by John Newton
What a mercy is it to be separated in spirit, conversation, and interest, from the world that knows not God, where all are alike by nature! Grace makes a happy and unspeakable difference. Believers were once under the same influence of that spirit who still worketh in the children of disobedience, pursuing different paths, but all equally remote from truth and peace; some hatching cockatrice' eggs, others weaving spiders' webs. These two general heads of mischief and vanity include all the schemes, aims, and achievements of which man is capable, till God is pleased to visit the heart with His grace.
The busy part of mankind are employed in multiplying evils and miseries; the more retired, speculative, and curious, are amusing themselves with what will hereafter appear as unsubstantial, unstable, and useless as a cobweb. Death will soon sweep away all that the philosophers, the virtuosi, the mathematicians, the antiquarians, and other learned triflers, are now weaving with so much self-applauded address. Nor will the fine-spun dresses, in which the moralist and the self-righteous clothe themselves, be of more advantage to them, either for ornament or defence than the produce of a spider. But it is given to a few to know their present state and future destination.
These build upon the immovable Rock of Ages for eternity: these are trees springing from a living root, and bear the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God : these only are awake, while the rest of the world are in a sleep, indulging in vain dreams from which likewise they will shortly awake; but, O with what consternation, when they shall find themselves irrecoverably divorced from all their delusive attachments, and compelled to appear before that God to whom they have lived strangers, and to whom they must give an account! O for a thousand tongues to proclaim in the ears of thoughtless mortals that important aphorism of our Lord, "One thing is needful"!
Yet a thousand tongues would be, and are employed in vain, unless so far as the Lord is pleased to send the watchman's warning, by the power and agency of His own Spirit. I think the poet tells us, that Cassandra had the gift of truly foretelling future events; but she was afterwards laid under a painful embarrassment, that nobody should believe her words. Such, with respect to the bulk of their auditories, is the lot of Gospel-ministers: they are enlightened to see, and sent forth to declare, the awful consequences of sin; but, alas! how few believe their report! To illustrate our grief and disappointment, I sometimes suppose there is dangerous water in the way of travellers, over which there is a bridge which those who can be prevailed upon may pass with safety. By the side of this bridge watchmen are placed, to warn passengers of the danger of the waters; to assure them, that all who attempt to go through them inevitably perish; to invite, entreat, and beseech them, if they value their lives, to cross the bridge.
Methinks this should be an easy task: yet if we should see in fact the greater part stopping their ears to the friendly importunity; many so much offended by it as to account the watchman's care impertinent. and only deserving of scorn and ill-treatment; hardly one in fifty betaking themselves to the friendly bridge, the rest eagerly plunging into the waters, from which none return, as if they were determined to try who should be drowned first: this spectacle would be no unfit emblem of the reception the Gospel meets with from a blinded world.
The ministers are rejected, opposed, vilified; they are accounted troublers of the world, because they dare not, cannot stand silent, while sinners are perishing before their eyes ; and if, in the course of many sermons, they can prevail but on one soul to take timely warning, and to seek to Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life, they may account it a mercy and an honour, sufficient to overbalance all the labour and reproaches they are called to endure.
From the most they must expect no better reception than the Jews gave to Jeremiah, who told the prophet to his face, "As to the word thou hast spoken to us in the name of the Lord, we will not hearken to thee at all, but we will certainly do whatsoever thing goeth forth out of our own mouth".
Surely, if the Lord has given us any sense of the worth of our souls, any compassion towards them, this must be a painful exercise and experience must teach us something of the meaning of Jeremiah's pathetic exclamation, " O that my head were waters, and mine eyes fountains of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughters of my people!"
It is our duty to be thus affected. Our relief lies in the wisdom and sovereignty of God. He reveals His salvation to whom He pleases, for the most part to babes; from the bulk of the wise and the prudent it is hidden. Thus it has pleased Him, and therefore it must be right. Yea, He will one day condescend to justify the propriety and equity of His proceedings to His creatures: then every mouth will be stopped, and none will be able to reply against their Judge. Light is come into the world, but men prefer darkness. They hate the light, resist it, and rebel against it. It is true all do so; and therefore, if all were to perish under the condemnation, their ruin would be their own act.
It is of grace that any are saved, and in the distribution of that grace, He does what He will with His own: a right which most are ready enough to claim in their own concerns, though they are so unwilling to allow it to the Lord of all. Many perplexing and acrimonious disputes have been started upon this subject; but the redeemed of the Lord are called, not to dispute, but to admire and rejoice; to love, adore, and obey. To know that He loved us, and gave Himself for us, is the constraining argument and motive to love Him, and surrender ourselves to Him; to consider ourselves as no longer our own, but to devote ourselves with every faculty, power, and talent to His service and glory. He deserves our all, for He parted with all for us. He made Himself poor, He endured shame, torture, death, and the curse for us, that we through Him might inherit everlasting life. Ah ! the hardness of my heart, that I am no more affected, astonished, overpowered with this thought.