“Jesus is all to them who are nothing” by John Newton

“Your prayers and kind wishes for me and mine, I heartily thank you for, and hope we shall repay you (as we are enabled) in kind.

Many here have, indeed, reason to speak well of the Lord. He has been very gracious to us. But, alas! most of us may complain of ourselves.

But, unworthy as we are, He bears with us; He multiplies pardons, and He keeps us upon the whole in a persuasion that His loving kindness is better than life.

The workings of a corrupt nature, and the subtlety of our spiritual enemies, cause us much exercise; but we find One with us who is greater than our hearts, and greater than he that is in the world.

When I look at some of my people, I am filled both with joy and shame; joy to see that the Lord has not suffered my labour among them to be in vain; shame to think that I have preached so much more effectually to them than to my own heart.

It is my mercy that I am not under the law, but under grace. Were it not for this thought, I should sink.

But it is given me to know that Jesus is all to them who are nothing.

The promise whereon I trust, and the power of trusting in it, are both from Him, and therefore I am encouraged to plead, ‘Remember Thy word unto Thy servant, wherein Thou hast caused me to hope.’ (Psalm 119:49)

A sure promise, a complete atonement, a perfect righteousness, an Almighty Saviour, who is able to save to the uttermost, and has said, ‘I will in no wise cast out.’ (John 6:37)

These are the weapons with which I (alas, how feebly!) oppose the discouragements which arise from self and unbelief.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 265-266.

“Jesus alone is able to preserve us” by John Newton

“May we ever remember that not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.

I had no doubt but that you would love my dear friend; possibly I may overrate him; I own he is but a man, but I think him an uncommon one; an eminent instance of the true christian spirit. This is what is most taking with me.

Gifts are useful; but they are mere tinsel compared with the solid gold of grace. An eminency in gifts is specious and glittering; but unless grace is proportionable, very ensnaring likewise.

Gifts are like riches: if well improved, they give a man fairer opportunities of service; but if the Lord favours a man with great gifts, and in consequence thereof, considerable popularity, that man stands in a dangerous situation.

If he is not kept humble, great soon will be his fall; and to keep such a man humble, more than a common share of trials is usually needful.

My prayer for you and for myself, my dear friend, is, that we may never be suffered to infer grace from gifts, or to mistake the exercise of the one for the exercise of the other.

We have need to be saying continually, “Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” How else can we stand?

If we meet with opposition, it has hurt its thousands. If we are exposed to caresses and popularity, they have slain their ten thousands.

Jesus alone is able to preserve us, and He is able to preserve us fully; in the lion’s den, in the fiery furnace, in the swellings of Jordan, if He be with us, and maintain in us a sense of our unworthiness, and our entire dependence upon Him, we shall be safe.

I see that, beside the general lot of affliction in common with others, you are likely to have one peculiar trial, which might be lightly regarded by some, but not by me.

Indeed, I can sympathize with you; and, from what I have formerly felt, I am sure nothing but the grace of God can compose the mind under such a disappointment.

But remember, He has given you Himself. If He sees tit to overrule your desires, be sure it is best for you.

The Lord sees all consequences; if we could do so, we should acquiesce in His appointments the first moment.

If it is for your good and His glory, it shall yet take place; (you would not wish it otherwise;) if not, He can make it up, perhaps in kind; (for there is an old proverb, “That there is as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it;”).

But if not so, He can easily make it up in kindness, and give you such a taste of His love that you shall gladly forego all, and say as David, (Psalm 73:25).

Let other things turn out as He pleases, you must be happy, for the Lord Himself is your Guide, your Shield, and your Portion.

Keep your eye and heart, my friend, upon His work, and He will take care of your other affairs, and not withhold any good thing from you.

All hearts are in His hands. When His time is come, hard things are made easy, and mountains sink into plains.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 127-129.

“The old weather-beaten Christian” by John Newton

“I am almost continually a burden to myself, and find such a difference between what I seem to be in the pulpit and in public, and what I really feel myself to be before the Lord, that I am often amazed and confounded.

And was it not that the Lord has been pleased in some measure to establish me in the knowledge of my justifying righteousness, and the unalterable security of His covenant of grace, I should be ready to give all up.

I am kept at a great distance from the full possession of my privileges; but, through mercy, the evils I feel are confined within myself; the Lord keeps me from stumbling outwardly, and does not suffer Satan to distress me with those grievous temptations which he has always in readiness when permitted.

I trust my hope is founded upon a rock, and that He to whom I have been enabled to commit my soul, will keep it to the end. Yet surely I am a wonder to myself.

Exercises of mind are common to all who know any thing of themselves, and have some just views of their obligations to redeeming love.

But those who preach to others must expect a double portion of trials. We need them in order to keep us humble, upon which, as a means, our success and comfort especially depend.

We need them that we may know how to speak a word in season to weary souls.

Innumerable are the trials, fears, complaints, and temptations which the Lord’s people are beset with; some in one way, some in another: the minister must, as it were, have a taste of all, or it might happen a case might come before him to which he had nothing to say.

And we need them likewise to bring our hard hearts into a feeling disposition and sympathy with those who suffer, otherwise we should be too busy or too happy to attend unto their moans.

Surely much of that hasty and censorious spirit, too often observable in young converts, arises from their having, as yet, a very imperfect acquaintance with the deceitfulness of their own hearts.

But, the old weather-beaten Christian, who has learnt by sorrowful experience how weak he is in himself, and what powerful subtle enemies he has to grapple with, acquires a tenderness in dealing with bruises and broken bones, which greatly conduces to his acceptance and usefulness.

I desire, therefore, to be resigned and thankful, and to give myself up to the Lord to lead me in whatever way He sees best.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 6: 129-130.

“Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us notice, secondly, in these verses, the extraordinary conduct of two of the apostles, James and John.

We are told that a certain Samaritan village refused to show hospitality to our Lord. ‘They did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:53)

And then we read of a strange proposal which James and John made. ‘They said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, even as Elijah did?’ (Luke 9:54)

Here was zeal indeed, and zeal of a most plausible kind,—zeal for the honor of Christ! Here was zeal, justified and supported by a scriptural example, and that the example of no less a prophet than Elijah!

But it was not a zeal according to knowledge. The two disciples, in their heat, forgot that circumstances alter cases, and that the same action which may be right and justifiable at one time, may be wrong and unjustifiable at another.

They forgot that punishments should always be proportioned to offences, and that to destroy a whole village of ignorant people for a single act of discourtesy, would have been both unjust and cruel.

In short, the proposal of James and John was a wrong and inconsiderate one. They meant well, but they greatly erred.

Facts like this in the Gospels are carefully recorded for our learning. Let us see to it that we mark them well, and treasure them up in our minds.

It is possible to have much zeal for Christ, and yet to exhibit it in most unholy and unchristian ways.

It is possible to mean well and have good intentions, and yet to make most grievous mistakes in our actions.

It is possible to fancy that we have Scripture on our side, and to support our conduct by scriptural quotations, and yet to commit serious errors.

It is as clear as daylight, from this and other cases related in the Bible, that it is not enough to be zealous and well-meaning.

Very grave faults are frequently committed with good intentions. From no quarter perhaps has the Church received so much injury as from ignorant but well-meaning men.

We must seek to have knowledge as well as zeal. Zeal without knowledge is an army without a general, and a ship without a rudder.

We must pray that we may understand how to make a right application of Scripture. The Word is no doubt ‘a light to our feet, and a lantern to our path.’

But it must be the Word rightly handled, and properly applied.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 254-255. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:51-56.

“He is always ready to save” by J.C. Ryle

“Let us notice in these verses, the steady determination with which our Lord Jesus Christ regarded His own crucifixion and death.

We read that “when the time was come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) He knew full well what was before Him.

The betrayal, the unjust trial, the mockery, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the spitting, the nails, the spear, the agony on the cross,—all, all were doubtless spread before His mind’s eye, like a picture.

But He never flinched for a moment from the work that He had undertaken. His heart was set on paying the price of our redemption, and going even to the prison of the grave, as our surety.

He was full of tender love towards sinners. It was the desire of His whole soul to procure for them salvation.

And so, ‘for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame.’ (Heb. 12:2)

Forever let us bless God that we have such a ready and willing Saviour. Forever let us remember that as He was ready to suffer, so He is always ready to save.

The man that comes to Christ by faith should never doubt Christ’s willingness to receive Him.

The mere fact that the Son of God willingly came into the world to die, and willingly suffered, should silence such doubts entirely.

All the unwillingness is on the part of man, not of Christ. It consists in the ignorance, and pride, and unbelief, and half-heartedness of the sinner himself. But there is nothing wanting in Christ.

Let us strive and pray that the same mind may be in us which was in our blessed Master.

Like Him, let us be willing to go anywhere, do anything, suffer anything, when the path of duty is clear, and the voice of God calls.

Let us set our faces steadfastly to our work, when our work is plainly marked out, and drink our bitter cups patiently, when they come from a Father’s hand.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 253-254. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:51-56.

“Pride is our greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend” by John Stott

“At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.”

–John Stott, “Pride, Humility, and God,” in Alive to God, eds. JI Packer & Loren Wilkinson, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 119.

“None ought to be so humble as a Christian” by J.C. Ryle

“Of all creatures none has so little right to be proud as man.

And of all men none ought to be so humble as a Christian.”

–J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1858/2012), 1: 250. Ryle is commenting on Luke 9:46-50.

“Then he has come close to grace” by Martin Luther

“God has assuredly promised His grace to the humble [1 Peter 5:5], that is, to those who lament and despair of themselves.

But no man can be thoroughly humbled until he knows that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, devices, endeavors, will, and works, and depends entirely on the choice, will, and work of another, namely, of God alone.

For as long as he is persuaded that he himself can do even the least thing toward his salvation, he retains some self-confidence and does not altogether despair of himself, and therefore he is not humbled before God, but presumes that there is—or at least hopes or desires that there may be—some place, time, and work for him, by which he may at length attain to salvation.

But when a man has no doubt that everything depends on the will of God, then he completely despairs of himself and chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work; then he has come close to grace.”

–Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, Luther’s Works, Vol. 33: Career of the Reformer III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 33 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 33: 61–62. As quoted in Dane Ortlund, Deeper (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021), 38.

“Sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job” by C.S. Lewis

“To Sheldon Vanauken

Magdalen College,
Oxford
January 5, 1951

Dear Mr. Van Auken,

We must ask three questions about the probable effect of changing your research subject to something more theological.

(1.) Would it be better for your immediate enjoyment? Answer, probably but not certainly, Yes.

(2.) Would it be better for your academic career? Answer, probably No. You would have to make up in haste a lot of knowledge which could not be very easily digested in the time.

(3.) Would it be better for your soul? I don’t know.

I think there is a great deal to be said for having one’s deepest spiritual interest distinct from one’s ordinary duty as a student or professional man.

St Paul’s job was tent-making. When the two coincide I should have thought there was a danger lest the natural interest in one’s job and the pleasures of gratified ambition might be mistaken for spiritual progress and spiritual consolation: and I think clergymen sometimes fall into this trap.

Contrariwise, there is the danger that what is boring or repellent in the job may alienate one from the spiritual life. And finally someone has said ‘None are so unholy as those whose hands are cauterized with holy things: sacred things may become profane by becoming matters of the job.

You now want truth for her own sake: how will it be when the same truth is also needed for an effective footnote in your thesis?

In fact, the change might do good or harm. I’ve always been glad myself that Theology is not the thing I earn my living by.

On the whole, I’d advise you to get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you quite as much about God as academic Theology would do.

Mind, I’m not certain: but that is the view I incline to.

Yours,

C. S. Lewis”

–C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3: 82-83. Vanauken had asked Lewis his opinion as to whether he should continue with his postgraduate work in history or study theology.

  1. Francis Bacon, Essays (1625), ‘Of Atheism’: ‘The great atheists, indeed are hypocrites; which are ever handling holy things, but without feeling; so as they must needs be cauterized in the end.’

“Theology should humble us” by David Wells

“The effects of theological knowledge should be humility and a deepened desire to serve and honor God in all of our commerce with created reality.

The truly profound thinkers in life are often brought to humility, too, but perhaps for different reasons.

They are humbled out of a sense of their own smallness; theology should humble us through a sense of the greatness and wonder of God.

It is what we know, not what we do not know, that subdues our pride and causes us to render to God the worship that is His due.”

–David F. Wells, “The Theologian’s Craft” in Doing Theology in Today’s World: Essays in Honor of Kenneth S. Kantzer, John Woodbridge and Thomas Edward McComiskey, Eds. (Grand Rapids: MI: Zondervan, 1994), 174.