Tuesday, December 27, 2011

From the Pen of Newton: The Oak Tree of Grace

John Newton explains the work of grace in the believers soul as more like a mighty oak tree than Jonah’s gourd which sprang up overnight.  By “work of grace” Newton does not mean only initial conversion but the entire process of redemption:

   The work of grace is not like Jonah's gourd, which sprang up and flourished in a night--and as quickly withered; but rather like the oak, which, from a little acorn and a tender plant, advances with an almost imperceptible growth from year to year, until it becomes a broad-spreading and deep-rooted tree, and then it stands for ages. The Christian oak shall grow and flourish forever.

   When I see any, soon after they appear to be awakened, making a speedy profession of great joy, before they have a due acquaintance with their own hearts--I am in pain for them. I am not sorry to hear them afterwards complain that their joys are gone, and they are almost at their wit's end; for, without some such check, to make them feel their weakness and dependence, I seldom find them to turn out well; either their fervor insensibly abates, until they become quite cold, and sink into the world again--of which I have seen many instances. Or, if they do not give up all--their walk is uneven, and their spirit has not that savor of brokenness and true humility which is a chief ornament of our holy profession. If they do not feel the plague of their hearts at first--they find it out afterwards, and too often manifest it to others.

   Therefore, though I know the Spirit of the Lord is free, and will not be confined to our rules, and there may be excepted cases; yet, in general, I believe the old proverb, "Soft and fair goes far," will hold good in Christian experience. Let us be thankful for the beginnings of grace, and wait upon our Savior patiently for the increase. And as we have chosen him for our physician--let us commit ourselves to his management, and not prescribe to him what he shall prescribe for us. He knows us and he loves us better than we do ourselves, and will do all things well.  (Works of Newton, Volume 1, 642-43)

There is, in my opinion, much to learn from Newton here.  I firmly believe that what Newton describes here became an epidemic in the late 1800’s with the rise of the Pelagian practices of Charles Finney.  Even in our day many church leaders, I believe wholly out of love, desire to quickly alleviate feelings of weakness, dependency, guilt, brokenness, etc.  Out of this good desire gone astray we end up as Newton said, “prescribing to him what he shall prescribe for us”. 

What then should you do?  Should a pastor pick up the practice of the Puritans and allow people to “smart awhile” or should they quickly apply the remedy of grace? 

I’ll attempt an answer to that question tomorrow…

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