Category Archives: Writing

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works” by John Newton

“There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only shewing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from, and are nourished by, the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse was always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind.

I think I have known some Arminians—that is, persons who, for want of clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace—who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of.

Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.

I hope your performance will savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIX: On Controversy,” The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 1: 272-273.

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“I am glad our concerns are in His wise and gracious hands” by John Newton

“I hope and pray the Lord will sanctify all to your profit. If it depended upon me, you should have nothing to grieve you for a moment.

But I am glad our concerns are in His wise and gracious hands, who appoints us a mixture of afflictions and trials, not because He takes pleasure in giving us pain, (our many comforts afford sufficient proofs of His goodness,) but because He sees that troubles are often better for us than the continual enjoyment of our own wishes.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Volume 5 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 5: 577.

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“It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known” by J.R.R. Tolkien

“And a voice spoke softly behind him: ‘In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.’ With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. ‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’ he said.

But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’

‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed, and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known.

But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.

‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’ – he waved his arms in the air – ‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’”

–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954), 951-952.

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“If we cannot all be writers, then we all want to be critics!” by Martin Luther

“Although I know full well and hear every day that many people think little of me and say that I only write little pamphlets and sermons in German for the uneducated laity, I do not let that stop me. Would to God that in my lifetime I had, to my fullest ability, helped one layman to be better!

I would be quite satisfied, thank God, and quite willing then to let all my little books perish. Whether the making of many large books is an art and of benefit to Christendom, I leave for others to judge.

If we cannot all be writers, then we all want to be critics! I will most gladly leave to anybody else the glory of greater things. I will not be ashamed in the slightest to preach to the uneducated layman and write for him in German.

Although I may have little skill at it myself, it seems to me that if we had hitherto busied ourselves in this very task and were of a mind to do more of it in the future, Christendom would have reaped no small advantage and would have been more benefitted by this than by those heavy, weighty tomes which are only handled in the schools among learned schoolmen.

Furthermore, I have never forced anyone or begged him to listen to me or read my sermons. I have served the church unstintingly with that which God gave me. This is my duty.

If anybody so chooses, he is free to read others and listen to them. If people do not want to read my books or hear my sermons, that does not matter very much.

As far as I am concerned it is quite enough, really more than enough, that some laymen—and those the most distinguished—are humble enough to read my sermons. And if nothing else motivated me, this would be more than sufficient.”

–Martin Luther, “Treatise on Good Works,Luther’s Works, Vol. 44: The Christian in Society I (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 44; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 22.

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“He could have used anyone” by C.S. Lewis

“To Lucy Matthews:

The Kilns,
Headington Quarry,
Oxford
Sept 14th 1957

Dear Lucy Matthews,

I am so glad you like the Narnian stories and it was nice of you to write and tell me. I love E. Nesbit too and I think I have learned a lot from her about how to write stories of this kind.

Do you know Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings? I think you would like it. I am also bad at Maths and it is a continual nuisance to me– I get muddled over my change in shops. I hope you’ll have better luck and get over the difficulty! It makes life a lot easier.

It makes me, I think, more humble than proud to know that Aslan has allowed me to be the means of making Him more real to you. Because He could have used anyone–as He made a donkey preach a good sermon to Balaam.

Perhaps, in return, you will sometimes say a prayer for me? With all good wishes.

Yours sincerely,

C. S. Lewis”

–C.S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy, 1950 – 1963, Ed. Walter Hooper (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3: 882-883. Lewis was born on November 29, 1898.

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“Let us adore Him for His love” by John Newton

“Blessed be God! Amidst all my changes I find the foundation stands sure. And I am seldom or never left to doubt either of the Lord’s love to me, or the reality of the desires He has given me towards Himself.

Though when I measure my love by the degree of its exercise, or the fruits it produceth, I have reason to sit down ashamed as the chief of sinners and the least of all saints. But in Him I have righteousness and peace, and in Him I must and will rejoice.

I would willingly fill up my sheet, but feel a straitness in my spirit, and know not what further to say.

O for a ray of Divine light to set me at liberty, that I might write a few lines worth reading, something that might warm my heart and comfort yours!

Then the subject must be Jesus. But of Him what can I say that you do not know? Well, though you know Him, you are glad to hear of Him again and again.

Come then, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

Let us adore Him for His love, that love which has a height, and depth, and length, and breadth, beyond the grasp of our poor conceptions;

a love that moved Him to empty Himself, to take on Him the form of a servant, and to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross;

a love that pitied us in our lost estate, that found us when we sought Him not, that spoke peace to our souls in the day of our distress;

a love that bears with all our present weakness, mistakes, backslidings, and shortcomings;

a love that is always watchful, always ready to guide, to comfort, and to heal;

a love that will not be wearied, cannot be conquered, and is incapable of changes;

a love that will, in the end, prevail over all opposition, will perfect that which concerns us, and will not leave us till it has brought us perfect in holiness and happiness, to rejoice in His presence in glory.

The love of Christ: it is the wonder, the joy, the song of angels. And the sense of it shed abroad in our hearts makes life pleasant and death welcome.

Alas! What a heart have I that I love Him no better! But I hope He has given me a desire to make Him my all in all, and to account everything loss and dross that dares to stand in competition with Him.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 2, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 2: 179-181.

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“Read, study, reflect, and write” by Sinclair Ferguson

“Many—probably most—of these chapters were written in the context of busy pastoral ministry, either in Scotland or in the United States—preaching, teaching, pastoral visiting, personal meetings, crises in the lives of individuals and sometimes the whole church, administrative responsibilities, and the wide and wonderful variety of activities that make up the average ministers life.

And since virtually all the essays were written by request, their writing has been squeezed into, or out of, an occasional hiatus in the sheer busy-ness of ministry life and the constant preparation involved in preaching anywhere between three and six times in the week.

So, at some point in the writing of almost all these chapters I have heard an inner voice ask, ‘Whatever possessed you to agree to do this?’ Yet, however far short these various pieces fall, in each case the preparation of them did me good, enlarged my understanding a little, and fed into the day-to-day work of pastoral ministry.

I hope, therefore, that these pages will encourage other ministers to allow themselves to be stretched a little beyond their normal pulpit or lectern preparation. There is no doubt that the wider reflection, reading, study and stretching involved can only strengthen and enrich long-term ministry.

Such stretching produces growth. Sometimes ministers can ‘waste’ the privileged time they have by studying only in relation to their next sermon. This does produce some growth, of course; but perhaps not growth that is constantly putting down deeper roots and producing richer fruit.

Preachers need to be reading and studying more widely, and reflecting theologically if that is to be the case. For only then will our ongoing ministry be deepened and enriched.

Thus, in one sense at least, the undergirding message of these diverse chapters is: if you are a preacher, accept invitations or create opportunities to study, speak, or write on subjects outside of your usual diet of preparation.

Yes, you may find yourself under a little pressure; but pressure can produce diamonds! You will grow personally as a result, and, God-willing, Paul’s exhortation will be fulfilled in your ministry:

Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have… Practise these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:13-16).

It can be an unnerving question to ask oneself, ‘Has anyone in the congregation ever thought, far less said, about me, ‘He is making progress’?”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Some Pastors and Teachers (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2017), xii-xiii.

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