Every Wave Obeys

While researching my book on John Newton, I found a riveting letter he wrote at sea to his wife Polly, during the busy hurricane season of 1751. Here’s what he wrote (Works 5:377–8):

We have another heavy gale of wind, and it is not easy to sit fast, or to hold a pen; but, as the distance between us is lessening at the rate of seven or eight miles per hour, I am willing to fill up my paper as fast as I can.

I wish I had words to convey some idea of the scene around me: but it cannot be fully described. A faint conception may be formed from pictures, or prints, of a storm at sea.

Imagine to yourself an immense body of water behind you, higher than a house, and a chasm of equal depth just before you: both so apparently dangerous; that you could hardly determine which to venture; and both so near, as not to allow you a moment’s time to choose; for in the twinkling of an eye the ship descends into the pit which is gaping to receive her, and with equal swiftness ascends to the top on the other side, before the mountain that is behind can overtake her. And this is repeated as often as you can deliberately count to four.

It is indeed wonderful, that a ship will run incessantly over these hills and dales, for days and weeks together, (if the gale lasts so long,) without receiving the least damage, or taking any considerable quantity of water on board; and yet never be more than four or five yards from a sea, which, if it was quite to reach her, would perhaps disable her beyond recovery, if not beat her to pieces at a single blow.

Need we go farther for the proof of a Providence always near, always kind, kind to the unthankful and the evil? For, though these marks of his care are repeated every minute, they are seldom acknowledged by seamen. For my own part, I see dangers so numerous and imminent, that I should be always in anxiety and fear, could I not submit myself and all my concerns to Him who holds the waves of the sea in the hollow of his hand, as the prophet strongly expresses it; so that, when most enraged by the winds, I am sure they dare not rise a single inch beyond his permission.

145 John Newton Tweets

In the course of writing a book on John Newton (1725–1807), I read all of his 1,000 published letters at least twice. He was a brilliant pastor, and in his pastoral letters I often discovered lines too good, too funny, too challenging, too humbling, or too Christ-centered not to be shared on Twitter instantly.

While I should probably explain my process more in the future, I can say Twitter mostly serves as a platform where I drop research fragments to be later collected for future projects. Today I trolled my Twitter archive and collected my Newton tweets from the past two years of research and organized them into an alphabetical list of quotes to give you a taste of what you’ll find in my book and what you’ll read in Newton’s letters (like those in this wonderful collection).

Enjoy!

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Newton: “A knock at the door, a turning a corner, may be events which lead to important consequences. There’s no such thing as accidents.”

Newton: “A man learns to preach by learning to acquire confidence, not in himself, but in his cause, and in him in whose name he speaks.”

Newton: “A minister full of comforts and free from failings as an angel, though he would be happy, wouldn’t be a good or useful preacher.”

Newton: “A minister’s hands are strengthened when he can point to his people as living proofs of the doctrine he preaches.”

Newton: “Abominations, like nests of vipers, lie quietly in us, til the rod of affliction rouses them; then they hiss and show their venom.”

Newton: “Alas! how difficult is it to draw the line exactly between undervaluing and overvaluing the gifts of God.”

Newton: “All my hopes and comforts may be summed up by saying, I have a rich and gracious Savior.”

Newton: “All wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and happiness, which does not spring from and center in Christ, my soul desires to renounce.”

Newton: “As desirable and precious as sanctification is, it is not, I trust it never will be, the ground of my hope.”

Newton: “As Jesus appears in your view, / As he is beloved or not; / So God is disposed to you, / And mercy or wrath are your lot.”

Newton: “Be cautious you do not degenerate into a mere hearer, so as to place your chief stress on running after preachers.”

Newton: “Blessed be my Lord and Savior, who saved me from destruction in defiance of myself.”

Newton: “Christ is not only the object, but the author, and finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2).”

Newton: “Cold as I feel this heart of mine, / Yet since I feel it so, / It yields some hope of life divine.”

Newton: “Colleges can never make up for a lack of the knowledge of Christ.”

Newton: “Dangerous and inveterate diseases are seldom cured by cakes and candies.” #sanctification #trials

Newton: “Dear Lord, the idol self dethrone / And from our hearts remove / And let no zeal by us be shown / But that which springs from love”

Newton: “Deuteronomy 32:9–12 is a passage which exhibits the history of a believer in miniature, an Iliad in a nutshell.”

Newton: “Disappointment is the grumblings of self-will against the will of God.”

Newton: “Dread whatever grieves the Spirit of God.”

Newton: “Even now, while I write, and while you read, they are praising the Lamb that was slain.”

Newton: “Every drop of rain hits its appointed target.”

Newton: “Every new day is filled up with new things, new mercies on the Lord’s part, new ingratitude on mine.”

Newton: “Every semblance of religion that is not derived from Christ, by faith in his name, is, at the best, like a lamp without oil.”

Newton: “Everything is necessary that God sends our way; nothing can be necessary that he withholds.”

Newton: “Experience and observation proves that no doctrine but Jesus Christ and him crucified will withstand the stream of the world.”

Newton: “For about six weeks I have had occasion to spend several hours of almost every day with the sick and the dying.”

Newton: “Gifts are like riches: if well improved, they give a man fairer opportunities of service.”

Newton: “Gladly would I receive more of comforts, but it is more necessary for me now, both as a Christian and minister, that I be humbled.”

Newton: “God formed us for himself, and has given the human such a vastness of thirst for happiness as He alone can answer.”

Newton: “Grace cherishes the smoking flax into a flame.”

Newton: “He does all things well. It is never ill with us but when our evil hearts doubt or forget this plainest of truths.”

Newton: “He found us when we sought him not. Then we began to seek him, and he was pleased to be found by us.”

Newton: “He has given us a capacity and thirst for happiness which, both experience and observation demonstrate, the world cannot satisfy.”

Newton: “He who is duly sensible of the importance and difficulty of winning souls, will find but little leisure for sorting shells.”

Newton: “He will put his silver into the fire to purify it; but he sits by the furnace as a refiner, to direct the process.”

Newton: “Hearers are disposed to be pleased with the preacher if he says nothing to make them displeased with themselves.”

Newton: “How different were Christ’s sufferings from ours? There is no sting in our rod, nor wrath in our cup.”

Newton: “How happy is it to know the Lord, the Fountain of living waters! Every other acquisition without him will prove a broken cistern.”

Newton: “How seldom do we think how much we are indebted to Christ living in us!”

Newton: “I advise you by all means to keep close to the atonement. The doctrine of the cross is the sun in the system of truth.”

Newton: “I am a riddle to myself.”

Newton: “I am afraid we have been, and still are, too guilty of idolatry; and the Lord might justly blast our boasted paradise.”

Newton: “I am neither whig nor tory, but a friend to both. I am a stranger, and a pilgrim.”

Newton: “I am prone to puzzle myself over twenty things which are out of my power, and equally unnecessary, if the Lord be my Shepherd.”

Newton: “I am so totally depraved; but not discouraged.” (hint: 1 Corinthians 1:30–31)

Newton: “I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without the doctrines of grace.”

Newton: “I feel like a man who has no money, but is allowed to draw from one infinitely rich. I am at once both a beggar and rich man.”

Newton: “I have felt impatience in my spirit, utterly unsuitable to my state as a sinner and a beggar.”

Newton: “I have often wished we had more female pens employed in the service of the sanctuary.”

Newton: “I have reason to praise him for my trials, for, most probably, I should have been ruined without them.”

Newton: “I have seldom, if ever, been five minutes late for anything, unless unavoidably prevented, for the past 50 years.”

Newton: “I hope to die like the thief upon the cross. I have no hope, no comfort in myself.”

Newton: “I live by miracle.”

Newton: “I want nothing of that ‘knowledge’ that has not a tendency to make sin more hateful and Jesus more precious to my soul.”

Newton: “I want to deliver up that rebel Self in chains, but the rogue, like Proteus, puts on so many forms he slips through my fingers.”

Newton: “I’m a slow scholar, and make bungling work at my lessons to apply the gospel to the common concerns of every hour.”

Newton: “If believing and repenting are proper condition of my salvation, I can no more fulfill them than I can touch the stars.”

Newton: “If communion with God affords the greatest happiness we are capable, whatever indisposes us for this must be our great loss.”

Newton: “If I was not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men, than to horses or cows.”

Newton: “If I’m redeemed from misery by the blood of Jesus; and if he is preparing a mansion that I may drink rivers of pleasure forever!”

Newton: “If millions of millions of distressed sinners seek to Christ for relief, he has a sufficiency for them all.”

Newton: “If we could hear all that is said of us, it would not flatter us much.”

Newton: “If you walk closely with God forty years, you will have a much lower opinion of yourself than you have now.”

Newton: “In London I’m in a crowd of temptations, but in the country there is a crowd of temptations in me. My mind is a Vanity Fair.”

Newton: “It behooves us to keep a clear distinction in our minds between gifts and grace.”

Newton: “It is never ill with us but when our evil hearts doubt or forget the plainest of truths.”

Newton: “It is the triumph of grace to make the rich humble and the poor thankful.”

Newton: “It will be vain for ministers to declare the doctrines of grace unless our testimony is supported by the conduct of our people.”

Newton: “It will not be laid to my charge that I thought too highly of Jesus or expected too much from him. On the contrary.”

Newton: “It’s unnecessary to raise a hurricane to destroy us. Were he to withdraw his arm for a moment some unthought evil would overwhelm.”

Newton: “Let me always rejoice in him, or mourn after him. I will leave the alternative to him, who knows best how to suit my state.”

Newton: “Let me endeavor to lead you out of yourself: let me invite you to look unto Jesus.”

Newton: “Like the sun, Christ has sufficiency to fill innumerable millions of eyes with light in the same instant.”

Newton: “Look unto Jesus. The duty, privilege, safety, the unspeakable happiness, of a believer, are all comprised in that one sentence.”

Newton: “Lord, save us from our golden calves.”

Newton: “May Christ be our theme in the pulpit and in the parlor.”

Newton: “May we sit at the foot of the cross; and there learn what sin has done, what justice has done, what love has done.”

Newton: “My heart is like a country but half subdued. Mutinies and insurrections are daily happening.”

Newton: “My heart is vile, and even my prayers are sin. My soul is very sick, but my Physician is infallible.”

Newton: “My hope is built, not upon frames and feelings, but upon the atonement and mediation of Jesus.”

Newton: “My soul is very sick, but my Physician is infallible.”

Newton: “My soul, ask what thou wilt, / Thou canst not be too bold; / Since his own blood for thee he spilt, / What else can he withhold?”

Newton: “My usefulness was the last idol I was willing to part with, but the Lord has enabled me to give even this up.”

Newton: “‘None but Jesus’ is my motto.”

Newton: “O precious, irrecoverable time!”

Newton: “O the excellency of the knowledge of Christ! It will be growing upon us through time, yea, I believe through eternity.”

Newton: “O what a mercy to see all power in heaven and earth exercised by Him who was nailed to the cross for sinners.”

Newton: “One ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ ought to have more weight and authority with us, than a thousand arguments.”

Newton: “One view of the brazen serpent (Christ) will do you more good than poring over your own wounds for a month.”

Newton: “Opposition has hurt its thousands. Careless popularity has slain its ten thousands.”

Newton to pastors: “Our work is great; our time is short; the consequences of our labors are infinite.”

Newton: “Overlong sermons … call off the thoughts from the sermon to the pudding at home that is in danger of being overboiled.”

Newton: “People do their country more service by pleading for it in prayer than by finding fault with things they have no power to alter.”

Newton: “Prosperity may cause us to rise in the world, but affliction is needful to raise us above the world.”

Newton: “Rejoice in Christ and resist every temptation to doubt his love as you would resist a temptation to adultery or murder.”

Newton: “Reproof should be in season, in secret, and in love.”

Newton: “Satan will preach free grace when he finds people willing to believe the notion as an excuse and a cloak for idleness.”

Newton: “Self likes to do great things; but grace teaches us to do little things with a great spirit — that is, for the Lord’s sake.”

Newton: “Sin cannot be hated for itself, till we have seen the malignity of it in Christ’s sufferings.”

Newton: “Some persons are so weak, that, if their favorite minister is absent, they hardly think it worth their while to hear another.”

Newton: “Sooner shall a tender mother sit inattentive to her crying infant than Jesus be an unconcerned spectator of his suffering children.”

Newton: “Sovereignty is but another name for the unlimited exercise of wisdom and goodness.”

Newton: “Talk to children about God abstractly, and it is all in vain.”

Newton: “That monster Self has as many heads as Hydra, and as many lives as a cat.”

Newton: “The atonement, power, and grace of Christ, is a sufficient answer for all. You only lack more faith.”

Newton: “The Babe of Bethlehem, the Man who once hung dead and forsaken upon the cross, is now the Lord of glory.”

Newton: “The best advice I can give you: Look unto Jesus, beholding his beauty in the written word.”

Newton: “The cross of Christ is the tree of life and the tree of knowledge combined.”

Newton: “The cross of Jesus Christ, my Lord, / Is food and medicine, shield and sword. / Take that for your motto.”

Newton: “The doctrine of Jesus Christ, and him crucified, is the Sun of the intellectual world. It can only be seen by its own light.”

Newton: “The fear of man, under the name of prudence, like a chilling frost nips everything in the bud.”

Newton: “The firmament of Scripture is spangled with promises as the sky is with stars, perceptible to us only in the night of affliction.”

Newton: “The life of a Christian is a life of faith in the Son of God.”

Newton: “The Lord Christ, and the world that crucified him, are competitors for our hearts.”

Newton: “The Lord does not give us our arms and regimentals only to strut about in. We must expect blows.”

Newton: “The Lord is my strength; yet I am prone to lean on reeds.”

Newton: “The love I bear him is but a faint and feeble spark, but it is an emanation from himself; he kindled it, and he keeps it alive.”

Newton: “The more simply we commit the how, when, and where, to God’s wisdom and will, the more we shall be free from heart-eating anxiety.”

Newton: “The storms are guided by the hands which were nailed to the cross.”

Newton: “There are abominations which, like nests of vipers, lie quietly within, till the rod of affliction rouses them.”

Newton: “There is a peace passing understanding, of which the politicians cannot deprive us.”

Newton: “There is but one Physician / Can cure a sin-sick soul!”

Newton: “There is one political maxim which comforts me: ‘The Lord reigns.’”

Newton: “This is God’s way: you are not called to buy, but to beg; not to be strong in yourself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

Newton: “This is the worst enemy we have to deal with—self-will—self-wisdom—self-righteousness—self-seeking—self-dependence—self-boasting.”

Newton: “Though my disease is grievous, it is not desperate. I have a gracious and infallible Physician.”

Newton: “To behold the glory and the love of Jesus is the only effectual way to participate of his image.”

Newton: “To see him as he is, and to be like him! This is worth dying for, and worth living for.”

Newton: “To take a glimpse within the veil, / To know that God is mine, / Are springs of joy that never fail, / Unspeakable! divine!”

Newton: “Too much of my time passes in busy idleness.”

Newton: “Trouble excites prayer, prayer brings deliverance, deliverance produces praise (Psalm 116:1–2).”

Newton: “Until we are reconciled to God by the blood of Jesus everything to which we look for satisfaction will fully disappoint us.”

Newton: “We are never more safe than when we are most sensible that we can do nothing without Christ.”

Newton: “We are too much attached to our own petty concerns, and too little concerned for the glory of God.”

Newton: “We have a mighty Savior, a compassionate Friend, a prevailing Advocate.”

Newton to pastors: “We have work to do in the world, more to do in the Church and in our homes, but most of all, in our own hearts.”

Newton: “We need to bring our hard hearts into sympathy with those who suffer, lest we be too busy or too happy to attend their moans.”

Newton: “We serve a gracious Master who knows how to overrule even our mistakes to His glory and our own advantage.”

Newton: “We should never grow weary of writing and reading about Jesus.”

Newton: “What a privilege to possess God in all things while we have them, and all things in God when they are taken from us.”

Newton: “What will it profit a man if he silences his adversary and loses that humble spirit in which the Lord delights?”

Newton: “While you are unfit to die, you can have no true enjoyment of life.”

Newton: “With pleasing grief and mournful joy / My spirit now is fill’d, / That I should such a life destroy, / Yet live by him I kill’d.”

Newton: “Wonderful are the effects when a crucified, glorious Savior is presented to the eye of Faith. This sight destroys the love of sin.”

[end]

Personal Update (Newtcation Ends)

Today Newtcation ends. It’s been a wonderful several days spent mostly off-line and with a lot of time with the family at the local pool and lakes, and bowling, and attending little league softball and baseball games.

Two weeks steeped in Newton’s letters have been a tremendous blessing to my own soul. On most mornings I awoke to make new discoveries in the pages of the rarest published letters of Newton, many of them made available by the generosity and ingenuity of friends who volunteered university library credentials and iPad cameras to the cause. A lot of my Newtcation mornings looked something like this:

newtcation-1

I’m now emerging out of the 18th century and find myself playing catch-up on DOMA, Tsarnaev, Randy Travis, Metta World Peace, Trayvon, Chris Weidman, Sharknadoes, plane crashes in Alaska and SFO, unrest in Egypt, and wildfires in Arizona. So much has happened in the last two weeks.

Going off-line has been worth it. Yesterday I finished the first draft of the Newton book, which I began writing 9 months, 25 days ago. Over these past two weeks I’ve had time to write the final 20% of the book. At 87,606 words, the draft is far too long and will need to be trimmed in the next phase of re-writing (and re-re-writing) that begins now. In the coming months I will be trimming content, tightening sentences, and sharpening the language of the book. From my experience, this is the most enjoyable stage in the writing process.

newtcation

The manuscript, in its present form, has been passed along to Pastor John, who has kindly offered to read it (gulp) and pen the foreword. Piper’s enthusiasm over the years for Newton, and his popular biographical sketch, have all become significant factors in the enduring legacy of Newton and his works in the Church today. Irrespective of whether my book is any good, to have a foreword from him is not only an honor, but will also provide a push behind Newton’s legacy to extend its life for at least one more generation.

And of course Newtcation has reminded me of the amazing blessing I have been given in my wife. She was up before the kids to edit chapters, kept the kids busy after they awoke so I could write, and then served us all afternoon as we enjoyed family time together. The back of our minivan is a drink and snack taxi, stocked for whatever adventure we filled our afternoons with. I would post a picture of my precious wife here, but, in her words, “Your pictures of me are always so horrible.”

Alas, a lot of great memories will stay with me from Newtcation, but I look forward to getting back to work tomorrow. Thank you to everyone who prayed for me over these past two weeks as I completed research and writing the first draft of Newton on the Christian Life. I was sustained by God’s amazing grace all along.

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