In all my (re)born days, I have never encountered a writer with a better grip on the true character, extent, strategies, and joy of progressive sanctification than John Newton. When you read today’s quote, I think you’ll see why.

These words appear in a letter to a Mrs. Talbot, an older Christian woman, possibly nearing death, who complained to Newton about the residual sin in her heart, openly raising questions about her exact standing with God. Newton, one of the great soul physicians of his day, wrote to her, as to many others struggling with similar doubts, in these words:

There is, my dear Madam, a difference between the holiness of a sinner and that of an angel. The angels have never sinned, nor have they tasted of redeeming love; they have no inward conflicts, no law of sin warring in their members; their obedience is perfect; their happiness complete.

Yet if I be found among redeemed sinners, I need not wish to be an angel. Perhaps God is not less glorified by your obedience (and, not to shock you, I will add, by mine) than by Gabriel’s. 

It is a mighty manifestation of his grace indeed, when such obedience can live, and act, and conquer, in such hearts as ours; when, in defiance of an evil nature and an evil world, and all the force and subtlety of Satan, a weak worm is still upheld, and enabled not only to climb, but to thresh the mountains; when a small spark is preserved through storms and floods. 

In these circumstances , the work of grace is to be estimated, not merely from its imperfect appearance, but from the difficulties it has to struggle with and overcome; and therefore our holiness does not consist in great attainments, but in spiritual desires, in hungerings, thirstings, and mournings; in humiliation of heart, poverty of spirit, submission, and meekness; in cordial admiring thoughts of the Lord Jesus, and dependence upon him alone for all we want.

Indeed, these may be said to be great attainments; but they who have most of them are most sensible that they, in and of themselves, are nothing, have nothing, can do nothing, and see daily cause for abhorring themselves, and repenting in dust and ashes. 

As I wrote in the previous post, Newton never leaves us groveling on the floor, abhorring ourselves. Rather, he points us to Christ, and to an ever-deepening commitment to, and dependency upon, our walk in the Spirit with Him.

His writings are altogether in the spirit of Paul’s closing cry in Romans 7: “O, who will deliver me from this deadly sinful body? Thanks be to God, (it is by the gift of the mighty indwelling Holy Spirit), through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I’m happy to introduce you to 1 Thessalonians in the New Eclectic Version!

Incurable eschatologist that I am, I have always loved Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. Written very early in the new Christian Era (around 50 AD), they serve as a window through which we may glimpse of a new-born Gentile church in all her glory.

Though not without her problems, she is full of love, joy, zeal, outreach, affliction, endurance, and–hovering over it all like the Spirit in the form of a dove–a lively expectation of the Lord’s soon return to rescue, judge, and eternally redeem!

Could we be entering such days? Could such an experience be ours? If so, you may want to read this letter, and (soon, I hope) its sequel.

May you be blessed as you do.

1 Thessalonians in the NEV

The highest attainment we can reach in this life is a broken and contrite spirit, arising from a deep conviction of how very disproportionate our best returns are to our obligations, and how far our obedience and holiness fall short of the standard: the revealed law and will of God.

Job was commended by the Lord himself before his great trials came upon him, and in a calm moment he expressed a persuasion that when he was fully tried he should come forth as gold. But when he was at last brought forth, he did not say, “Behold I am perfect,” but, “Behold I am vile.” And the great lesson he learned by his sufferings and his deliverance was to abhor himself and to repent in dust and ashes.

I apprehend they are the most favored and most eminent Christians who come nearest to the spirit with which he spoke these words.

— John Newton

Newton goes on to say that this mindfulness of our deep, native poverty of spirit instructs the sanctified soul to depend continually and completely upon the mercy, grace, and strength of the Lord , wherein lies all hope of victory in the Christian life, and all our joy.


Reflections on God’s Guidance from the Book of Acts 

In his letter to the Roman Christians, the apostle Paul declares, “As many as are led by the Spirit, these are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). What a thought! Can it really be that part of our inheritance in Christ is to be guided by the Spirit of God in all our decisions, just as the Lord Jesus was? Paul certainly seemed to think so! Moreover, as we read through the book of Acts, we find that for the early Church this was indeed the case: In manifold ways, God graciously guided His people in the fulfillment of their mission, and in so doing provided helpful instructions and examples for us to follow.

The purpose of this essay is to spotlight the main ways in which God guides his New Covenant children, and to illustrate them from the Book of Acts. May this brief meditation enrich your confidence for walking with him! You can access it here.