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Letter #22 from "26 Letters to a Nobleman"

by John Newton

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My Lord,

The apostle speaks of a blessedness, which it is the design of the Gospel to impart to those who receive it. The Galatians once had it, and spoke of it. The apostle reminds them of their loss, which is left upon record as a warning to us. His expression has led me sometimes to consider wherein a Christian's present blessedness consists : I mean that which is attainable in this state of trial, and the sense and exercise of which may be, and too often is, suspended and taken from us. It is a blessedness which, if we speak of man in a natural state, his eye hath not seen, nor his ear heard, so as to understand it, nor can the idea of it arise in his heart.

It is no way dependent upon outward circumstances. Prosperity cannot impart it, preserve, or supply the want of it; nor can adversity put it out of our reach. The wise cannot acquire it by dint of superior abilities ; nor shall the simple miss it for want of capacity.

The state of true believers, compared with that of others, is always blessed. If they are born from above, and united to Jesus, they are delivered from condemnation, and are heirs of eternal life, and may therefore well be accounted happy. But I consider now, not their harvest, but their first fruits ; not their portion in reversion, but the earnest attainable in this life; not what they shall be in Heaven, but what, in an humble attendance upon the Lord, they may be while upon earth. There is even at present a prize of our high calling set before us. It is much to be desired, that we had such a sense of its value as might prompt us to run that we might obtain. I have thought this blessedness may be comprised in five particulars, though, in order to take a succinct view of the subject, some of these might be branched out into several others; but I would not, by too many subdivisions, give my letter the air of a sermon.

In the first place, a clear, well-grounded, habitual persuasion of our acceptance in the Beloved is attainable and, though we may be safe, we cannot be said to enjoy blessedness without it. To be in a state of suspense and uncertainty in a point of so great importance is painful, and the Lord has accordingly provided that His people may have strong consolation on this head. They are blessed, therefore, who have such views of the power, grace, and suitableness of Jesus, and the certainty and security of redemption in Him, together with such a consciousness that they have anchored their hopes, and ventured their all upon His person, work, and promise, as furnishes them with a ready answer to all the cavils of unbelief and Satan, in the apostle's manner, Rom.8:31-37.

That Paul could thus challenge and triumph over all charges and enemies was not an appendage of his office as an apostle, but a part of his experience as a believer; arid it lies equally open to us; for we have the same Gospel and the same promises as he had; nor is the efficacy of the Holy Spirit's teaching a whit weakened by length of time. But many stop short of this. They have a hope, but it rather springs from their frames and feelings than from a spiritual apprehension of the Redeemer's engagements and fullness, and therefore fluctuates and changes like the weather. Could they be persuaded to pray with earnestness and importunity, as the apostle prays for them, Eph. 1:17, 18, and 3: 16, 19, they would find a blessedness which they have not yet known; for it is said, "Ask, and ye shall receive." And it is said likewise, "Ye receive not because ye ask not."

Could this privilege be enjoyed singly, the natural man would have no objection to it. He would (as he thinks) be pleased to know he should be saved at last, provided that while here he might live in his sins. But the believer will not, cannot think himself blessed, unless he has likewise a conscience void of offence. This was the apostle's daily exercise, though no one was farther from a legal spirit, or more dependent upon Jesus for acceptance. But if we live in any known sin, or allow ourselves in the customary omission of any known duty, supposing it possible, in such a case, to preserve a sense of our acceptance, (which can hardly be supposed; for if the Spirit be grieved, our evidences decline of course,) yet we could not be easy.

If a traveller was absolutely sure of reaching his journey's end in safety, yet, if he walked with a thorn in his foot, he must take every step in pain. Such a thorn will be felt in the conscience, till we are favoured with a simplicity of heart, and made willing in all things, great or small, to yield obedience to the authority of the Lord's precepts, and make them the standing rule of our conduct, without wilfully admitting a single exception. At the best, we shall be conscious of innumerable shortcomings, and shameful defilement; but these things will not break our peace, if our hearts are upright. But if we trifle with light, and connive at what we know to be wrong, we shall be weak, restless, and uncomfortable.

How many, who we would hope are the children of the King, are lean from day to day, because some right-hand or right-eye evil, which they cannot persuade themselves to part with, keeps them halting between two opinions; and they are as distant from happiness, as they are from the possibility of reconciling the incompatible services of God and the world! But happy indeed is he who condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.

Real communion with the Lord, in His appointed means of grace, is likewise an important branch of this blessedness. They were instituted for this end, and are sufficient, by virtue of His power and Spirit, to answer it. I do not believe this enjoyment will be always equal. But I believe a comfortable sense of it, in some measure, is generally attainable. To read the Scriptures, not as an attorney may read a will, merely to know the sense, but as the heir reads it, as a description and proof of his interest: to hear the Gospel, as the voice of our Beloved, so as to have little leisure either for admiring the abilities, or censuring the defects of the preacher; and, in prayer, to feel a liberty of pouring out our hearts before the Lord, to behold some glances of His goodness passing before us, and to breathe forth before Him the tempers of a child, the spirit of adoption: and thus, by beholding His glory, to be conformed more and more to His image, and to renew our strength, by drawing water out of the wells of salvation: herein is blessedness.

They who have tasted it can say, "It is good for me to draw nigh to God". The soul, thus refreshed by the water of life, is preserved from thirsting after the vanities of the world, thus instructed in the sanctuary, comes down from the mount filled with heavenly wisdom, anointed with a holy unction, and thereby qualified to judge, speak, and act in character, in all the relations and occasions of secular life. In this way, besides the pleasure, a spiritual taste is acquired, something analogous to the meaning of the word taste when applied to music or good breeding. by which discords and improprieties are observed and avoided, as it were by instinct, and what is right is felt and followed, not so much by the force of rules, as by a habit insensibly acquired, and in which the substance of all necessary rules are, if I may so say, digested. O that I knew more of this blessedness, and more of its effects!

Another branch of blessedness is a power of reposing ourselves and our concerns upon the Lord's faithfulness and care; and may be considered in two respects. A reliance upon Him that He will surely provide for us, guide us, protect us, be our help in trouble, our shield in danger; so that, however poor, weak, and defenceless in ourselves, we may rejoice in His all-sufficiency as our own ; and farther, in consequence of this, a peaceful, humble submission to His will, under all events, which, upon their first impression, are contrary to our own views and desires. Surely, in a world like this, where everything is uncertain, where we are exposed to trials on every hand, and know not but a single hour may bring forth something painful, yea, dreadful to our natural sensations, there can be no blessedness, but so far as we are thus enabled to entrust and resign all to the direction and faithfulness of the Lord our Shepherd.

For want of more of this spirit, multitudes of professing Christians perplex and wound themselves, and dishonour their high calling, by continual anxieties, alarms, and complaints. They think nothing safe under the Lord's keeping, unless their own eye is likewise upon it; and are seldom satisfied with any of His dispensations; for, though He gratify their desires in nine instances, a refusal in the tenth spoils the relish of all, and they show the truths of the Gospel can afford them little comfort if self is crossed. But blessed is the man who trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. He shall not be afraid of evil tidings: he shall be kept in perfect peace, though the earth be moved, and the mountains cast into the midst of the sea.

The paper admonishes me it is time to relieve your Lordship. And I have not room to detain you long upon the fifth particular. It belongs to a believer's blessedness to feel his spirit cheerful and active for the Lord's service in the world. For to what other end should he wish to live? If he thought of himself only, it would be better to depart and be with Jesus immediately. But he is a debtor to His grace and love ; and, though strictly he can make no returns, yet he longs to show his thankfulness : and if the Lord gives him a heart to redeem his time, to devote his strength and influence, and lay himself out for His service, that he may be instrumental in promoting His cause, in comforting His people, or enable him to let his, light shine before men, that his God and Father may be honoured, He will account it blessedness. This is indeed the great end of life, and he knows it will evidently appear so at the approach of death; and, therefore, while others are encumbered about many things, he esteems this the one thing needful.

I remain, my Lord, &c.

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