Newton’s encouragement for dark days

The ship was safe when Christ was in her, though He was really asleep. At present I can tell you good news, though you know it: He is wide awake, and his eyes are in every place. You and I, if we could be pounded together, might perhaps make two tolerable ones. You are too anxious, and I am too easy in some respects. Indeed I cannot be too easy, when I have a right thought that all is safe in his hands; but if your anxiety makes you pray, and my composure makes me careless, you have certainly the best of it. However, the ark is fixed upon an immovable foundation; and if we think we see it totter, it is owing to swimming in our heads. Seriously, the times look dark and stormy, and call for much circumspection and prayer; but let us not forget that we have an infallible Pilot, and that the power, and wisdom, and honor of God, are embarked with us.

–John Newton, “To the Rev. John Ryland.” Letter I. 31 July 1773. Letters of John Newton

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Bored by technology

Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition.

In the history of the human race, boredom is practically brand new—less than three hundred years old.

The English word does not appear until the 1850s, and its parent word bore (as a noun—”he is such a bore”) appears only a century earlier. The French word ennui begins to mean what we call “boredom” around the same time. Before the eighteenth century, there simply wasn’t a common word for that feeling of frustration and lassitude that overtakes so many of us so often…

Could it be that modern life is boring in a way that pre-modern life was not? How could this be? Our world has more distractions and entertainments than we can ever consume. We feel busy and overworked in ways even our grandparents couldn’t have imagined (even as many of us work far less hard, physically than most of them did).

But that’s actually why we get bored. Boredom—for children and for adults—is a perfectly modern condition. The technology that promises to release us from boredom is actually making it worse—making us more prone to seek empty distractions than we have ever been. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get. . .

Boredom is actually a crucial warning sign–as important in its own way as physical pain. It’s a sign that our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted.

–Andy Crouch, The Tech-Wise Family

Temperament is a poor test of sanctification

…for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. –2 Peter 2:19

The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration, and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor doth trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter hath done more to the mortification of the sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives no life or vigor to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have a better view of themselves.

–John Owen, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers

A convicting word on contentment

There is nothing in heaven or earth that can satisfy me, but yourself.

…the peace of God is not enough to a gracious heart except it may have the God of that peace. A carnal heart could be satisfied if he might but have outward peace, though it is not the peace of God; peace in the state, and his trading, would satisfy him. But mark how a godly heart goes beyond a carnal. All outward peace is not enough; I must have the peace of God. But suppose you have the peace of God. Will that not quiet you? No, I must have the God of peace; as the peace of God so the God of peace. That is, I must enjoy that God who gives me the peace; I must have the Cause as well as the effect. I must see from whence my peace comes, and enjoy the Fountain of my peace, as well as the stream of my peace. And so in other mercies:  have I health from God?  I must have the God of my health to be my portion, or else I am not satisfied. It is not life, but the God of my life; it is not riches, but the God of those riches that I must have, the God of my preservation, as well as my preservation.

In Psalm 73:25, ‘Whom have I in heaven but thee, and there is none upon the earth that I desire beside thee.’ There is nothing in heaven or earth that can satisfy me, but yourself. If God gave you not only earth but heaven, that you should rule over sun, moon and stars, and have the rule over the highest of the sons of men it would not be enough to satisfy you, unless you had God himself. There lies the first mystery of contentment. And truly a contented man, though he is the most contented man in the world, is the most dissatisfied man in the world; that is, those things that will satisfy the world will not satisfy him.

-Jeremiah Burroughs, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

John Newton on Christian growth

The Christian oak shall grow and flourish forever.

The work of grace is not like Jonah’s gourd, which sprang up and flourished in a night, and as quickly withered, but rather like the oak, which, from a little acorn and a tender plant, advances with an almost imperceptible growth from year to year, till it becomes a broad, spreading, and deep-rooted tree, and then it stands for ages. The Christian oak shall grow and flourish forever. When I see any soon after they appear to be awakened, making a speedy profession of great joy before they have due acquaintance with their own hearts, I am in pain for them. I am not sorry to hear them afterwards complain that their joys are gone, and they are almost at their wits’ end; for without some such check, to make them feel their weakness and dependence, I seldom find them turn out well; either their fervour insensibly abates, till they become quite cold and sink into the world again (of which I have seen many instances), or, if they do not give up all, their walk is uneven, and their spirit has not that savour of brokenness and true humility which is the chief ornament of our holy profession. If they do not feel the plague of their hearts at first, they find it out afterwards, and too often manifest it to others. Therefore, though I know the Spirit of the Lord is free, and will not be confined to our rules, and there may be excepted cases; yet, in general, I believe the old proverb, “Soft and fair goes far,” will hold good in Christian experience. Let us be thankful for the beginnings of grace, and wait upon our Saviour patiently for the increase. And as we have chosen him for our physician, let us commit ourselves to his management, and not prescribe to him what He shall prescribe for us. He knows us, and He loves us better than we do ourselves, and will do all things well.

-John Newton, “Letter to Miss M. Barham,” September 3, 1776

Carson on the ‘encroaching roots of self-esteem’

…the continued drift toward privatized religion is a fertile soil in which to water the rapidly multiplying and universally encroaching roots of self-esteem . . . The drive to sort out life’s problems and my happiness along the axis of self-esteem banishes truth questions, makes feeling good about yourself more important than having a clear conscience, insists that your opinion of yourself is more important than God’s opinion, and fails to deal with objective guilt. In the Scriptures, a right knowledge of yourself is contingent on having in the first place a right knowledge of God.

-D. A. Carson, The Gagging of God

Reflecting on the incarnation (5)

…this is the most profound incognito and the most impenetrable of recognition that can be…

Christ indeed could not divest himself of godhead, but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.

-John Calvin (1509-1564)

…this is the most profound incognito and the most impenetrable of recognition that can be; for the contrast between God and an isolated individual human being is the greatest possible contrast; it is infinitely qualitative. This, however, is His will, His free will, and therefore it is an incognito maintained by omnipotence.

-Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel

Reflecting on the incarnation (4)

…capable of death in one nature and incapable of it in the other.

Since then the properties of both natures and substances were preserved and co-existed in One Person, humility was embraced by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by eternity; and to pay the debt of our condition the inviolable nature was united to a passible nature; so that, as was necessary for our healing, there was one and the same “Mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ,” who was capable of death in one nature and incapable of it in the other. In the complete and perfect nature, therefore, of very man, very God was born – complete in what belonged to Him, complete in what belonged to us.

-Leo of Rome (400-461)

Reflecting on the incarnation (3)

…Christ is as truly man as the meanest of our race.

…as the tabernacle after all was as truly a tent as the humblest in the camp of Israel, so Christ is as truly man as the meanest of our race. The blood which flows in the veins of the Hottentot, or springs under the lash from the back of an American slave, is that ‘one’ same blood which flows in the veins of the Son of God.

-Alexander Stewart, 19th century Scottish preacher

Reflecting on the incarnation (2)

What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world…

What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world; and yet without any confusion! That the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.

-Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)