Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ

After going through a particularly dark time of discouragement and discontentment a few months ago (missionaries are allowed to go through those…we have that vile sin nature too), I searched high and low for a book that would quiet my heart and feed my spiritual hunger by pointing me to Christ. Scripture reading seemed dry, and prayer was almost non-existent. My flesh is ugly, so when I continually came to Scriptures carnally-minded, without a humility towards the King of the Universe, I never got the medicine that I desperately needed: Christ’s life. The way the Christian life works is crazy: when we are “strong,” we are lying to ourselves and get nothing but despair as we try to hide our brokenness and worship ourselves and all our wants. But when we are weak, and I mean weak, recognizing our spiritual bankruptcy and our INFINITE need, when we come to Christ to be our everything – we get joy as we bring glory to the Father. The Christian life is crazy cool: The more we recognize our sin, the greater our appetite for Christ. If, in our neediness, we go to the Physician for our needs, we get intimacy with Jesus, and we experience more joy as He works for His own glory in us.

Weakness/Christ Dependence = Joy.

There is another direction we can turn when we examine our great deficiencies: self-medication. That’s what I did. Recognizing my utter inability my first few weeks in the tribe, I turned to language-learning to give me a feeling of security and meaning. Every day was consumed with language learning – 7am-10pm – I really only thought in the Kuman language. Unfortunately, this greatly affected my marriage, my family and our team, as you can imagine extreme selfishness would. Wow, we need to die to ourselves, don’t we? We’re capable of all kinds of grave evils if it weren’t for the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

But there we were, on a short break from the tribe, broken, battered, bruised, angry, unsettled, confused: yeah, just a lot of emotions that, without turning them over to Christ, took us deeper into the unknown.

Somewhat out of the blue, my parents sent us a package, and in it were a few books that they felt would be particularly edifying to us in our spare time. One of them happened to be “Encouragement for Today’s Pastors: Help from the Puritans,” by Joel Beeke and Terry D. Slachter. Yep, that was exactly what I needed. A miracle. A God-send. Wow, it was as if God took that book off of my dad’s book shelf, threw it in a box, and sent it Himself.

The theological meat and practical application met me right where I was at, leading me to another book that I highly recommend to any Christian seeking to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel, the subject of this post, Tony Reinke’s book: Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ. 

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Newton writes:

In ourselves we are all darkness, confusion, and misery; but in him there is a sufficiency of wisdom, grace, and peace suited to all our wants. May we ever behold his glory in the glass of the Gospel, ’till we are changed into the same image from glory to glory by the Spirit’…therefore, nothing undercuts the Christian life like Christ-amnesia – thinking we can live safely for a moment without Christ, without his atoning blood, and without renewed communion with Him.

In a letter on suffering, he writes,

There are abominations which, like nests of vipers, lie so quietly within, that we hardly suspect they are there till the rod of affliction rouses them: then they hiss and shew venom. This discovery is indeed very distressing; yet, till it is made, we are prone to think ourselves much less vile than we really are, and cannot so heartily abhor ourselves and repent in dust and ashes…Afflictions awaken us to our sins because they often push our idols out of reach…It is more necessary for us to see the sins remaining in our hearts and to flee to Christ for grace than it is to live blissfully ignorant of the cancers in our soul.

Newton says of temptation,

Opposing sin and temptation with mere resolutions to holiness proves to be powerless; only a sight of Christ crucified is powerful enough to wean us from the world (Gal. 6:14).

John Newton, the composer of the most recognizable Hymn, even among unbelievers (Amazing Grace), was a man who was absolutely aware of the indwelling sin that taints a humans every action, and, as a result, was desperately in love with his “Friend, King, Shepherd, Prophet, and High Priest,” the fives ways he classified Jesus Christ and His offices.

If the Lord were to leave me one hour, I should fall into gross evil. I am like a child, who dares not go across Cheapside (a bustling downtown London street), unless someone holds his hand…We cannot be so evil as He is good.

In a letter to his friends John writes,

This includes all I can wish for my dear friends, that you may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of Jesus. To know Him, is the shortest description of true grace; to know Him better, is the surest mark of growth in grace; to know Him perfectly, is eternal life” (John 17:3)

Looking unto Jesus is the duty, the privilege, the safety, the unspeakable happiness of a believer, are all comprised in that one sentence.

And finally, as John lay on his death bed, one young man, seeking advice from his predecessor, recorded these final words:

My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.

I praise the Lord for this book, with insights into Bible study, grace, temptations, afflictions, depression, and really, so much more. But most of all, God has used it to remind me of the great, great love with which Christ has loved us, and in turn, has drawn me into Christ’s arms. He is the center of the universe, so nothing in this world makes sense without seeing it through the lens of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. He’s like the Sun, as Newton says, unless His light is shining truth on our worldview, we are stumbling and bumbling in darkness.

I’d read this book if I were you.

Look unto the Lord Jesus Christ; look unto Him as He hung naked, wounded, bleeding, dead, and forsaken upon the cross. Look unto him again as he now reigns in glory, possessed of all power in heaven and in earth, with thousands of saints and angels worshipping before him, and ten thousand times ten thousand ministering unto him; then compare your sins with his blood, your wants with his fullness, your unbelief with his faithfulness, your weakness with his strength, your inconsistency with his everlasting love.”

“‘None but Jesus’ is my motto.” -John Newton

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