365 days with Newton


All of grace

‘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 persons: Peter, James and John. It does not become us to enquire too curiously why he admitted only three of his disciples to be witnesses of his glory, or why these three rather than any of the rest. Yet since we are told it was his pleasure so to do, it may be proper to draw an observation or two from this circumstance.
I do not lay any stress upon the number three. It is plain that on several occasions these three were distinguished from the others. Some think because they were more eminent for grace—if they were so, I should judge this was the effect rather than the cause of the preference the Lord gave them. They who are most with him, will be most like him. It is true that humble, diligent waiting is the way to enjoy peculiar nearness, but we can render nothing to him, but what we first receive from him. It is sufficient to say he has a right to do what he will with his own. He admitted these three to a nearer intimacy and John was favoured beyond them all (John 13:23). He is called, by way of eminence, the disciple whom Jesus loved, though he loved them all. So he loves all his people, yet makes a difference between some and others in providence, in grace, in comforts. Some have two talents, some five, some of the good ground bears thirtyfold, other sixty, other one hundred—all according to his wise appointment, and yet so as that there is encouragement for everyone in the use of means to open their mouths wide and desire the best things: an abundance of grace and peace, and the fruits of holiness. They who seek shall surely find. However, these apostles were not without their faults. Peter was often wrong, and afterwards denied him. James and John would have called fire from heaven. His favours are all of grace.
FOR MEDITATION: [to precede the New Year’s Day sermon]
Now, gracious LORD, thine arm reveal,
Help us to venture near thy throne,
And make thy glory known;
And plead a Saviour’s name;
Now let us all thy presence feel,
For all that we can call our own,
And soften hearts of stone!
Is vanity and shame.


365 days with Newton


Strengthened for trials

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

If the reasons are enquired why our Lord was transfigured upon the mount, though we must not expect by searching to find out his work to perfection, we may humbly suppose some of the reasons to be: to confirm the disciples’ faith and that they might afterwards declare themselves eyewitnesses of his glory (2 Peter 1:16–17); to exhibit a proof to them of the realities of the unseen world, against the cavils of Sadducees and infidels; to give them a pattern of that glory in which his people shall be raised at the last day (Philippians 3:21). We may observe the time:
(i) It was soon after Peter’s noble confession (Matthew 16:16). Thus the Lord rewards his people’s faith with farther discoveries, as he promised to Nathaniel (John 1:50). Surely if we could give him more of the honour due to his name, by steadfast believing, he would show us more of his glory. Let us pray for more faith, that we may have more comfort.
(ii) It was soon after he had so expressly spoken of his sufferings, which Peter could not bear only to hear of, and which, when they came on him, put all his disciples to a stand. This was therefore a seasonable and gracious revelation to prepare and strengthen them for their approaching trial. And thus he is often pleased to confirm and strengthen his people for an hour of trouble. And when he is pleased to favour them with particular nearness and sweetness and to shine remarkably upon their souls, they may ordinarily expect a trial is at hand.
(iii) It was soon after he had been enforcing the necessity of self-denial (Matthew 16:24). This may teach us that the knowledge of Christ in his power, glory and love, is the great means to make self-denial necessary and pleasant.

FOR MEDITATION: ‘And he … kneeled down, and prayed, saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (Luke 22:41–44).


365 days with Newton


Open my eyes

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

Though our Lord Jesus, in his humbled state, was despised and rejected by the unbelieving Jews, who judged only by his outward appearance, yet his true disciples beheld and acknowledged his glory. There was such wisdom in his words, such power in his works, such grace and goodness in his whole conduct, such a virtue went from him, drawing, teaching and comforting their hearts, that they could say, We believe and are sure thou art the Christ [John 11:27]. On some occasions he made a more perceptible and open display of his glory, and in an extraordinary sense manifested himself to them as he did not to the world. This was eminently the case at the solemn and memorable season of his transfiguration, recorded by three Evangelists. It seems a subject well suited to strengthen the faith and promote the edification of his people. And with these views, I would attempt to assist your meditations on it. I may say as the woman of Samaria, the well is deep [John 4:11]. In going through the passage, we shall perhaps be led to speak of some of the most important and difficult points both of doctrine and experience. Here, I think, if anywhere, we have cause to pray with the psalmist, Open thou my eyes, that I may see the great things of thy law [Psalm 119:18]. May this be the desire of all our hearts, and may the Lord afford a gracious answer.
The woman who for water came,
Taught from her birth to hate the Jews,
(What great events on small depend)
And filled with party-pride; at first
Then learnt the glory of his name,
Her zeal induced her to refuse
The Well of life, the sinner’s Friend!
Water, to quench the Saviour’s thirst.

         But soon she knew the gift of GOD,
         And JESUS, whom she scorned before,
         Unasked, that drink on her bestowed,
         Which whoso tastes shall thirst no more.


365 days with Newton


Repairing the ruins

‘And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ Genesis 3:4–5

When Satan has drawn us from the belief of the truth, there is nothing so false, absurd and dangerous but he can persuade us to receive. How vain was the thought, that she could be better than she was without the Lord’s leave and in defiance to his will. Learn the deceitfulness and hardening nature of sin, how it prevails by degrees, till at length the soul ventures the loss of all for present gratification—and is equally unmindful of past obligations and future consequences of disobedience.
As pride and self-seeking were the first sins, so the first work of God’s Spirit when he comes to renew the sinner is to lay the axe to these roots of the evil tree, which he does by a conviction of sin upon the conscience and giving affecting views of the humiliation of Jesus—man would be as God, therefore God became man. O admire this grace and look to this Saviour who alone is able to repair the ruin we have brought upon ourselves.
FOR MEDITATION: [for New Year’s Evening 1773]
Ensnared, too long, my heart has been
LORD, I have hated thee too long,
In folly’s hurtful ways;
And dared thee to thy face;
O, may I now, at length, begin
I’ve done my soul exceeding wrong
To hear what Wisdom says!
In slighting all thy grace.

Approach my soul to Wisdom’s gates
Now I would break my league with death,
While it is called today;
And live to thee alone;
No one who watches there and waits
O let thy Spirit’s seal of faith,
Shall e’er be turned away.
Secure me for thine own.


365 days with Newton


An endangered species

‘And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.’ Genesis 3:4–5

In Satan’s reply we may note:
(i) From starting a doubt concerning the threatening, he proceeds to a bold denial. This, Eve could hardly have borne at first—but by listening to the first, she was prepared for the second. And now we may pronounce her fallen. She had sinned in her heart, though she had not actually eaten the fruit, for the law is spiritual and reaches to the thoughts (as Matthew 5:28).
(ii) He instils hard thoughts of God, as though he withheld something which he knew would increase their happiness. God doth know and therefore he forbid. This, said of the old serpent, abounds in our fallen nature. Why are sinful pleasures pursued, but upon a secret surmise that we shall be more happy by following our own will than the will of our Creator?
(iii) He opens his temptation to suit that spirit of pride and curiosity with which he had already infected her. And flattered her with:
(a) an advance in state: not only impunity but advantage. You shall be as gods. Thus Self sits in the throne of God and the creature is drawn off from subjection to a desire of independence.
(b) an increase of knowledge: what this was to be she could only learn by making the experiment. Then she found a knowledge of guilt and shame was all she gained. Ever since, vain man would be wise, but acquires nothing but vanity and vexation of spirit.
Alas! by nature how depraved,
The holy Spirit must reveal
How prone to every ill!
The Saviour’s work and worth;
Our lives, to Satan, how enslaved,
Then the hard heart begins to feel
How obstinate our will!
A new and heavenly birth.


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