She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand, but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply-pointed thorn… “The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”

He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.”

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return,” and a strange new courage entered her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”

His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.”

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, a sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love,” and her pale, sallow cheeks suddenly glowed pink and her eyes shown. For a moment Much-Afraid did not look afraid at all.
Hannah Hurnard, Hinds’ Feet on High Places

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!”

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.


 A dimly burning wick he will not extinguish.

Isaiah 42:3

Though, for a time, you may doubt the mercy of Christ to yourself, take care not to wrong the work of his Spirit in you heart.

Just as Satan slanders Christ to us, so he slanders us to ourselves. If you were not so much as a dimly burning wick, then why do you not renounce your interest in Christ, and disclaim the covenant of grace? This you dare not do.

Why do you not give yourself up wholly to other pleasures? This your spirit will not allow.

And where do these restless groanings and complaints come from?

In this appears Christ’s care to you, that he has given you a heart in some degree sensitive. He might have given you up to hardness, security, and profaneness of heart—of all spiritual judgments, the worst.

So lay your present state alongside the offices of Christ to sinners such as yourself, and do not despise the consolation of the Almighty, nor refuse your own mercy. Cast yourself into the arms of Christ, and if you perish, perish there. If you do not, you are sure to perish. If mercy is to be found anywhere, it is there.

The signs of a bruised heart carry in them a report, both of our affection to Christ, and of his care to us. The eyes of our souls cannot be towards him unless he has first cast a gracious look upon us. The least love we have to him is but a reflection of his love first shining upon us.

Christ suffered in his own person whatever he calls us to suffer, so that he might the better learn to relieve and pity us in our sufferings.

In his desertion in the garden and on the cross, he was content to be without that unspeakable solace which the presence of his Father gave; both to bear the wrath of the Lord for a time for us, and likewise to know the better how to comfort us in our greatest extremities.

God sees fit that we should taste of that cup of which his Son drank so deep, that we might feel a little what sin is, and what his Son’s love was.

But our comfort is that Christ drank the dregs of the cup for us, and will succor us, so that our spirits may not utterly fail under the little taste of his displeasure that we may feel.

He became not only a man, but also a curse, a man of sorrows, for us. He was broken that we should not be broken; he was troubled, that we should not be desperately troubled; he became a curse, that we should not be accursed.

Whatever may be wished for in an all-sufficient comforter, all is to be found in Christ, in him who first loved us, and—while we were yet sinners—gave himself for us.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) The Bruised Reed


 A dimly burning wick he will not extinguish.

Isaiah 42:3

Christ may act the part of an enemy a little while, as Joseph did, but it is to make way for acting his own part of mercy in a more seasonable time. He cannot restrain his bowels of mercy long. He seems to wrestle with us, as with Jacob, but he supplies us with hidden strength to prevail at length.

Faith pulls off the mask from his face, and sees a loving heart under contrary appearances. At first he answered the woman of Canaan, who was crying after him, not a word. Then he gave her a denial. After that he gave an answer tending to her reproach, calling her a dog, as being outside the covenant. Yet she would not be so beaten off, for she considered the purpose of his coming.

As his Father was never nearer him in strength to support him than when he was furthest off in the sensing of his favor and comfort, so Christ is never nearer to us in power to uphold us than when he seems most to hide his presence from us. The influence of the Sun of righteousness pierces deeper than his light.

In such cases, whatever Christ’s present bearing is towards us, let us oppose his nature and office against it. He cannot deny himself, he cannot but discharge the office his Father has laid upon him. The Father has undertaken that he shall not extinguish a dimly burning wick; and Christ has also undertaken to represent us to the Father, appearing before him for us, until he presents us blameless before him with exceeding joy.

The Father has given us to Christ, and Christ will surely give us back the Father again.

Richard Sibbes (1577-1635), The Bruised Reed