The following is a letter of John Newton to his 14 year old adopted daughter.
My Dear Betsy,
Sometimes, when I consider what a world you are growing up into, and what snares and dangers young people are exposed to, with little experience to help them—I have some painful feelings for you!
The other day I was at the harbor, and saw a ship launched; she slipped easily into the water; the people on board cheered; the ship looked clean and mirthful, she was freshly painted, and her colors flying. But I looked at her with a sort of pity, “Poor ship!” I thought, “you are now in port and in safety; but before long you must go into the wild sea! Who can tell what storms you may meet with hereafter, and to what hazards you may be exposed! How weather-beaten you may be before you return to port again, or perhaps you may not return at all!”
Then my thoughts turned from the ship to my dear Betsy. The ship seemed to be an emblem of your present state, you are now, as it were, in a safe harbor; but by and by you must launch out into the world, which may well be compared to a tempestuous sea. I could even now almost weep at the resemblance! But I take courage, as my hopes are greater than my fears. I know there is an infallible Pilot, who has the winds and the waves at His command! There is hardly a day passes, in which I do not entreat Him to take charge of you. Under His care, I know you will be safe. He can guide you, unhurt, amidst the storms, and rocks, and dangers by which you might otherwise suffer and bring you, at last, safely to the haven of His eternal rest!
I hope you will seek Him while you are young—then you will be happy, and I shall rejoice. Nothing will satisfy me but this! Though I should live to see you settled to the greatest advantage in temporal matters, unless you love Him, and live in His fear and favor, you would be quite miserable! I think it would nearly break my heart; for, next to your dear mamma, there is nothing so dear to me in this world as you! But the Lord gave you to me and many a time upon my knees, I have given you back to Him. Therefore I hope you must, and will, and shall be His!
I am, with great tenderness, my dear child, Your very affectionate father
I understand something of your warfare. Paul describes his own case in few words, “Conflicts on the outside, fears on the inside.” Does not this comprehend all you would say? And how are you to know experimentally, either your own weakness, or the power, wisdom and grace of God, seasonably and sufficiently afforded, but by frequent and various trials? How are the graces of patience, resignation, meekness and faith, to be discovered and increased, but by the exercise of trials?
The Lord has chosen, called, and armed us for the fight! Shall we wish to be excused from the battle? Shall we not rather rejoice that we have the honor to appear in such a cause, under such a Captain, such a banner and in such a company?
God has graciously provided: a complete suit of armor, formidable weapons, precious balm to heal us—if we receive a wound, and precious cordials to revive us—when we are in danger of fainting!
Further, we are assured of the victory beforehand! O what a crown of glory is prepared for every conqueror, which Jesus, the righteous Judge, the gracious Savior—shall place upon every faithful head with His own hand!
So let us not be weary and faint, for in due season we shall reap! The time is short! In a little while, the struggle of indwelling sin, and all the conflicts surrounding us, shall be known no more!
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life! -Revelation 2:10
To the atheist, the conscience is the end product of a long line of evolutionary and social conditioning, so when it bothers them, they are not really guilty of anything. As James Sire puts it, they are really only guilty of guilt. Feelings of guilt are the problem, not a violation of moral principles.
This is why we live in a culture of therapy. The goal is to rid ourselves of the feeling of guilt instead of the guilt itself. Unfortunately, we see this way of thinking finding its way into many churches as sin and the cross of Christ are ignored and replaced with a “Christian” self-help regimen. Our culture only wants good vibes and talk of sin makes us feel bad. All we really need to learn to do is to forgive ourselves. James sire goes on to explain the biggest problem with this approach.
“In a universe where God is dead, people are not guilty of violating a moral law, they are only guilty of guilt, and that is a very serious, for nothing can be done about it. If one had sinned, there might be atonement. If one had broken a law, the lawmaker might forgive the criminal. But if one is only guilty of guilt, there is no way to solve the very personal problem. And that states the case of the nihilist, for no one can avoid acting as if moral values exist and as if there is some bar of justice that measures guilt by objective standards. But there is no bar of justice and we are left not in sin but in guilt. Very serious indeed.”
-James Sire, The Universe Next Door
Churches and “Christian” materials, that neglect sin, guilt, and the atonement, and only focus on the therapeutic, not only fail to help those in need, they lock them into a worldview where forgiveness is unattainable. Even under the name “Christian,” empty deceit can hold sway.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.–Colossians 2:8
Our Lord had no need to undertake the bearing of the cross except to attest and prove his obedience to the Father. But as for us, there are many reasons why we must pass our lives under a continual cross… We readily esteem our virtue above its due measure. And we do not doubt, whatever happens, that against all difficulties it will remain unbroken and unconquered. Hence we are lifted up to stupid and empty confidence in the flesh; and relying on it, we are then insolently proud against God himself, as if our own powers were sufficient without his grace.
He can best restrain this arrogance when he proves to us by experience not only that great incapacity but also the frailty under which we labor. Therefore, he afflicts us either with disgrace or poverty, or bereavement, or disease, or other calamities. Utterly unequal to bearing these, in so far as they touch us, we soon succumb to them. Thus humbled, we learn to call upon His power, which alone makes us stand fast under the weight of afflictions.
-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion-
Spiritual emptiness can manifest itself in countless ways, but in our culture, one of the ways it reveals itself is in shopping to find fulfillment. This is the kind of shopping that seeks to medicate a dry and thirsty soul. In a consumer culture like ours, this fulfillment shopping is exactly what we should expect.
I am never surprised by the fact that so many people feel hollow inside or that they think shopping can fill the void. I have been guilty of doing it myself. Our culture, as Francis Schaeffer has so aptly put it, has fallen below the line of despair. Society today is operating from a worldview of hopelessness because we have denied God, and, in the process, lost any foundation for meaning, truth, and morality. Since there is no true human nature and no real purpose, all we are told we can do is to try to make ourselves happy; whatever form that takes
The more people hold to this worldview and push it to its logical conclusions, the more absurd it will become. This absurdity is why our culture is now adamant that we call men, women and women, men, and when these two choices are not enough, we add 56 new genders. That is right; when you sign up for Facebook, you can now choose from 58 genders. When we denied humanity’s nature made in the image of God, we did not set ourselves free; we enslaved ourselves to futility.
The secular world hated the idea that we are made in the image of God but that we had fallen into sin. They hated the idea that we are glorious creatures in an abnormal state because they said it was demeaning to think of humanity that way. Then they declared that “God is dead,” so man no longer has a created nature, but if God is dead, so is humanity.
A secular world without design from a personal creator can have no ultimate meaning. Sure, we can make things up to give us hope or purpose, but never forget our hopes are only fanciful imaginations. This worldview of despair saturates almost everything we touch. It is littered throughout our endless social media feeds. It is in the TV shows we binge-watch. It has even made it into employment policies and laws. Yes, a culture that says morality is relative enforces its morality with the threat of punishment. You may have no inherent nature so you can be whatever you want, but you will live how we say or face the consequences.
It is no wonder people are empty. Even Christians swimming in these waters are bound to take their eyes off Jesus and put them on the waves from time to time. When we do that, we know what happens; we start to sink. There is so much emptiness to go around that many marketers appeal to it to get you to buy their product or use their services.
If we shop to fill an emptiness in our lives, when we consume, we are the ones being consumed. We all shop, and we all need to shop, but we should not shop to find joy, meaning, purpose, popularity, fame, and even glory in the products we purchase.
Many people will head home tonight to a home full of beautiful things. They will sit down in front of a television screen six times bigger than the televisions they had growing up. They will sit there, and they will be empty and numb looking for the next thing that will be able to give them a spark of life.
Subconsciously, they will be wondering what this life is all about. The TV will stream shows that subversively tell them there is no meaning in life, so look to fame, glory, and sexuality to fill your time while you are alive. Oh, and the only way you will ever find this personal peace and affluence is with the right products.
Ken Myers said it best when he said, “Popular culture is unimaginable without mass-media, which is, in turn, unimaginable without advertising, which would not survive in a cultural climate that places a premium on modesty, chastity, frugality, simplicity, and contentment. So those virtues will necessarily be alien to popular culture, even if the people wanted them there.”
Even the news is driven by advertising, and if you manage to turn off the TV or unplug from the internet for a while, advertisers will use billboards on your drive home to put their finger in your eye.
The next time we find ourselves looking to buy something to find a little relief from the boredom of our lives, remember, we are the ones being consumed. In a consumer culture, even the consumers become a commodity. Take a minute to be aware of the worldview that is driving this entire system.
It is a secular philosophy of life that says, as messed up as we are, we are not in an abnormal state. We are evolving creatures, and there was never a time when we were more glorious than we are now. So if you look around and see the despair, it is important to remember this is the best secularism can offer you.
The remedy to all of this is to look around and see that things are not the way they should be. Man is not in his most glorious state; something is seriously wrong. Sin has touched us all, but unlike the secular worldview that leaves us in our despair. The truth of Christianity lets us know that even though we have fallen, God has provided a way for us to be redeemed.
Our guilt, even though it is true guilt against the Holy God of the universe and not just an internal feeling, can be forgiven through the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who took our punishment on the cross. For those who come to him in faith, our relationship with our creator is restored. We, at that moment, are given a new life in Christ, and he begins a work in us that he promises to fulfill when he calls us home. For those of us who know Jesus, never forget that we are part of the greatest campaign ever imagined: to know God. Our calling is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. There is no reason for us to shop to find fulfillment.
She stopped by again today and gave me one of those looks. The beauty of her face set against the backdrop of the tumultuous sky of my life promised me peace. It was soft and gentle. It was like she was telling me, “I know you are hurting, and I can help.” There was a grace in the whole thing that spun my world with confusion.
The power she wielded over me was devastating. She continued to promise relief, but I have spent time with her on more than one occasion. She keeps telling me to trust her, that she can sooth the pain I am feeling. I reminded her that every time previously, her relief has only been temporary and that she always leaves me more troubled than before. Her response to this has always been the same, “Just one more time and you will be satisfied.”
Either I go with her and enter the vicious cycle once again, or I resist and find myself with an unquenched thirst that still leaves me feeling worse than before she showed up. When I resist her, she plays upon my fears: as if somehow I am missing out, or failing to take care of myself. Many times she has told me “this is what life is about about, and you are not living it to the fullest.”
She appears in different forms to everyone, but always with an air of beauty. Usually, when I hear them talk about her, most people put all the blame on her. In exasperation, they conclude, “If she were not always around, I wouldn’t have this problem,” or “If society didn’t endorse her so much, I would be safe.” The reality is the problem with temptation is us, and even without her, our hearts naturally try to find fulfillment apart from our Creator. This, of course, is why we often go out to look for her.
The only reason she has so much power over me is because deep down I desire the treasures she offers whether she is present or not, and these are the desires that war against my soul. If this were not the case, I could easily send her on her way without a problem. John Owen once wrote, “Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before,” and he was working from a truth he had read in Scripture which says, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).
I am always amazed at how much influence she has over me, or should I say, how much power I have given her. There is only one remedy, and that is to abide in Christ who offers the real fulfillment I am seeking: to look upon true beauty. There must be a change in me for her to lose her power, and, through the Spirit’s work, that change has already begun. I know this because never before have I been so aware of the deceit that lies behind her smile, but being aware and resisting are two different things. There is so much more to say about her, and even more to say about our great Deliverer, but she is here again giving me that look.
It was a saying of a noble Roman when he was hasting with corn to a city in famine, and the mariners were loath to set sail in foul weather, “it is necessary for us to sail – it is not necessary to live.” What is it that you count necessary? Is your bread necessary? Is your breath necessary? Then your conversion is much more necessary. Indeed, this is the one thing necessary!
Your possessions are not necessary – you may sell all for the pearl of great price, and yet be a gainer by the purchase. Your life is not necessary – you may part with it for Christ, to infinite advantage. Your reputation is not necessary – you may be reproached for the name of Christ, and yet be happy. Yes, you may be much more happy in reproach then in good reputation. But your conversion is necessary – your salvation depends on it.
Is it not needful in so important a matter to take special care? On this one point depends you’re making or marring to all eternity! Without conversion your very being is in vain! Is it not a pity you should be good for nothing, and it unprofitable burden to the earth? – a wart in the body of the universe?
While unconverted, you cannot for fill the purpose of your being. It was for divine pleasure that you were created. Did not God make you for himself? Are you a man, and have you reason? Look how you came into being and why are you exist. Look at God’s workmanship in your body, and consider the noble faculties of your heaven-born soul. To what end? Did God rear this fabric for no other end than to please yourself and gratify your senses?
Are you like the swallows, who gather a few sticks and mud, and build their nest, rear their young, and then away? You are fearfully and wonderfully made! Surely you were made for some more noble and exalted end!
The new atheism has been in the picture for about 15 years now. It came on the scene thanks to books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, among others. There truly is nothing new in the atheistic belief system itself or the arguments they are presenting, since most of them are naturalists, what seems to be new, is that these preachers of atheism have become much more dogmatic in their stance. Many of them are even preaching doom and gloom if we do not eradicate religion and belief in God. Many of them claim that they only want to know the truth instead of buying into myths and fairy tales, and that this is what everyone ought to be doing.
The idea that everyone “ought” to be doing this raises a problem. Putting aside the question for a moment of whether or not there is a God; let us look at this claim of “oughtness” from within their naturalistic worldview. As Ravi Zacharias has so aptly pointed out, “wherever one finds “oughtness,” it is always linked together with a believed purpose in life. Purpose and oughtness are inextricably bound.”
What he is getting at is that the only way we can ever say that something is not as it ought to be is if we know its purpose and proper function. For example, the only way anyone can say that a watch is not working correctly is if they know how it is supposed to work in the first place, or in other words, what it was designed to do. If the watch has no purpose or proper function assigned to it, then there is no way to say that it is functioning incorrectly.
This logical conundrum, however, is precisely the naturalist’s problem. Since naturalism cannot account for mankind’s purpose or proper function, it has no way of saying how it ought to act. Within the naturalistic worldview, mankind was not designed for any specific purpose; we are the product of a “blind watchmaker” which has no purpose in what it is doing. This lack of purpose makes any real statement of what ought to be absolutely groundless.
The new atheist, with their strong focus on reason and being logical, seem to be making a blind leap of faith from a purposeless creation to what they think ought to be. Without design, you can never get from what is, to what ought to be.
Repentance is the tear of love, dropping from the eye of faith, when it fixes on Christ Crucified.
Repentance begins in the humiliation of the heart, and ends in the reformation of the heart and of the life. Sincere repentance is never too late, but late repentance is seldom sincere. The thief on the cross repented, and was pardoned in the last hour of his life. We have one such instance in scripture–that none might despair; and only one–that none might presume.
Still, however, the probability that apparent repentance which comes at a dying hour will be genuine, is very small. The following fact will furnish an affecting illustration of this sentiment, and a solemn warning against the too common delusion of deferring the work of repentance to a dying bed:
The faithful and laborious clergyman of a very large and populous parish had been accustomed, for a long series of years, to preserve notes of his visits to the afflicted, with remarks on the outcome of their affliction, whether life or death, and of the subsequent conduct of those who recovered.
He stated, that, during forty years, he had visited more than two thousand people apparently drawing near to death, and who revealed such signs of penitence as would have led him to indulge a good hope of their eternal safety if they had died at that moment.
When they were restored to life and health–he eagerly watched if they should bring forth fruits fit for repentance. But alas! of the some two thousand death-bed professions, only two people manifested an abiding and saving change! The rest, when the terrors of eternity ceased to be in immediate prospect, forgot their pious impressions and their solemn vows, and returned with new avidity to their former worldly-mindedness and sinful pursuits.
-Gorham Abbott, 1833
“Forgodly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death!” 2 Corinthians 7:10
“Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them.” Luke 22:24
We see in this passage how firmly pride and love of preeminence can stick to the hearts of Christian men. The strife was one which had been rebuked by our Lord on a former occasion. The Lord’s Supper which the disciples had just been receiving, and the circumstances under which they were assembled–made the strife particularly inappropriate.
And yet at this very season, the last quiet time they could spend with their Master before His death, this little flock begins to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest!
Such is the heart of man–ever weak, ever prideful, ever ready, even at its best times, to turn aside to what is evil!
The sin before us is a very old one. Ambition, self-esteem, and self-conceit–lie deep at the bottom of all men’s hearts, and often in the hearts where they are least suspected! Thousands imagine that they are humble, who cannot bear to see an equal more honored and favored than themselves. Few indeed can be found who rejoice heartily in another’s promotion over themselves.
If we make any profession of serving Christ, then let us live on our guard against this great evil. The harm that it has done to the Church of Christ, is far beyond calculation. Let us learn to take pleasure in the prosperity of others, and to be content with the lowest place for ourselves. The rule given to the Philippians should be often before our eyes, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” The example of John the Baptist is a bright instance of the spirit at which we should aim. He said of our Lord, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”