Thoughts on the Way Home

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dark and Dishonorable Thoughts of God - John Newton

". . . Your exercises have been by no means singular, though they may appear so to yourself; because, in your retired situation, you have not (as you observe) had much opportunity of knowing the experience of other Christians; nor has the guilt with which your mind has been so greatly burdened, been properly your own. It was a temptation forced upon you by the enemy—and he shall answer for it.

Undoubtedly it is a mournful proof of the depravity of our nature, that there is that within us, which renders us so easily susceptive of Satan's suggestions; a proof of our extreme weakness, that, after the clearest and most satisfying evidences of the truth, we are not able to hold fast our confidence, if the Lord permits Satan to sift and shake us. But I can assure you, that these changes are not uncommon. I have known people, who, after walking with God comfortably for forty years, have been at their wit's end from such assaults as you mention, and been brought to doubt, not only of the reality of their own hopes—but of the very ground and foundation upon which their hopes were built! . . .

. . . The dark and dishonorable thoughts of God, which I hinted at as belonging to a natural state, are very different from the thoughts of your heart concerning him. You do not conceive of him as a hard master, or think you could be more happy in the breach—than in the observance of his precepts. You do not prefer the world to his favor, or think you can please him, and make amends for your sins by an obedience of your own. These, and such as these, are the thoughts of the natural heart—the very reverse of yours.

One thought, however, I confess you have indulged, which is no less dishonorable to the Lord than uncomfortable to yourself. You say, "I dare not believe that God will not impute to me as sin, the admission of thoughts which my soul ever abhorred, and to which my will never consented." Nay, you fear lest they should not only be imputed—but unpardonable. But how can this be possible? Indeed I will not call it your thought; it is your temptation. You tell me you have children. Then you will easily understand a plain illustration, which just now occurs to me.

Let me suppose a case which has sometimes happened: a child, three or four years of age we will say, while playing incautiously at a little distance from home, should be suddenly seized and carried away by a gypsy. Poor thing! how terrified, how distressed must it be! Methinks I hear its cries. The sight and violence of the stranger, the recollection of its dear parents, the loss of its pleasing home, the dread and uncertainty of what is yet to befall it—is it not a wonder that it does not die in agony? But see, help is at hand—the gypsy is pursued, and the child recovered. Now, my dear madam, permit me to ask you, if this were your child, how would you receive it? Perhaps, when the first transports of your joy for its safety would permit you, you might gently chide it for leaving your door; but would you disinherit it? Would you disown it? Would you deliver it up again to the gypsy with your own hands, because it had suffered a violence which it could not withstand, which it abhorred, and to which its will never consented? And yet what is the tenderness of a mother, of ten thousand mothers, compared to that which our compassionate Savior bears to every poor soul that has been enabled to flee to him for salvation! Let us be far from charging that to him, of which we think we are utterly incapable ourselves!

Take courage, madam! Resist the devil—and he will flee from you. If he were to tempt you to anything criminal, you would start at the thought, and renounce it with abhorrence. Do the same when he tempts you to question the Lord's compassion and goodness. But there he imposes upon us with a show of humility, and persuades us that we do well to oppose our unworthiness as a sufficient exception to the many express promises of the Word. It is said, the blood of Jesus cleanses from all sin; that all manner of sin shall be forgiven for his sake; that whoever comes he will in no wise cast out; and that he is able to save to the uttermost. Believe his Word—and Satan shall be found a liar!

If the child had deliberately gone away with the gypsy, had preferred that wretched way of life, had refused to return, though frequently and tenderly invited home; perhaps a parent's love might, in time, be too weak to plead for the pardon of such continued obstinacy. But, indeed, in this manner we have all dealt with the Lord—and yet, whenever we are willing to return—he is willing to receive us with open arms, and without an upbraiding word! Luke 15:20-22. Though our sins have been deep-dyed, like scarlet and crimson, enormous as mountains, and countless as the sands, the sum total is, Sin has abounded; but where sin has abounded, grace has much more abounded!

After all, I know the Lord keeps the key of comfort in his own hands—yet he has commanded us to attempt comforting one another. I should rejoice to be his instrument of administering comfort to you. I shall hope to hear from you soon; and that you will then be able to inform me he has restored to you the joys of his salvation. But if not yet, wait for him, and you shall not wait in vain."

-John Newton, The Letters of John Newton