“A sight of the glory, beauty, and love of King Jesus” by John Newton

“I hope your souls prosper, and that the Lord hears from you and you from Him often.

And I hope that you both live a life of faith in the Son of God, are strong in His might, and comforted by refreshing views of His glory.

The great secret of our profession, (oh, that I could learn it better!) is to be looking at Jesus.

I am a stranger to the court; but I am told that those who wait there form themselves into little parties, have their own conversation, or make their remarks upon what passes, till the king appears; then every thing is hushed and dropped, and their attention is fixed upon him alone.

Oh, that thus by the eye of faith we might obtain such a sight of the glory, beauty, and love of King Jesus, as might unite our scattered thoughts, and attract all our powers and affections to Himself.

But, alas! we are prone (at least I may speak for myself) to forsake the fountain of living waters, and to hew out broken cisterns.

Instead of receiving Him, I am often looking in myself for something to enable me to do without Him, or at least for something to strengthen the warrant He has given me in His word to come to Him.

The Lord be merciful to my unbelief and slowness of heart; though taught and warned again and again, I am frequently repeating the old mistake, and seeking the living among the dead.

I have some faint idea of the life of faith, and can talk a little about it; but to experience myself the power of what I preach to others, this is too often what I find not.

Yet I must praise Him. If I did not, might not the very stones cry out and shame me?

For surely He hath dealt marvelously with me.

He found me in a waste howling wilderness, in more than the prodigal’s distress, with my heart full of madness and rebellion, and beset with horror on every side.

In this state I was when He first passed by me, and bid me live.

He sent from on high, and delivered me out of deep waters. And, oh, what has He not done for me since!

Given me to know, yea, to preach, His Gospel, cast my lot in a pleasant place, filled and surrounded me with mercies on every side.

And He has spoken good concerning me for a great while to come, even forever and ever. Praise the Lord, O my soul!

Come, my dear friends, and magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 74-75.

“The formal and principal act of justifying faith” by Francis Turretin

“The nature of faith cannot be rightly perceived unless these two things are known: (1) of what acts it consists; (2) what is its object…

The fifth is the act of reception of Christ or of adhesion and union, by which we not only seek Christ through a desire of the soul and fly to Him, but apprehend and receive Him offered, embrace Him found, apply Him to ourselves and adhere to and unite ourselves to Him.

For as God freely offers His own Son in the gospel to the sinful soul, burdened and cast down and broken by a sense of his sins, and Christ offers Himself with all His benefits and the fulness of salvation residing in Him, so the soul (firmly persuaded of the fulness of salvation in Christ, seriously flying to Him and earnestly desiring communion with Him) cannot help embracing with the highest freedom of the will that supreme good offered, and the inestimable treasure, selling all for Him (Mt. 13:44), resting upon Christ as the sole Redeemer and delivering and making himself over, and so firmly retaining Him that he is prepared to lose anything else rather than reject Him.

This is the formal and principal act of justifying faith, usually termed “reception”:

“As many as received Him” (i.e., “who believed on His name,” Jn. 1:12); believers are said “to receive the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17); “to receive Christ” (Col. 2:6); “I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go” (Cant. 3:4); sometimes “meat and drink” (Mt. 5:6; Jn 6:51); the “putting on of Christ” (Gal. 3:27).

And because the soul thus apprehending Christ reclines upon Him and rests upon and cleaves to Him, faith is also sometimes described as an act of “reclining” (Ps. 71:5; Isa. 10:20; 48:2; 50:10; Mic. 3:11); as also an act of adhesion and binding closely, and of the most strict union by which we are bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh and one with him; and Christ Himself dwells in us (Eph. 3:17) and we in Him (Jn. 15:5).

From this union of persons arises the participation in the blessings of Christ, to which (by union with Him) we acquire a right (to wit, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification).”

–Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 2 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 2: 560, 563.

“Where our warfare and tears shall cease forever” by John Newton

“Rejoice, therefore, my dear friends, that you are God’s husbandry.

The early and the latter rain, and the cheerful beams of the Sun of Righteousness, are surely promised to ripen your souls for glory;—but storms and frosts likewise are useful and seasonable in their places, though we perhaps may think we could do better without them.

In our bright and lively frames, we learn what God can do for us; in our dark and dull hours, we feel how little we can do without Him; and both are needful to perfect our experience and to establish our faith.

At one time we are enabled to rejoice in God; at another we are seeking after Him sorrowing: these different seasons are equally good in their turns, though not equally comfortable; and there is nothing we need fear but security, carelessness, and presumption.

To think ourselves rich and increased with goods, or to suppose we are safe a moment longer than while depending upon Jesus would be dangerous.

Let us pray the Lord to keep us from such a mistake; and, as to the rest, we shall do well.

Let us be faithful and diligent in the use of all appointed means, especially in secret exercises, and then leave Him to lead us as He pleaseth.

And, though our path should lie through the fire or through the water, we may trust His power and love to bring us safely through, and at last to fix us in a wealthy place, where our warfare and tears shall cease forever.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 64-65.

“The glorious assembly” by John Newton

“The day must come when all creature-comforts shall vanish.

And when we view things in the light of eternity, it seems comparatively of small moment whether it is this year or twenty years hence.

If we are interested in the covenant of grace; if Jesus is our beloved, and heaven our home; we may be cast down for a little season, but we cannot be destroyed; nay, we shall not be overpowered.

Our faithful God will surely make our strength equal to our day.

He that has delivered, and does deliver, will deliver to the end; and it will not be long before he will wipe away all tears from our eyes.

Therefore let us not fear: whatever sufferings may be yet appointed for us, they shall work together for our good; and they are but light and momentary in comparison of that exceeding and eternal weight of glory to which we are drawing nearer every hour.

Well, the day is coming when all the Lord’s people who are scattered abroad, who praise him in different ages and different languages, shall be collected together, and stand with one heart, consent, and voice before the throne.

Oh, the glorious assembly! how white are their robes, how resplendent their crowns, how melodious their harps!

Every hour the chorus is augmented by the accession of fresh voices; and ere long we hope to join them.

Then shall we remember the way by which the Lord led us through this dark wilderness; and shall see that all our afflictions, our heaviest afflictions, were tender mercies, no less than our most pleasing comforts.

What we shall then see, it is now our privilege and duty to believe.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 62-63.

“We are traveling towards a land of light” by John Newton

“You have lately been in the furnace, and are now brought safely out. I hope you have much to say of the grace, care, and skill of the great Refiner, who watched over you; and that you have lost nothing but dross.

Let this experience be treasured up in your hearts for the use of future times.

Other trials will come; but you have found the Lord faithful to His promise, and have good encouragement to trust Him again.

You know your weak side; endeavour to set a double guard of prayer there.

Our earthly comforts would be doubly sweet, if we could but venture them without anxiety in the Lord’s hands.

And where can we lodge them so safely?

Is not the first gift, the continuance, the blessing which makes them pleasing, all from Him?

Was not His design in all this, that we should be happy in them?

How then can we fear that He will threaten them, much less take them away, but with a view to our farther benefit?

Let us suppose the thing we are most afraid of actually to happen. Can it come a moment sooner, or in any other way, than by His appointment?

Is He not gracious and faithful to support us under the stroke?

Is He not rich enough to give us something better than ever He will take away?

Is not the light of His countenance better than life and all its most valued enjoyments?

Is not this our time of trial, and are we not traveling towards a land of light?

I think when we view things in the light of eternity, it is much the same whether the separating stroke arrives at the end of seven or seventy years; since, come when it will, it must and will be felt.

But one draught of the river of pleasure at God’s right hand will make us forget our sorrows forever; or the remembrance, if any, will only serve to heighten our joys.

What is more, what life did He lead whom we call our Master and our Lord?

Was not He a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?

Has He marked out one way to heaven with His painful footsteps, and shall we expect, or even wish, to walk in another?

With such considerations as these, we should endeavour to arm our minds, and pray to the Lord to fix a sense of them in our hearts, and to renew it from time to time; that, when changes are either feared or felt, we may not be like the people of the world, who have no hope, no refuge, no throne of grace, but may be enabled to glorify our God in the fire, and give proof that His grace is sufficient for us in every state.

It is neither comfortable for ourselves, nor honourable to our profession, to startle at every shaking leaf.

If we are sensible of this, mourn over our infirmities before the Lord, and faithfully strive in prayer against the fear that easily besets us, then He can, and He will, strengthen us with strength in our souls, and make us more than conquerors, according to His sure promise.

Oh, that I could improve the present, and cheerfully commit the future to Him who does all things wisely and well, and has promised that all shall work together for good! (Rom. 8:28)”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 59-61.

“The chains of His loving promises” by Richard Sibbes

“It must be matter of instruction for us all, that when we come unto God we must promise ourselves to have good speed, since God is most true of his promises, and we must labour by all means to remember and apply them, and so to turn them into prayers.

Thus reasoning the matter, What! I am in this and this necessity, God he hath promised to help; since He is true, it must needs be that He will have a care to fulfill His truth.

O beloved, it is easy for us to speak, but in the evil day to put on our armour, to fly unto prayer, to hang upon God, to fight against temptations, to give unto God the praise of His attributes, that as He is true, loving, just, merciful, all-sufficiency, infinite, omnipotent, so to expect infinite love, infinite truth, infinite mercy from Him,—this is no small matter, yea, it is true Christian fortitude, in temptation and affliction thus to reason the matter, to rely upon God, and as it were to bind His help near unto us with the chains of His loving promises.

If a promise bind us, much more it bindeth God; for all our truth is but a small spark of that ocean of truth in Him.

And therefore to conclude all with this promise, worthy to be engraven in everlasting remembrance upon the palms of our hands, God hath promised that all the afflictions of His children they shall work for the best (Rom. 8:28).

This is as true as God’s truth, I shall one day see and confess so much if I wait in patience; why, therefore, I will wait.

God is infinite in wisdom and power, to bring light out of darkness; so also He is true, and He will do it.

Therefore because I believe ‘I will not make haste;’ I will walk in the perfect way until he show deliverance.

This must be our resolution, and then it shall be unto us according to our faith; which God, for His Christ’s sake, grant unto us all!”

–Richard Sibbes, “The Matchless Mercy,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 7 (ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1639/2001), 1: 164.

“It is a marvellous matter of wonder” by Richard Sibbes

“Regard what wondrous fruit we have by the service of Christ: the work of our redemption, to be translated from the kingdom of Satan to the glorious liberty of the sons of God, to be brought out of darkness into marvellous light.

It is a marvellous matter of wonder, the good we have by this abasement of Christ.

‘Behold what love the Father hath shewed us, that we should be called the sons of God!’ (1 John 3:1)

Now, all this comes from Christ’s being a servant.

Our liberty comes from His service and slavery, our life from His death, our adoption and sonship and all comes from His abasement.

Therefore it is a matter of wonderment for the great things we have by it. O the depth, O the depth, saith St Paul. (Rom. 11:33)

Here are all dimensions in this excellent work that Christ hath wrought by His abasement, by His incarnation, and taking upon Him the form of a servant, and dying for us; here is the height and breadth, and length and depth of the love of God in Christ.

O the riches of God’s mercy!

The apostles stand in a wonder and admiration of this, and indeed, if anything is to be admired, it is Christ, that wondrous conjunction, the wondrous love that wrought it, and the wondrous fruit we have by it.”

–Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” The Works of Richard Sibbes, Volume 1 (ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart; Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1639/2001), 1: 7.

“The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands” by Matthew Emerson

“The most important practical application of the descent, at least in my opinion, is that it means that Christ experienced death in the same way we do and also defeated it.

His human body went to the grave and His human soul went to the place of the (righteous) dead. This is not a natural state for humanity.

Death is an effect of the fall (Gen 3:17–19; Rom 6:23), and Jesus became fully human to the point that He experienced the fullness of death. He did not die one moment on the cross and rise the next moment but remained dead for three days.

This is a great comfort to those who are facing death or those who have lost loved ones. And those two categories encompass everyone on the planet.

When we, or those we love, face death, we can find assurance in the fact that Christ, too, has experienced death in all its fallen fullness. He really, truly died.

His soul was separated from His body for three days. This is just as we will remain dead and just as our souls will remain separated from our bodies until Christ returns.

Our Savior has gone before us.

Just as the Ark of the Covenant went before the people of Israel through the wilderness for three days to find a place for them to rest (Num 10:33), so Christ has gone before us through the wilderness of Hades to prepare a place for us to rest in Him.

But He has not only experienced the fullness of human death; He has also defeated it. Death does not have the last word.

Those of us who trust Christ do not have hope only because Christ experienced it as we do, but because in it experiencing it as the God-Man He defeated it.

And one day He will expel it fully and finally from His presence and from our experience.

We do not remain dead, just as Christ did not remain dead, because Christ has defeated death in His death, descent, and resurrection.

Because Christ rose, we long for the day when we will rise with Him and dwell, bodily, with Him forever on the new heavens and new earth.

This should also bring believers comfort here on earth as they experience evil, suffering, oppression, and all other effects of sin. Christ’s descent answers the problem of evil because in it (and His death and resurrection) He has defeated the principalities and powers (Col 2:15).

The descent, then, ought to be a great comfort to those facing death, whether their own or a loved one’s. It is part of the reason we grieve, but not as those without hope (1 Thess 4:13).

When we cite Paul’s statement in funeral contexts, it is usually to point to the resurrection. And that is right and good, and the ultimate grounds of such hopeful grieving.

But in the meantime, while we think of our departed dead, while we walk in their graveyards and look at their ashes and remember their lives, while we ponder our own deaths, and while we consider how long it is, O Lord, until the Second Coming, we do so with hope.

We hope because Christ also remained buried in the grave, buried with us and for us. We hope because we have a High Priest who has experienced death as we all will, if the Lord tarries.

We hope because we have an advocate who has experienced the pain of death and yet has done so victoriously, rising from it and drawing us with Him on the last day.

We therefore dig our graves, facing toward the East, knowing that as our bodies decompose, our souls remain with Christ, awaiting the day when He will with loud trumpets return and reunite our bodies and souls so that we can live with Him forever by the power of His Spirit to the glory of the Father.

Charles Hill summarizes this hope well:

Christ descended into Hades so that you and I would not have to. Christ descended to Hades so that we might ascend to heaven. Christ entered the realm of death, the realm of the strong enemy, and came away with his keys.

The keys of Death and Hades are now in our Savior’s hands. And God His Father has exalted Him to His right hand, and given Him another key, the key of David, the key to the heavenly Jerusalem.

He opens and no one will shut, He shuts and no one will open (Rev. 3:7). And praise to Him, as the hymn says, “For He hath op’ed the heavenly door, and man is blessed forever more.”

All praise and honor and glory to the Lamb who has conquered! “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth” (Rev. 14:13).

And blessed are we here and now, who even now have this hope, and a fellowship with our Savior which is stronger than death! Thanks be to God. Amen.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.”

–Matthew Y. Emerson, “He Descended to the Dead”: An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic: An Imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2019), 219–221.

“The safest road to Hell is the gradual one” by C.S. Lewis

“My Dear Wormwood,

A few weeks ago you had to tempt your patient to unreality and inattention in his prayers: but now you will find him opening his arms to you and almost begging you to distract his purpose and benumb his heart.

He will want his prayers to be unreal, for he will dread nothing so much as effective contact with the Enemy. His aim will be to let sleeping worms lie.

As this condition becomes more fully established, you will be gradually freed from the tiresome business of providing Pleasures as temptations.

As the uneasiness and his reluctance to face it cut him off more and more from all real happiness, and as habit renders the pleasures of vanity and excitement and flippancy at once less pleasant and harder to forgo (for that is what habit fortunately does to a pleasure) you will find that anything or nothing is sufficient to attract his wandering attention.

You no longer need a good book, which he really likes, to keep him from his prayers or his work or his sleep; a column of advertisements in yesterday’s paper will do.

You can make him waste his time not only in conversation he enjoys with people whom he likes, but in conversations with those he cares nothing about on subjects that bore him.

You can make him do nothing at all for long periods.

You can keep him up late at night, not roistering, but staring at a dead fire in a cold room.

All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say, as one of my own patients said on his arrival down here, ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

The Christians describe the Enemy as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong’.

And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition to give them a relish, but which, once chance association has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.

You will say that these are very small sins; and doubtless, like all young tempters, you are anxious to be able to report spectacular wickedness.

But do remember, the only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy.

It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick.

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one— the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,

Your affectionate uncle,

SCREWTAPE”

–C.S. Lewis, “Letter XII,” The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillian, 1950), 63-65.

“Grace has much more abounded” by John Newton

“What is the tenderness of a mother, of ten thousand mothers, to that which our compassionate Saviour bears to every poor soul that has been enabled to flee to Him for salvation!

Let us be far from charging that to Him, of which we think we are utterly incapable ourselves. Take courage, madam: resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Do the same when he tempts you to question the Lord’s compassion and goodness. But there he imposes upon us with a show of humility, and persuades us that we do well to oppose our unworthiness as a sufficient exception to the many express promises of the Word.

It is said, the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin (1 John 1:7); that all manner of sin shall be forgiven for His sake (Matthew 12:31); that whoever cometh He will in no wise cast out (John 6:37); and that He is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:25).

Believe His word, and Satan shall be found a liar.

Indeed, in this manner we have all dealt with the Lord, and yet, whenever we are willing to return, He is willing to receive us with open arms, and without an upbraiding word (Luke 15:20–22).

Though our sins have been deep-dyed, like scarlet and crimson, enormous as mountains, and countless as the sands, the sum total is, but, ‘Sin has abounded; but where sin hath abounded, grace has much more abounded.’ (Romans 5:20)

After all, I know the Lord keeps the key of comfort in His own hands, yet He has commanded us to attempt comforting one another.

I should rejoice to be His instrument of administering comfort to you.

I shall hope to hear from you soon; and that you will then be able to inform me He has restored to you the joys of His salvation.

But if not yet, wait for Him, and you shall not wait in vain.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 1: 685-686.