This week we conclude our series from John Newton on “The progressive work of grace in the several stages of a believer’s experience” using the Kingdom Parable of Jesus from Mark 4:26-28. You can listen to the previous episode Grace in the Blade here, and Grace in the Ear here.
Newton’s first letter was marked by desire, his second by conflict, and this last one by contemplation.
Newton begins by distinguishing between the new believer, with his encouraging zeal and devotional warmth, and the mature believer with his humility and dependence on Christ. The mature believer may be tempted to feel remorse over a lack of devotional warmth but Newton says this is unwarranted. The warmth is still there, but it is now mixed with other spiritual realities.
Those realities, or marks of maturity, are humility, spirituality, and a union of the heart to the glory of God and to the will of God.
It is tempting to see the three stages we have discussed over the last few weeks and attempt to fit people into them. Newton says we must avoid this danger. These are not psychological tests or enneagrams. There are so many hidden realities in a person’s life it would be impossible for us to accurately judge where he or she may fall in these stages. But it is helpful for us to examine ourselves to see where we are. It can help us identify how God is dealing with us, see areas where we need to grow, and utilize opportunities Christ provides for us to draw close to Him and grow in maturity.
If you haven't read Newton's letters for yourself, let us encourage you to do so. You can find the text of the letters linked below Show Notes.
0:00 John and Matt summarize where we have been in Grace in the Blade and Grace in the Ear.
2:00 Newton begins his last letter explaining that older Christians sometimes feel remorse by looking at their earliest days of the Christian life and now see a lack of sensible warmth. Newton says this may not be accurate because there is still warmth, though it is different. One strength of this stage, in Newton’s mind, is greater clarity of the work of Christ. This does not lead to inherent strength but a deeper dependence on Christ.
6:00 Newton then gives us a series of three particular qualities that mark the mature believer. The first is humility. No stage is absent of humility, but it grows with a larger understanding of Christ and of himself. This is because he can look back at examples of Christ’s love and faithful dealing contrasted with his own shortcomings.
8:00 Newton says two things flow from humility. The first is submission to God’s will. The second is grace toward other believers. We are to hold other believers to the standard of Scripture, but we do so with grace and tenderness.
11:00 The second great quality of this stage is a deeper spirituality. Newton defines this as a spiritual appetite that causes believers to see things as they truly are. The things of this world lose their attractiveness and the things of Christ are valued more and more. The chief desire of the mature believer is knowing God. The result of all this is a peaceful reliance on the Lord.
15:00 A third mark of the mature believer is a union of the heart to the glory and will of God. Newton contrasts this with the new believer’s emphasis on self. The new believer focuses on his own needs, his own joy. There is a stream of encouraging things, but it is looking at himself. The more mature believer tends to focus more on God and become more self-forgetful and loves God for who God is.
19:00 There is a danger in looking at the Christian life in these three stages. We cannot be confident to examine other believers and judge what stage they are in. In the past, America's favorite verse was John 3:16. Now it is “Judge not.” John comments this is a severe indictment against our culture. But that is not what Newton is saying. We should not view these as a personality test or enneagram.
24:00 Newton ends this final letter describing Christ’s worth and the beauty of a mature Christian.
Because we have spent the last few weeks discussing some of Newton's letters, we wanted to also take time to highlight two of his hymns. In this week's Supporter Appreciation Episode, John and Matthew dive into I asked the Lord that I might grow and How tedious and tasteless the hours.
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2 Timothy 1:5