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21 August, 2013

I Was Blind, But Now I See - John Newton

Dear Sir,
The question, "What is the discriminating characteristic nature of a work of grace upon the soul?" has been upon my mind; if I am able to give you satisfaction concerning it, I shall think my time well employed.

The reason why men in a natural state are utterly ignorant of spiritual truths is, that they are wholly destitute of a faculty suited to their perception. A remarkable instance we have in the absurd construction which Nicodemus put upon what our Lord had spoken to him concerning the new birth. And in the supernatural communication of this spiritual faculty, by the agency of the Holy Spirit, I apprehend the inimitable and abiding criterion, which is the subject of our inquiry, does primarily consist. Those passages of Scripture wherein the Gospel truth is compared to light, lead to a familiar illustration of my meaning. Men by nature are stark blind with respect to this light; by grace, the eyes of the understanding are opened.

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Among a number of blind men, some may be more ingenious and of better capacity than others. They may be better qualified for such studies and employment's which do not require eye-sight than many who can see, and may attain to considerable skill in them; but with respect to the true nature of light and colors, they are all exactly upon a level. A man born blind, if ingenious and inquisitive, may learn to talk about the light, the sun, or the rainbow, in terms borrowed from those who have seen them; but it is impossible that he can have a just idea of either; and whatever hearsay knowledge he may have acquired, he can hardly talk much upon these subjects without betraying his real ignorance. 

The case of one blind person has been often quoted. He believed, that, after much inquiry and reflection, he had at last found out what scarlet was; and being asked to explain himself, "I think," says he, "scarlet is something like the sound of a trumpet." This man had about the same knowledge of natural light as Nicodemus had of spiritual. Nor can all the learning or study in the world, enable any person to form a suitable judgment of divine truth, until the eyes of his mind are opened, and then he will perceive it at once. Indeed, this comparison is well suited to show the entire difference between nature and grace, and to explain the ground of that enmity and scorn which fills the hearts of blinded sinners, against those who profess to have been enlightened by the Spirit of God.

But if we could suppose it possible, that there was a whole nation of blind men, and one or two people should go among them, and profess that they could see, while they could not offer them such a proof of their assertion as they were capable of receiving, nor even explain, to their satisfaction, what they meant by sight; what may we imagine would be the consequence? I think there is little doubt but these innovators would experience much the same treatment as the believers of Jesus often meet with from a blind world. The blind people would certainly hate and despise them for presuming to pretend to what they had not. 

They would try to dispute them out of their senses, and bring many arguments to prove that there could be no such thing as either light or sight. They would say, as many say now, 'How is it, if these things are so, that we should know nothing of them?' Yes, I think it probable they would rise against them, as deceivers and enthusiasts, and disturbers of the public peace, and say, "Away with such fellows from the earth; it is not fit that they should live!" But if we should suppose further, that during the heat of the contest some of these blind men should have their eyes suddenly opened, the dispute as to them would be at an end in a minute; they would confess their former ignorance and obstinacy, confirm the testimony of those whom they had before despised, and of course share in the same treatment from their blind brethren, perhaps be treated still worse, as apostates from the opinion of the public.

If this illustration is justly applicable to our subject, it may lead us to several observations, or inferences, which have a tendency to confirm what we are elsewhere expressly taught by the word of God.