THE CHARACTER OF A CHRISTIAN
Part of a letter by John Newton 1725-1807
The Christian’s temper God-ward is evidenced by humility. He has received from Gethsemane and Golgotha such a sense of the evil of sin, and of the holiness of God, combined with His matchless love to sinners, as has deeply penetrated his heart; he has an affecting remembrance of the state of rebellion and enmity in which he once lived against this holy and good God; and he has a quick perception of the defilements and defects which still debase his best services. His mouth is therefore stopped as to boasting; he is vile in his own eyes, and is filled with wonder, that the Lord should visit such a sinner with such a salvation. He sees so vast a disproportion between the obligations he is under to grace, and the returns he makes, that he is disposed, yea constrained, to adopt the apostle’s words without affectation, and to account himself less than the least of all saints; and knowing his own heart, while he sees only the outside of others, he is not easily persuaded there can be a believer upon earth so faint, so unfruitful, so unworthy as himself.
Yet, though abased, he is not discouraged, for he enjoys peace. The dignity, offices, blood, righteousness, faithfulness, and compassion of the Redeemer, in whom he rests, trusts, and lives, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, are adequate to all his wants and wishes, provide him with an answer to every objection, and give him no less confidence in God, than if he were sinless as an angel:
for he sees, that though sin has abounded in him, grace has much more abounded in Jesus. With respect to the past, all things are become new;
with respect to the present and future, he leans upon an almighty arm, and relies upon the word and power which made and upholds the heavens and the earth. Though he feels himself unworthy of the smallest mercies, he claims and expects the greatest blessings that God
can bestow; and being rooted and grounded in the knowledge and love of Christ, his peace abides, and is not greatly affected, either by the variation of his own frames, or the changes of God’s dispensations towards him while here. With such a sense of himself, such a heart-felt peace and heavenly hope, how can his spirit but breathe love to his God and Saviour? It is indeed the perfection of his character and happiness, that his soul is united by love to the chief good. The love of Christ is the joy of his heart, and the spring of his obedience. With his Saviour’s presence, he finds a heaven begun upon earth; and without it, all the other glories of the heavenly state would not content him. The excellence of Christ, His love to sinners, especially His dying love; His love to himself in seeking and saving him when lost, saving him to the uttermostÂ—But I must stop! Your lordship can better conceive than I can describe, how and why Jesus is dear to the heart that knows Him. That part of the Christian’s life which is not employed in the active service of his Lord, is chiefly spent in seeking and maintaining communion with Him. For this he plies the throne, and studies the word of grace, and frequents the ordinances, where the Lord has promised to meet with His people. These are his golden hours; and when thus employed, how poor and trivial does all that the world calls great and important appear in his eyes! Yea, he is solicitous to keep up an intercourse of heart with his Beloved in his busiest scenes; and so far as he can succeed, it alleviates all his labours, and sweetens all his troubles. And when he is neither communing with his Lord, nor acting for Him, he accounts his time lost, and is ashamed and grieved.
The truth of his love is manifested by submission. This is twofold, and absolute, and without reserve in each. He submits to His revealed will, as made known to him by precept, and by His own example. He aims to tread in his Saviour’s footsteps, and makes conscience of all His commandments, without exception and without hesitation. Again, he submits to His providential will: he yields to His sovereignty, acquiesces in His wisdom; he knows he has no right to complain of anything, because he is a sinner; and he has no reason, because he is sure the Lord does all things well. Therefore his submission is not forced, but is an act of trust. He knows he is not more unworthy than he is unable to choose for himself, and therefore rejoices that the Lord has undertaken to manage for him; and were he compelled to make his own choice, he could only choose that all his concerns should remain in that hand to which he has already committed them.
And thus he judges of public as well as of his personal affairs. He cannot be an unaffected spectator of national sins, nor without apprehension of their deserved consequences; he feels, and almost trembles for others, but he himself dwells under the shadow of the Almighty, in a sanctuary that cannot be forced; and therefore, should he see the earth shaken, and the mountains cast into the midst of the sea,
his heart would not be greatly moved, for God is his refuge. The Lord
reigns. He sees his Saviour’s hand directing every dark appearance, and ever-ruling all to the accomplishment of His own great purposes: this
satisfies him; and though the winds and waves should be high, he can venture his own little bark in the storm, for he has an infallible and almighty Pilot on board with him. And indeed, why should he fear when he has nothing to lose? His best concerns are safe; and other things he holds as gifts from his Lord, to whose call he is ready to resign them, in whatever way He pleases, well knowing, that creatures and instruments cannot of themselves touch a hair of his head without the Lord’s permission, and that if He does permit them, it must be for the best.