John Newton was typically a happy and joy-filled man. He said many things such as this, “I have as little reason as any one to be weary of living, for my situation is in all points comfortable”. That was the typical refrain of Newton’s life. Yet in 1778 he wrote these words to his friend William Bull:
At present it is January with me — both within and without. The outward sun shines and looks pleasant — but his beams are faint, and too feeble to dissolve the frost.
So is it in my heart! I have many bright and pleasant beams of truth in my view — but cold predominates in my frost-bound spirit, and they have but little power to warm me!
I could tell a stranger something about Jesus, which would perhaps astonish him. Such a glorious person, such wonderful love, such humiliation, such a death! And then, what He is now in Himself, and what He is to His people. What a Sun! what a Shield! what a Life! what a Friend!
My tongue can run on upon these subjects sometimes, and could my heart keep pace with it — I would be the happiest fellow in the country!
Stupid creature! to know these things so well, and yet be no more affected with them!
What caused this “January within”? I cannot help but think that it might have been the busyness that Newton commented on a few paragraphs later. He lamented at one point that “night comes before I am ready for noon”. Such was the cost of a growing audience for Newton. As he also noted, “letters come that must be answered, visitants that must be received, business that must be attended to.”
Newton, just like any other minister is prone to do, became so overwhelmed with the busyness of ministry that it caused a January in his soul. Yet Newton never stopped. He was seldom busy for the sake of busyness, but he rarely found himself idle. Newton was a man that was spent for the glory of God.
I’m left wondering how I should respond to Newton here. I think the 21st century advice would have been for him to cut back on ministry and fight this “January within”. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the more biblical response is to continue laboring and being spent even in spite of January. Is it possible that the ministry the Lord has given us may actually lead to January’s instead of July? And is there some way in which this exposes that we are but jars of clay and destitute without His Spirit?