Following On To Know The Lord
By John Newton
Most who know themselves may observe a humbling difference between their knowledge and their practice. To hear a believer speak of the evil of sin, the vanity of the world, the love of Christ, the beauty of holiness, or the importance of eternity, who would not suppose him strong against temptation? To hear with what strong arguments he can recommend watchfulness, prayer, forbearance and submission when he is teaching or advising others, who would not suppose but he could also teach himself and influence his own conduct?
Yet, alas! The Christian who rises humbly from his knees, may meet with many occasions before the day is closed, to discover the corruptions of his heart, and to show how weak and faint his best principles and clearest convictions are in their actual exercise. What a contradiction is a believer to himself! He is called a believer emphatically, because he cordially assents to the word of God. But, alas! how often unworthy of the name!
If I was to describe a Christian from the Scripture character, I should say he is one whose heart is athirst for God, for His glory, His image, His presence; his affections are fixed upon an unseen Saviour; his treasures and consequently his thoughts, are on high. Having experienced much forgiveness, he is full of mercy to all around, and having been often deceived by his own heart, he dares trust it no more, but is alive by faith in the Son of God, taking Him for wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification. He derives from Him grace for grace, aware that without Him he has not sufficiency even to think a good thought. In short, he is dead to the world, to sin, to self, but alive to God and lively in His service. Prayer is his breath, the word of God his food, and the ordinances more precious to him than the light of the sun. Such is a believer--in his prevailing desires.
But was I to describe many a Christian from experience, especially at some times, how different would the picture be! Though he knows that communion with God is his highest privilege, he too seldom finds it so. On the contrary, if duty, conscience and necessity did not compel, he would leave the throne of grace unvisited from day to day. He takes up the Bible, conscious that it is the fountain of life and true comfort; yet perhaps, while he is making the reflection, he feels a secret distaste which prompts him to lay it down and give his attention to a newspaper [or television].
He needs not to be told of the vanity and uncertainty of all beneath the sun, and yet is almost as much elated or cast down by a trifle as those who have their portion in this world. He believes that all things shall work together for his good, and that the most high God appoints, adjusts and overrules all his concerns, yet he feels the risings of fear, anxiety and displeasure, as though the contrary was true. He feels himself an unprofitable, unfaithful, unthankful servant, and therefore blushes to harbor a thought of desiring the esteem and commendations of men, yet he cannot suppress it. Finally, because of these and many other inconsistencies, he is struck dumb before the Lord, stripped of every hope and plea but what is provided in the free grace of God, and yet his heart is continually leaning and returning to a covenant of works.
Two questions naturally arise from such a view of ourselves. First--How can these things be, or why are they permitted? Since the Lord hates sin, teaches His people to hate it and cry against it and has promised to hear their prayers, how is it that they go thus burdened? By these exercises He teaches us more truly to know and feel the utter depravity and corruption of our whole nature, that we are indeed defiled in every part. His method of salvation is likewise hereby exceedingly endeared to us. We see that it is and must be of grace, wholly of grace, and that the Lord Jesus Christ and His perfect righteousness is and must be our all in all. His power likewise in maintaining His own work, notwithstanding our infirmities, temptations, and enemies, is hereby displayed in the clearest light--His strength is manifested in our weakness.
Satan likewise is more remarkably disappointed and put to shame when he finds bounds set to his rage and policy, beyond which he cannot pass, and that those in whom he finds so much to work upon and over whom he so often prevails for a season, escape at last out of his hands. He casts them down, but they are raised again; he wounds them but they are healed; he obtains his desire to sift them as wheat, but the prayer of their great Advocate prevails for the maintenance of their faith.
Furthermore, by what believers feel in themselves, they learn by degrees how to warn, pity and bear with others. A soft, patient and compassionate spirit and a readiness and skill in comforting those who are cast down, is attainable in perhaps no other way.
Second, how may these evils be overcome? For this we are encouraged to hope. The word of God directs and animates to a growth in grace. Though we can do nothing spiritually of ourselves, yet there is a part assigned us. We cannot conquer the obstacles in our own way by our own strength, yet we can fall prey to them, and if we do, it is our sin and will be our sorrow.
The apostles exhort us to give all diligence to resist the devil, to purge ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, to give ourselves to reading, meditation and prayer, to watch, to put on the whole armor of God, and to abstain from all appearance of evil. Faithfulness to light received, and a sincere endeavor to conform to the means prescribed in the word of God, with a humble appropriation of the blood of Christ and the promised Holy Spirit, will undoubtedly be answered by increasing measure of light, faith, strength and comfort, and we shall know if we follow on to know the Lord.
– Edited from The Utterance Of The Heart by John Newton.