May 3, 2017
HEAD and HEART
I CAN almost smile now to think you once classed me among the Stoics.
If I dare speak with confidence of myself in anything, I think I may lay claim to a little of that pleasing, painful thing, sensibility. I need not boast of it, for it has too often been my snare, my sin, and my punishment.
Yet I would be thankful for a spice of it, as the Lord’s gift. And, when it is rightly exercised, it is valuable.
I think I should make but an awkward minister without it, especially here.
Where there is this sensibility in the natural temper, it will give a tincture or cast to our life as a Christian.
Indeed I often find this sensibility weakest where it should be strongest. And I have reason to reproach myself that I am not more affected by the character, love, and sufferings of my Lord and Saviour. I do not feel as I should my own personal obligations to Him.
However, my views of religion have been, for many years, such as I supposed morelikely to make me deemed to be an enthusiast than a Stoic.
A moonlight head-knowledge, derived from a system of sentiments, however true in themselves, is in my judgment a poor thing. On the other hand, I am not an admirer of those rapturous sallies, which are more owing to a warm imagination than to a just perception of the power and importance of Gospel truth.
The Gospel addresses both head and heart.
Where it has its proper effect, where it is received as the Word of God, and is clothed with the authority and energy of the Holy Spirit, the understanding is enlightened, the affections are awakened and engaged, and the will is brought into subjection. The whole soul is delivered to its impression, as wax to the seal .
When this is the case, when the affections do not take the lead, and push forward with a blind impulse, but arise from the principles of Scripture, and are governed by them, the more warmth the better.
Yet in this state of infirmity nothing is perfect, Our natural temperament and disposition will have more influence upon our religious sensations than we are ordinarily aware.
Because this is so it is well that we know how to make proper allowances and abatements in the judgment we form both of ourselves and of others. Many good people are distressed, and alternately elated by frames and feelings which perhaps are more constitutional rather than spiritual experiences.
I dare not tell you what I am, but I can tell you what I wish to be.
The love of God, as manifested in Jesus Christ, is what I would wish to be the abiding object of my contemplation.
I do not want merely to speculate upon it as a doctrine. I want to feel it, and my own interest in it. I want to have my heart filled with its effects, and transformed into its resemblance.
I want to be animated to a spirit of benevolence, love, and com-passion, to all around me.
I want my love to be primarily fixed upon Him who has so loved me, and then for His sake, diffused to all His children, and to all His creatures.
Then, knowing that much is forgiven to me, I should be prompted to the ready exercise of forgiveness, if I have anything against anyone.
Then I should be humble, patient, and submissive under all His dispensations. I would be meek, gentle, forbearing, and kind to my fellow-worms.
Then I should be active and diligent in improving all my talents and powers in His service, and for His glory; and live not to myself, but to Him who loved me and gave Himself for me.
An edited extract from a letter to Mrs Lucy Thornton from John Newton.
The letter is dated 17 September 1776
EPC 2 April 2017