith, will entitle us to acceptance with God, I am persuaded the Scripture speaks of no such thing. Grace and works of any kind, in the point of acceptance with God, are mentioned by the apostle not only as opposites or contraries, but as absolutely contradictory to each other, like fire and water, light and darkness; so that the affirmation of one is the denial of the other, Rom. iv. 5, and xi. 6. God justifies freely, justifies the ungodly, and him that worketh not. Though justifying faith be indeed an active principle, it worketh by love, yet not for acceptance. Those whom the apostle exhorts to work out their own salvation with “fear and trembling,” he considers as justified already; for he considers them as believers, in whom he supposed God had already begun a good work, and if so, was confident he would accomplish it (Phil. i. 6). To them, the consideration that God (who dwells in the hearts of believers) wrought in them to will and to do, was a powerful motive and encouragement to them to work, that is, to give all diligence to His appointed means; as a right sense of the sin that dwelleth in us, and the snares and temptations around us, will teach us still to work with fear and trembling.

 You suppose a difference between Christians (so called) who are devoted to God in baptism, and those who in the first ages were converted from abominable superstitions and idolatrous vices.-It is true, in Christian countries we do not worship heathen divinities eo nomine (by those names). And this is the principal difference I can find. Neither reason nor observation will allow me to think that human nature is a whit better now than it was in the apostle’s time. I know no kinds or degrees of wickedness which prevailed among heathens, which are not prevalent among nominal Christians, who have perhaps been baptized in their infancy; and, therefore, as the streams in the life are equally worldly, sensual, devilish, I doubt not but the fountain of the heart is equally polluted and poisonous; and that it is as true as it was in the days of Christ and His apostles, that unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

When We Awake In Glory

Dear Madam,

What a poor, uncertain, dying world is this! What a wilderness in itself! How dark, how desolate, without the light of the Gospel and the knowledge of Jesus! It does not appear so to us in a state of nature, because we are then in a state of enchantment, the magical lantern blinding us with a splendid delusion.

          Thus in the desert’s dreary waste, 

         By magic power produced in haste, 

         As old romances say, 

         Castles and groves, and music sweet

         The senses of the traveler cheat, 

         And stop him in his way. 

         But while he gazes with surprise, 

         The charm dissolves, the vision dies; 

         ‘Twas but enchanted ground 

         Thus, if the Lord our spirit touch, 

         The world, which promised us so much, 

         A wilderness is found.

 It is a great mercy to be undeceived in time; and though our gay dreams are at an end, and we awake to everything that is disgustful and dismaying, yet we see a highway through the wilderness; a powerful guard, an infallible Guide at hand to conduct us through; and we can discern, beyond the limits of the wilderness, a better land, where we shall be at rest and at home. What will the difficulties we meet by the way then signify? The remembrance of them will only remain to heighten our sense of the love, care, and power of our Saviour and Leader. O how shall we then admire, adore, and praise Him, when He shall condescend to unfold to us the beauty, propriety, and harmony of the whole train of His dispensations towards us, and give us a clear retrospect of all the way, and all the turns of our pilgrimage! 

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In the meanwhile, the best method of adorning our profession, and of enjoying peace in our souls, is simply to trust Him, and absolutely to commit ourselves and our all to His management. By casting our burdens upon Him, our spirits become light and cheerful; we are freed from a thousand anxieties and inquietudes, which are wearisome to our minds, and which, with respect to events, are needless for us, yea useless.

 But though it may be easy to speak of this trust, and it appears to our judgment perfectly right and reasonable, the actual attainment is a great thing; and especially so, to trust the Lord, not by fits and starts, surrendering one day and retracting the next, but to abide by our surrender, and go habitually trusting through all the changes we meet, knowing that His love, purpose, and promise are unchangeable. Some little faintings, perhaps, none are freed from; but I believe a power of trusting the Lord in good measure at all times, and living quietly under the shadow of His wing, is what the promise warrants us to expect, if we seek it by diligent prayer; if not all at once, yet by a gradual increase. May it be your experience and mine!

A Christian Library Part 2

………. Again: the effects which it performs demonstrate it to be the word of God. With a powerful and penetrating energy, it alarms and pierces the conscience, discovers the thoughts and intents of the heart, convinces the most obstinate, and makes the most careless tremble. With equal authority and efficacy, it speaks peace to the troubled mind, heals the wounded spirit, and can impart a joy unspeakable and full of glory, in the midst of the deepest distress. It teaches, persuades, comforts, and reproves, with an authority that can neither be disputed nor evaded; and often communicates more light, motives, and influence, by a single sentence, to a plain unlettered believer, than he could derive from the voluminous commentaries of the learned.

 In a word, the Bible answers the character the Apostle gives it: “It is able to make us wise unto salvation; it is completely and alone sufficient to make the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished for every good work.” The doctrines, histories, prophecies, promises, precepts, exhortations, examples, and warnings, contained in the Bible, form a perfect WHOLE, a complete summary of the will of God concerning us, in which nothing is lacking, nothing is superfluous.

 The second volume which deserves our study, is the book of CREATION. “The heavens tell of the glory of God. The skies display his marvelous craftsmanship.” Nor can we cast our eyes anywhere, without meeting innumerable proofs of his wisdom, power, goodness, and presence. God is revealed in the least, as well as in the greatest of his works. The sun and the glow-worm, the stars and each single blade of grass-are equally the effects of Divine power. The lines of this book, though very beautiful and expressive in themselves, are not immediately legible by fallen man. The works of creation may be compared to a beautiful, but unknown language-of which the Bible is the key; and without this key they cannot be understood. This book was always open to the heathens; but they could not read it, nor discern the proofs of his eternal power and Godhead which it affords. “They became vain in their own imaginations, and worshiped the creature more than the Creator.”

 The case is much the same at this day with many reputed wise, whose hearts are not subjected to the authority of the Bible. The study of the works of God, independent of his word, though dignified with the names of science and philosophy, is no better than an elaborate trifling and waste of time. It is to be feared none are more remote from the true knowledge of God, than many of those who value themselves most upon their supposed knowledge of his creatures. They may speak in general terms of his wisdom; but they live without him in the world; and their philosophy cannot teach them either to love or serve, to fear or trust him.

Those who know God in his word, may find both pleasure and profit in tracing his wisdom in his works, if their inquiries are kept within due bounds, and in a proper subservience to things of greater importance; but comparatively few have leisure, capacity, or opportunity for these inquiries.

 But the book of creation is designed for the instruction of all believers. If they are not qualified to be astronomers or anatomists, yet from a view of the heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars, which he has created, they learn to conceive of his condescension, power, and faithfulness. Though they are unacquainted with the theory of light and colors, they can see in the rainbow a token of God’s covenant love. Perhaps they have no idea of the magnitude or distance of the sun; but it reminds them of Jesus the Sun of Righteousness, the source of light and life to their souls.

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 The book of  PROVIDENCE is the third volume, by which those who fear the Lord are instructed. This likewise is inextricable and unintelligible to the wisest of men who are not governed by the word of God. But when the principles of Scripture are admitted and understood, they throw a pleasing light upon the study of Divine Providence, and at the same time are confirmed and illustrated by it. What we read in the Bible, of the sovereignty, wisdom, power, omniscience, and omnipresence of God, of his over-ruling all events to the accomplishment of his counsels and the manifestation of his glory, of the care he maintains of his church and people, and of his attention to their prayers-is exemplified by the history of nations and families, and the daily occurrences of private life.

The believer receives hourly and indubitable proofs that the Lord reigns; that truly there is a God who judges the earth. Hence arises a solid confidence: he sees that his concerns are in safe hands; and he needs not be afraid of evil tidings: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord; while others live at an uncertainty, exposed to the impression of every new appearance, and, like a ship in a storm, without rudder or pilot, abandoned to the power of the winds and waves.

 In the history of Joseph, and in the book of Esther, and indeed throughout the Bible, we have specimens of the wise unerring providence of God: what important consequences depend, under his management, upon the smallest events; and with what certainty seeming contingencies are directed to the outcome which he has appointed! By these authentic specimens we learn to judge of the whole; and with still greater advantage by the light of the New Testament, which shows us, that the administration of all power in heaven and earth is in the hands of Jesus. The government is upon his shoulders: the King of saints is King of nations, King of kings, and Lord of lords: not a sparrow falls to the ground, nor a hair from our heads, without his cognizance. And though his ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts than our thoughts; though his agency is veiled from the eye of sense by the intervention of second causes; yet faith perceives, acknowledges, admires, and trusts his management. This study, like the former, does not require superior natural abilities, but is obvious to the weakest and lowest of his people, so far as their own duty and peace are concerned.

 The fourth volume is the book of the HEART, or of Human Nature, comprehending the experience of what passes within our own breasts, and the observations we make upon the principles and conduct of others, compared with what we read in the word of God. The heart of man is deep; but all its principles and workings, in every possible situation, and the various ways in which it is affected by sin, by Satan, by worldly objects, and by grace-in solitude and in company, in prosperity and in affliction-are disclosed and unfolded in the Scripture. Many, who are proud of their knowledge of what they might be safely ignorant of, are utter strangers to themselves. Having no acquaintance with the Scripture, they have neither skill nor inclination to look into their own hearts, nor any certain criterion whereby to judge of the conduct of human life. But the Bible which teaches us to read this mysterious book, also shows us the source, nature, and tendency of our hopes, fears, desires, pursuits, and perplexities; the reasons why we cannot be happy in ourselves, and the vanity and insufficiency of everything around us to help us.

 The rest and happiness proposed in the Gospel, is likewise found to be exactly suitable to the desires and necessities of the awakened heart. And the conduct of those who reject this salvation, as well as the gracious effects produced in those who receive it, prove to a demonstration, that the word of God is indeed a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

 My limits will admit but of a few hints upon these extensive subjects. I shall only observe, that whoever is well read in these four books, is a wise person, how little whatever he may know of what the men of the world call science. On the other hand, though a man should be master of the whole circle of classical, scientific, and philosophical knowledge, if he has no taste for the Bible, and has no ability to apply it to the works of creation and providence, and his own experience-he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. I have pointed out a treasure of more worth than all the volumes in the Vatica

A Christian Library – Part 1

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” Ecclesiastes 12:12

 Dear Sir,

An eager desire of reading many books, though it is often supposed to be the effect of a taste for knowledge, is perhaps a principal cause of detaining multitudes in ignorance and perplexity. When an inexperienced person thus ventures into the uncertain tide of opinions, he is liable to be hurried hither and thither with the changing stream; to fall in with every new proposal, and to be continually perplexed with the difficulty of distinguishing between probability and truth. Or if, at last, he happily finds a clue to lead him through the labyrinth wherein so many have been lost, he will acknowledge, upon a review, that from what he remembers to have read (for perhaps the greater part he has wholly forgotten), he has gained little more than a discovery of what mistakes, uncertainty, insignificance, acrimony, and presumption, are often obtruded on the world under the disguise of a plausible title-page.

 It is far from my intention to depreciate the value or deny the usefulness of books, without exception. A few well-chosen treatises, carefully perused and thoroughly digested, will deserve and reward our pains; but a multiplicity of reading is seldom attended with a good effect. Besides the confusion it often brings upon the judgment and memory, it occasions a vast expense of time, indisposes for close thinking, and keeps us poor, in the midst of seeming plenty, by reducing us to live upon the thoughts of others, instead of laboring to improve and increase the stock of our own reflections.

 Every branch of knowledge is attended with this inconvenience; but it is in no one more sensibly felt than when the inquiry is directed to the subject of religion. Perhaps no country has abounded so much with religious books as our own: many of them are truly excellent; but a very great number of those which are usually met with, as they stand recommended by great names, and the general taste of the public, are more likely to mislead an inquirer, than to direct him into the paths of true peace and wisdom.

 And even in those books which are in the main agreeable to the word of God, there is often so great a mixture of human infirmity, so much of the spirit of controversy and party, such manifest defects in some, and so many unwarrantable additions to the simple truth of the Gospel in others, that, unless a person’s judgment is already formed, or he has a prudent friend to direct his choice, he will be probably led into error or prejudice before he is aware, by his attachment to a favorite author.

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 Allowing, therefore, the advantage of a discreet and seasonable use of human writings, I would point out a still more excellent way for the acquisition of true knowledge: a method which, if wholly neglected, the utmost diligence in the use of every other means will prove ineffectual; but which, if faithfully pursued, in an humble dependence upon the Divine blessing, will not only of itself lead us by the straightest path to wisdom, but will also give a double efficacy to every subordinate assistance.

 If I may be allowed to use the term “book” in a metaphorical sense, I may say, that the Most High God, in condescension to the weakness of our faculties, the brevity of our lives, and our many avocations, has comprised all the knowledge conducive to our real happiness in four comprehensive volumes. The first, which may be considered as the text, is cheap, portable, and compendious, so that hardly any person in our favored land, who is apprised of its worth, need be without it; and the other three, which are the best and fullest commentaries upon this, are always at hand for our perusal, and pressing upon our attention in every place and circumstance of our lives.

 It will be easily apprehended, that by the first book or volume, I mean that perfect and infallible system of truth, the BIBLE. The internal character of this book, arising from its comprehensiveness, simplicity, majesty, and authority, sufficiently prove, to every enlightened mind, that it is given by inspiration of God. They who are competent judges of this evidence, are no more disturbed by the suggestions of some men reputed wise, that it is of human composition, than if they were told that men had invented the sun and placed it in the sky. Its fullness speaks its Author. No case has yet occurred, or ever will, for which there is not a sufficient provision made in this invaluable treasury. Here we may seek (and we shall not seek in vain) wherewith to combat and vanquish every error, to illustrate and confirm every spiritual truth. Here are promises suited to every need, directions adapted to every doubt, which can possibly arise. Here is milk for babes, meat for strong men, medicines for the wounded, refreshment for the weary. The general history of all nations and ages, and the particular experience of each private believer, from the beginning to the end of time-are wonderfully comprised in this single volume; so that whoever reads and improves it aright, may discover his state, his progress, his temptations, his danger, and his duty-as distinctly and minutely marked out, as if the whole had been written for him alone. In this respect, as well as in many others, great is the mystery of godliness.

 The simplicity, as well as the subject-matter, of the Bible, evinces its Divine original. Though it has depths sufficient to perplex and confound the proudest efforts of unsanctified reason, it does not, as to its general import, require an elevated genius to understand it, but is equally addressed to the level of every capacity. As its contents are of universal concern, they are proposed in such a manner as to engage and satisfy the inquiries of all; and the learned, with respect to their own personal interest, have no advantage above the ignorant. That it is in fact read by many who receive no instruction or benefit from it, is wholly owing to their inattention or vanity. This event may rather excite grief, than wonder. The Bible teaches us to expect it. It forewarns us, that the natural man cannot receive the things of God; they can neither understand nor approve them. It points out to us the necessity of a heavenly teacher, the Holy Spirit, who has promised to guide those who seek him by prayer, into all necessary truth. Those who implore his assistance, find the seals opened, the veil taken away, and the way of salvation made plain before them.

 The language of the Bible is likewise clothed with inimitable majesty and authority. God speaks in it, and reveals the glory of his perfections-his sovereignty, holiness, justice, goodness, and grace-in a manner worthy of himself, though at the same time admirably adapted to our weakness. The most labored efforts of human genius are flat and languid, in comparison with those parts of the Bible which are designed to give us due apprehensions of that God with whom we have to do. Where shall we find such instances of the true, the sublime, the great, the marvelous, the beautiful, the heart-stirring, as in the Holy Scriptures?

A Question on Salvation – Part 2

 Excerpt from the Kindle ” John Newton’s Letters – A Question on Salvation”

He finds mysteries where I can perceive none. Surely, though I use the words Gospel, faith, and grace, with him-my ideas of them must be different from his. This led him to a close examination of all His Epistles, and, by the blessing of God, brought on a total change in his views and preaching. He no longer set his people to keep a law of faith; to trust in their sincerity and endeavors, upon some general hope that Christ would help them out where they came short; but he preached Christ himself, as the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

 He felt himself, and labored to convince others, that there is no hope for a sinner but merely in the blood of Jesus; and no possibility of his doing any works acceptable to God, until he himself is first made accepted in the Beloved. Nor did he labor in vain. Now his preaching effected, not only an outward reformation-but a real change of heart, in very many of his hearers. The word was received, as Paul expresses it, not with a rational assent only-but with demonstration and power, in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance. And their endeavors to observe the Gospel precepts were abundantly more extensive, uniform, and successful, when they were brought to say, with the Apostle, “I am crucified with Christ! Nevertheless I live-yet not I-but Christ lives in me; and the life which I live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

 Such a change of views and sentiments, I pray God-that you may experience. These things may appear uncouth to you at present, as they have done to many who now bless God for showing them what their reason could never have taught them. My divinity is unfashionable enough at present-but it was not so always; you will find few books, written from the area of the Reformation, until a little before Laud’s, that set forth any other. There were few pulpits until after the Restoration from which any other was heard. A lamentable change has indeed since taken place; but God has not left himself without witnesses. You think, though I disclaim infallibility, I arrogate too much in speaking with so much certainty. I am fallible indeed; but I am sure of the main points of doctrine I hold. I am not in the least doubt, whether salvation is by faith or by works; whether faith is of our own power or of God’s operation; whether Christ’s obedience, or our own, is the just ground of our hope; whether a man can truly call Jesus Lord-but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. I have no more hesitation about these points, than I should have were I asked whether it was God or man who created the heavens and the earth!

 Besides, as I have more than once observed, your sentiments were once my own; so that I, who have traveled both roads, may have perhaps some stronger reasons to determine which is the right, than you can have, who have only traveled one.

 I now come to the two queries you propose, the solution of which you think will clearly mark the difference of our sentiments. The substance of them is,

1st, Whether I think any sinner ever perished in his sins (to whom the Gospel has been preached) because God refused to supply him with such a proportion of his assistance as was absolutely necessary to his believing and repenting; or without his having previously rejected the incitements of his Holy Spirit? A full answer to this would require a sheet. But, briefly, I believe, that, all mankind being corrupt and guilty before God, he might, without impeachment to his justice, have left them all to perish, as we are assured he did the fallen angels. But he has been pleased to show mercy-and mercy must be free. If the sinner has any claim to it-so far it is justice, not mercy. He, who is to be our Judge, assures us, that few find the gate which leads to life, while many throng the road to destruction.

 Your question seems to imply, that you think God either did make salvation equally open to all, or that it would have been more becoming his goodness to have done so. But he is the potter-and we are the clay. His ways and thoughts are above ours, as the heavens are higher than the earth. The Judge of all the earth will do right. He has appointed a day, when he will manifest, to the conviction of all-that He has done right. Until then, I hold it best to take things upon his Word, and not too harshly determine what it befits Jehovah to do. Instead of saying what I think, let it suffice to remind you of what Paul thought, Romans 9:15-21.

 But, farther, I say, that unless mercy were afforded to those who are saved, in a way special to themselves, and which is not afforded to those who perish-no one soul could be saved. For fallen man, universally, considered as such, is as incapable of doing the least thing towards his salvation, until saved by the grace of God-as a dead body is of restoring itself to life. Whatever difference takes place between men in this respect, is of grace, that is-of God, undeserved. Yes, his first approaches to our hearts are undesired too; for, until he seeks us, we cannot, we will not seek him, Psa. 110:3. It is in the day of his power, and not before-that his people are made willing.

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 Where the Gospel is preached, those who perish, do willfully resist the Gospel light, and choose and cleave to darkness, and stifle the convictions which the truths of God, when his true Gospel is indeed preached, will, in one degree or other, force upon their minds. The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the love of other things, the violence of sinful appetites, their prejudices, pride, and self-righteousness either prevent the reception, or choke the growth of the good seed. Thus their own sin and obstinacy is the proper cause of their destruction. They will not come to Christ-that they may have eternal life.

 At the same time, it is true that they cannot, unless they are supernaturally drawn by God; John 5:40; John 6:44. They will not and they cannot come. Both are equally true, and they are consistent. For a man’s cannot, is not a natural inability-but a moral inability. It is not an impossibility in the nature of things, as it is for me to walk upon the water, or to fly in the air-but such an inability as, instead of extenuating, does exceedingly enhance and aggravate his guilt. He is so blinded by Satan, so alienated from God by nature and wicked works, so given up to sin, so averse from that way of salvation which is contrary to his pride and natural wisdom-that he will not embrace it or seek after it! And therefore he cannot receive it, until the grace of God powerfully enlightens his mind, and overcomes his obstacles.

 But this brings me to your second query,

II. Do I think that God, in the ordinary course of his providence, grants his assistance in an irresistible manner, or effects faith and conversion without the sinner’s own hearty consent and concurrence? I rather choose to term grace invincible, than irresistible. For it is too often resisted, even by those who believe; but, because it is invincible, it triumphs over all resistance, when God is pleased to bestow it. For the rest, I believe no sinner is converted without his own hearty will and concurrence. But he is not willing-until he is made so. Why does he at all refuse? Because he is insensible of his lost and dreadful condition. He does not know the evil of sin, the strictness of God’s law, the majesty of God whom he has offended, nor the total apostasy of his heart! He is blind to eternity, and ignorant of the excellency of Christ! He thinks that he is whole, and sees not his need of this great Physician! For salvation, he relies upon his own wisdom, power, and supposed righteousness.

 Now, in this state of things, when God comes with a purpose of saving mercy, he begins by convincing the person of sin, judgment, and righteousness; causes him to feel and know that he is a lost, condemned, helpless creature; and then reveals to him the necessity, sufficiency, and willingness of Christ to save those who are ready to perish, without money or price, without doings or deserving. Then he sees faith to be very different from a rational assent; finds that nothing but the power of God can produce a well-grounded hope in the heart of a convinced sinner; therefore looks to Jesus, who is the author and finisher of faith, to enable him to believe. For this he waits in what we call the means of grace; he prays, he reads the Word, he thirsts for God as the deer pants for the water-brooks. And, though perhaps for a while he is distressed with many doubts and fears, he is encouraged to wait on, because Jesus has said, “Him who comes unto me, I will never cast out.”

 The obstinacy of the will remains while the understanding is dark-and ceases when that is enlightened. Suppose a man walking in the dark, where there are pits and precipices of which he is not aware. You are sensible of his danger, and call after him; but he thinks he knows better than you, refuses your advice, and is perhaps angry with you for your importunity. He sees no danger, therefore will not be persuaded there is any. But if you go with a light, get before him, and show him plainly, that if he takes another step, that he will fall to his death-then he will stop of his own accord, blame himself for not minding you before, and be ready to comply with your farther directions. In either case, man’s will acts with equal freedom-the difference of his conduct arises from conviction.

 Something like this is the case in our spiritual concerns. Sinners are called and warned by the Word; but they are wise in their own eyes, and take but little notice-until the Lord gives them light, which he is not bound to give to any, and therefore cannot be bound to give to all. Those who have it, have reason to be thankful, and subscribe to the Apostle’s words, “By grace are you saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

I have not yet half done with the first sheet! I shall consider the rest at leisure; but send this as a specimen of my willingness to clear my sentiments to you as far as I can. Unless it should please God to make what I offer satisfactory, I well know before-hand what objections and answers will occur to you; for these points have been often debated; and, after a course of twenty-seven years, in which true religion has been the chief object of my thoughts and inquiries, I am not entirely a stranger to what can be offered on either side.

 What I write, I write simply and in love; beseeching Him, who alone can set a seal to his own truth, to guide you and bless you. This letter has been more than a week in hand; I have been called from it I suppose ten times, frequently in the middle of a period or a line. My leisure, which before was small, is now reduced almost to nothing. But I am desirous to keep up my correspondence with you, because I feel an affectionate interest in you, and because it pleased God to put it into your heart to apply to me. You cannot think how your first letter struck me-it was so unexpected, and seemed so improbable, that you should open your mind to me, I immediately conceived a hope that it would prove for good. Nor am I yet discouraged.

 When you have leisure and inclination-write. I shall be always glad to hear from you, and I will proceed in answering what I have already by me, as fast as I can. But I have many letters now waiting for answers, which must be attended to.

I recommend you to the blessing and care of the great Shepherd; and remain, etc.

 

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