365 days with Newton


Persevere in prayer

‘And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.’ Luke 9:28

The last circumstance mentioned in this verse is the design: he went up into the mountain to pray. His purpose indeed was to be transfigured before them, but he does not appear to have told them this. But while they were attending him in the way of duty, he afforded them this favour beyond what they could have expected. We may note the sweetest tokens believers obtain of the Lord’s presence and goodness are usually in a time of prayer. No doubt the disciples would have gone with great eagerness, had they expected to have seen their Lord transfigured. But this was kept from them, that their going might rather be an act of obedience to his will, than to gratify a selfish motive of their own. We are often greatly blameable in this matter. No complaints more frequent than of an unwillingness to pray—but why? Chiefly because we look too much to our own pleasure. If we were assured beforehand that we should see Jesus in his glory, that we should enjoy a very lively state of mind and feel our hearts burn like fire, we should want little persuasion to pray. But we are but half-inclined to duty farther than we find it connected with comfort. Hence we have sometimes said, ‘To what purpose shall I pray, when I find myself not at all the better?’ This is too much like the spirit of those who followed the Lord for the loaves and the fishes. The difficulties and conflicts, the deadness and temptations we meet with in our attempts to pray, are not pleasant, yet to persevere in prayer in the midst of such discouragements is one of the best proofs of our sincerity and that we serve the Lord upon a right principle and for his own sake. These things are the trials of faith, and we cannot be well assured that our faith is right until it has stood trials. Every hypocrite may continue to pray, so long as he finds it pleasant.

FOR MEDITATION: ‘Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God’ (Romans 8:26–27).


365 days with Newton


Seasons of refreshment

‘And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.’ Luke 9:28

The Lord affords his people seasons of refreshment which the world knows nothing of. The scribes and Pharisees who despised Jesus could not but despise his followers. They little thought of what passed upon this mountain. Had they seen him transfigured they would not so much have wondered at the disciples’ attachment to him. It is thus still. The world see that the Lord’s people have their trials, dejections and infirmities, but they know nothing of their consolations. Therefore they either pity or despise them, and suppose they lead a poor, melancholy life. They would not think so if they knew all. His people have indeed their heart bitternesses, but a stranger intermeddleth not with their joys [Proverbs 14:10]. One gracious visit from his presence makes them amends for many sufferings. A day, or an hour, of communion with him, is better than a thousand.
The experiences of different believers are very different at the same time. While some are rejoicing, others are sorrowing. These three were happy upon the mount—the rest had a sharp exercise of their faith in their master’s absence (Luke 9:40).

FOR MEDITATION: I had long believed and often told others, that our God is all-sufficient, but in the year ’90, I could say, I not only believe him to be all-sufficient, but I have found him so. He enabled me to trust in him, and I am helped. Yes, I am persuaded that no power, short of that which sustains the stars in their orbits, could have supported me. To this day, she is seldom an hour out of my waking thoughts, but the recollection gives me no pain. I can say from my heart, he has done all things well. He gave, and he took away. I praise his goodness and wisdom for both. I compare creature comforts to candles. While they burn they waste, and if we live long we may see them all go out in succession. But if we are interested in the Sun of Righteousness, the Fountain of Light, Life and Power and Comfort, he can well supply their place, and he has promised that he will. Habakkuk 3:17–18.
John Newton to William Wilberforce, 30 September 1800
[Newton preached his wife’s funeral sermon from Habakkuk 3:17–19.]


365 days with Newton


Get above the world

‘And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.’ Luke 9:28

The exercise of secret prayer is as a retired mountain where the Lord promises to meet and shine upon his people. Satan knows that he cannot greatly prevail against those who are frequent and fervent in prayer, and therefore he bends his chief strength and subtlety to divert or discourage them from it. And indeed, so to speak, this hill of prayer is steep. It is pleasant when we can reach the top, but the ascent is wearisome to the flesh. But there are happy seasons when the Lord, as it were, leads them by the hand; then they mount up as with eagles’ wings [Isaiah 40:31]—they get above the world and he causes his goodness to pass before them [Exodus 33:19].
Sometimes afflictions answer the purpose of this mountain. Perhaps a believer has imperceptibly given way to a worldly spirit, is hurried about many things, multiplying cares and burdens without necessity; another is seduced into wrong compliances, to mix with unprofitable company and waste the time—that time that might be better employed. When either of these is the case, the soul cannot thrive. And as there is no medium, not to go forward is to go back. There are some who need not be asked by those who know them, Why art thou lean from day to day? [2 Samuel 13:4]. They are ensnared by easy, besetting temptations, and mix their food with ashes. Many have suffered this way and have reason to bless the Lord that he sent some affliction—perhaps a fit of sickness—which put a stop to their worldly pursuits, gave them leisure to consider their ways, and proved as a mountain to them, where they sought and obtained a new blessing.
With joy they hasten to the place,
This favoured lot, my friends, is ours,
Where they their Saviour oft have met;
May we the privilege improve;
And while they feast upon his grace,
And find these consecrated hours,
Their burdens and their griefs forget.
Sweet earnests of the joys above!


365 days with Newton


Far from the madding crowd

‘And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart.’ Matthew 17:1

The place to which he led his disciples: this was a high mountain. What mountain, or where situated, is a point of more curiosity than use. The reason of his choosing such a place seems obvious—it was doubtless for the opportunity of retirement. When he would show them his glory, he took them aside from the crowd. He taught frequently in public, in the temple and in the streets, but he revealed himself more intimately to his disciples when he had them apart from the world. Hence we observe the Lord withdraws his people from the hurries of the world to show them his goodness and his glory. To this he calls them by his Word and Spirit and oftentimes by his providence. Not that they are to forsake their stations and services in life—he will give them grace and wisdom for their public callings also—but they must not be engrossed with these. They must have seasons of waiting upon him in the mountain apart, or they will deprive themselves of their best privileges. The ordinances, though public in one sense (as with regard to their outward administration they are open to all), are, in another, private. Many can tell what a retreat they find in them from the noise and cares of the world. Therefore they are glad to go up to the house of the Lord, which is called the mountain of his holiness. In their own houses they are in the midst of hurry and confusion, and they expect when they return to meet new trials at the very threshold of the door. But while they are in the mountain they are at peace—there for a little season they forget their distractions, they get balm for their wounds and are renewed in strength for the warfare. How sweet are Sabbaths and ordinances in this view! They say with Peter, It is good to be here [Luke 9:33], and here, if it might be, they would stay—and return to an ensnaring, troublesome world no more.
How welcome to the saints, when pressed
Now, from the throng withdrawn away,
With six days’ noise, and care, and toil,
They seem to breathe a different air;
Is the returning day of rest,
Composed and softened by the day,
Which hides them from the world awhile?
All things another aspect wear.


365 days with Newton


Keeping a balance

‘And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.’ Luke 9:28
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING: 2 Corinthians 12:1–10

These three disciples were appointed witnesses of his passion. They saw him in his agony, and therefore he first gave them a view of his glory. If their joy was now great, their sorrow after was proportionable. It seems the Lord generally keeps a balance in the experiences of his people. They who have the strongest comforts have the sharpest conflicts; they who have the strongest trials have the most powerful supports. Thus, as in the gathering of the manna, they that have much have nothing over, they that have little have no lack. If he gives great enlargement and consolation, he will send something to keep us humble and low; if he calls to great temptations, he will give cordials that we be not swallowed up and overmuch sorrow.
Perhaps he distinguished these three that by his example he might sanctify and authorize our Christian friendships. If we love the Lord Jesus, we are bound to love all his people and to love them with a pure heart fervently. But with respect to relationships we are not bound to treat them all alike, nor is it possible in the present state of things to do so. A suitableness in temperament, in way of life, and many occasions of connection in the course of his providence, lead us into greater nearness of affection with some than with others. And our practice herein, while we keep within Scripture bounds and do not set up our friends as idols, is unanswerably justified by the conduct our Lord observed himself. Thus he graciously suited himself to our circumstances in all respects.
Let me close with entreating each of you to consider whether you are yet in the number of Christ’s disciples—if not as one of the three, or one of the twelve, yet a sincere follower.

FOR MEDITATION: ‘Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1:3–5).


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