I’ve been re-reading a collection of John Newton’s letters to a young friend of his and have found it to be a treasure trove for my devotions. Today I read a letter he wrote to his friend who was complaining of his struggle to preach with great freedom and energy on Sunday, but feel dead spiritually the rest of the week. Here’s Newton’s response:
I would observe, therefore, that it is a sign of sad declension, if one, who has tasted that the Lord is gracious, should be capable of being fully satisfied with anything short of the light of his countenance, which is better than life. A resting in notions of Gospel truth, or in the recollection of past comforts, without a continual thirst for fresh communications from the fountain of life, is, I am afraid, the canker which eats away the beauty and fruitfulness of many professors in the present day; and which, if it does not prove them to be absolutely dead, is at least a sufficient evidence that they are lamentably sick. But if we are conscious of the desire. If we seek it carefully in the use of all appointed means.* If we willingly allow ourselves in nothing which has a known tendency to grieve the Spirit of God, and to damp our sense of divine things. Then, if the Lord is pleased to keep us short of those comforts which he has taught us to prize, and, instead of lively sensations of joy and praise, we feel a languor and deadness of spirit, provided we do indeed feel it, and are humbled for it, we have no need to give way to despondency or excessive sorrow. Still the foundation our hope, and the group of our abiding joys, is the same. And the heart may be as really alive to God, and grace as truly in exercise, when we walk in comparative darkness and see little light, as when the frame of our spirits is more comfortable. Neither the reality nor the measure of grace can be properly estimated by the degree of our sensible comforts.
– John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 35.
*Editor’s note: “Such actions as praying, Bible reading, hearing preaching, participating in congregational worship or the Lord’s Supper, that God uniquely blesses to our benefit and his purposes.”