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10 August, 2013
A Question on Salvation Part 1
Excerpt from the Kindle " John Newton's Letters - A Question on Salvation"
Thus he went on for many years, teaching his people what he knew, for he could teach them no more. One day, reading Ephes. 3 in his Greek Testament, his thoughts were stopped by the a word in Eph. 3:8. He was struck, and led to think with himself to this purpose: The Apostle, when speaking of the love and riches of Christ, uses remarkable expressions; he speaks of heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, and unsearchables, where I seem to find everything plain, easy, and rational.
I do not offer this as a rational doctrine (though it be highly so to me)-but it is Scriptural, or else the Scripture is a mere nose of wax, and without a determinate meaning. What ingenuity is needful to interpret many passages in a sense more favorable to our natural prejudices against God's sovereignty! Mat. 11:25-26, and Mat. -17; Mar. 13:20-22; John 17; John 10:26; Romans 8:28-30, and Romans 9:13-24, and Romans 11:7; Eph. 1:4-5; 1 Pe. 1:2. Were I fond of disputing, as I am not, I think I could put a close reasoner hard to it, to maintain the truth of Scripture prophecies, or the belief of a particular providence, unless he would admit a Divine predestination of causes and events as the ground of his arguments. However, as I said, I have chosen to waive the point; because, however true and necessary in itself, the knowledge and comprehension of it is not necessary to the being of a true Christian, though I can hardly conceive he can be an established, consistent believer without it.
This doctrine is not the turning point between you and I. The nature of justification, and the method of a sinner's acceptance with God, are of much more immediate importance; and therefore, if I am to speak plainly, I must say, that I look upon your present sentiments, attainments, and advances, as you describe them, to constitute that kind of gain the Apostle speaks of, and concerning which I hope you will one day be of his mind, and be glad to account it all loss, that you may win Christ, and be found in him, "not having your own righteousness, which is of the law-but the righteousness which is of God by faith," Phi. 3:4, Phi. 3:7-10.
For, as you tell me, that you never remember a time when you were not conscious before God of great unworthiness, and intervals of earnest endeavors to serve him, though not with the same success-yet something in the same way as at present; this is but saying, in other words, you never remember a time when old things passed away, and all things became new-and yet the Apostle insists much upon this, 2Co. 4:6, and 2Co. 5:17.
The convictions of natural conscience, and those which are wrought in the heart by the Holy Spirit, are different, not only in degree-but in kind; the light of a glow-worm and of the sun do not more essentially differ. The former are partial and superficial, leave us in possession of a supposed power of our own, are pacified by some appearances of an outward change, and make us no further sensible of the necessity of a Savior than to make our doings and duties (if I may so express myself) full weight, which perhaps might otherwise be a little deficient when brought to the balances of the sanctuary.
But truly spiritual convictions give us far other views of sin-they lead us to a deep and solemn consideration of the root, our total absolute depravity, and our utter apostasy from God, by which we are incapable of doing good, as a dead man is of performing the functions of life! They lead us to the rule and standard-the strict, holy, inflexible law of God, which reaches to the thoughts and intents of the heart; requires perfect, universal, persevering obedience; denounces a curse upon every failure, Gal. 3:10; and affords neither place nor strength for repentance. Thus they sweep away every hope and refuge we had before, and fix upon us a sense of guilt and condemnation, from which there is no relief, until we can look to Jesus, as the wounded Israelites did to the brazen serpent-which was not to give efficacy to medicines and plasters of their own application-but to heal them completely of itself by looking at it! John 3:14-15, and John 6:40; Isa. 43:22.
You wish me to explain my distinction between faith and rational assent; and though I know no two things in the world more clearly distinct in themselves, or more expressly distinguished in Scripture-yet I fear I may not easily make it appear to you. You allow faith, in your sense, to be the gift of God; but, in my sense, it is likewise wrought by the operation of
2:12, and the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according
to the working of His mighty power. Eph. 1:19. It is that same energy of the
power of his strength, by which the dead body of Jesus was raised from the
dead. Can these strong expressions intend no more than a rational assent, such as
we give to a proposition in God, Col. ? I
believe fallen reason is, of itself, utterly incapable even of assenting to the
great truths of Revelation; it may assent to the terms in which they are
proposed-but it must put its own interpretation upon them, or it would despise
them. The natural man can neither receive nor discern the things of God. And if
any one would be wise, the Apostle's first advice to him is, "Let him
become a fool, that he may be wise; for the wisdom of the world is foolishness
with God." Euclid
Indeed, when the heart is changed, and the mind enlightened; then reason is sanctified, and, if I may so say, baptized. It renounces its curious disquisitions, and is content humbly to tread in the path of Revelation. This is one difference: assent may be the act of our natural reason; but faith is the effect of immediate Almighty power.
Another difference is, Faith is always efficacious. Whereas assent is often given where it has little or no influence upon the conduct. Thus, for instance, everyone will assent to this truth, All men are mortal. Yet the greatest part of mankind, though they readily assent to the proposition, and it would be highly irrational to do otherwise, live as they might do-if the reverse were true! But those who have Divine faith, feel, as well as say, that they are pilgrims and sojourners upon earth.
Again: faith gives peace of conscience, access to God, and a sure evidence and subsistence of things not seen; Romans 5:1-2; Heb. 11:1 : where as a calm, dispassionate reasoner may be compelled to assent to the external arguments in favor of Christianity, and yet remain a total stranger to that communion with God, that Spirit of adoption, that foretaste of glory-which is the privilege and portion of believers.
So likewise, faith overcomes the world, which rational assent will not do. To sum up all in a word, "He who believes shall be saved!" But surely many who give a rational assent to the Gospel, live and die in those sins which exclude from the
Gal. 5:19-21. Faith is the effect of a principle of new life implanted in the
soul, that was before dead in trespasses and sins; and it qualifies, not only
for obeying the Savior's precepts-but chiefly and primarily for receiving from
and rejoicing in his fullness, admiring his love, his work, his person, his
glory, his advocacy. Faith makes Christ precious; enthrones him in the heart;
presents him as the most delightful object to our meditations-as our wisdom,
righteousness, sanctification, and strength; our root, head, life, shepherd,
and husband. These are all Scriptural expressions and images, setting forth, so
far as words can declare-what Jesus is in himself and to his believing people. kingdom
But how cold is the comment which rational assent puts upon very many passages, wherein the Apostle Paul endeavors (but in vain) to express the fullness of his heart upon this subject! A most valued friend of mine, a Clergyman now living, had for many years given a rational assent to the Gospel. He labored with much earnestness upon your plan; was very exemplary in his whole conduct; preached almost incessantly (two or three times every day, for years), having a parish in the remote parts of Yorkshire, of great extent, and containing five or six different hamlets at some distance from each other. He succeeded likewise with his people so far as to break them off from outward irregularities; and was mentioned, in a letter to the Society for propagating the Gospel (which I have seen in print) as the most perfect example of a parish pastor which this nation, or perhaps this age, has produced.