HAIL & FIRE - a resource for Reformed and Gospel Theology in the works, exhortations, prayers, and apologetics of those who have maintained the Gospel and expounded upon the Scripture as the Eternal Word of God and the sole authority in Christian doctrine.
"Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Psa 119:105 KJV
"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." 2 Tim 3:16-17 KJV
"These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Acts 17:11 NKJV
"The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward." Psa 19:7-11 KJV
"For the Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Heb 4:12 KJV
"Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" Eph 6:17 KJV
"But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted." Mat 23:8-12 KJV
You shall all be taught of God: "Read the Scriptures as profitable Scriptures with the intention to profit. If you do not read with such a purpose, you read not the Scriptures of God, they become as another book unto you. ... But what are they profitable for? For doctrine, and a divine doctrine, a doctrine of life and happiness. It is the great promise of the new covenant, 'You shall be all taught of God.' The Scriptures can make a man learned and wise, learned to salvation, it is foolishness to the world, 'but the world through wisdom knew not God.' Alas! What then do they know? Is there any besides God? And is there any knowledge besides the knowledge of God? ... The doctrine of Jesus Christ written on the heart is a deep profound learning and the poor, simple, rudest people may, by the Spiritís teaching, become wiser than their ancients and than their ministers. Oh, it is an excellent point of learning, to know how to be saved. ... If you would seek unto God and seek eyes opened to behold the mystery of the word, you would become wiser than your pastors, you would learn from the Spirit to pray better, you would find the way to heaven better than they can teach you or walk in it."
Hugh Binning, "The Common Principles of the Christian Religion"
"An awakened mind that thirsts after the Saviour, and seeks wisdom by reading and praying over the Scripture, has little occasion [necessity] for a library of human writings. The Bible is the fountain from whence every stream that deserves our notice is drawn ... we have personally an equal right with others to apply immediately to the fountain-head, and draw the water of life for ourselves. The purest streams are not wholly freed from the gout de terrior, - a twang of the soil through which they run; a mixture of human infirmity is inseparable from the best human composition; but in the fountain the truth is unmixed."
John Newton, QUOTES
HOME > Exhortations > To a Student in Divinity by John Newton (a letter) - an excerpt from "The Works of the Rev. John Newton"
To a Student in Divinity
"Extract of a Letter to a Student in Divinity," an excerpt from:
"The Works of the Rev. John Newton"
by John Newton
Though I am no enemy to the acquisition of useful knowledge, I have seen many instances of young men who have been much hurt by what they expected to reap advantage from. They have gone to the academy humble, peaceable, spiritual, and lively; but have come out self-wise, dogmatical, censorious, and full of a prudence founded upon the false maxims of the world. I have been ready to address them with that line of Milton:
'If thou art he - But ah! how fall'n.'
I do not mention this as the necessary fault of the institution, but as the frequent effect of notions too hastily picked up, when not sanctified by grace, nor balanced by a proportionable depth of spiritual experience. I am, therefore, glad to hear, that notwithstanding the advantages you have had in the pursuit of your studies,
It seems to me a point of more curiosity than use, to inquire too nicely into the modus of the Holy Spirit's assistance in the composure and delivery of sermons. If we cannot exactly state the boundaries between what we may deem the result of our own thoughts, and the needful influence of the Holy Spirit, it seems a safe way to give him the honour of the whole, and to attribute nothing to ourselves but our infirmities. If we have a capacity, means for improvement, diligence to make use of those means, and if that diligence is attended with any degree of success; may we not acknowledge, that the former links of this chain are the effect of his goodness and favour no less than the latter?
To the question, How far is it lawful to expect this assistance? I answer, It is lawful very far, even to lay the whole stress upon it, so as to be firmly persuaded that we can neither meditate or speak to purpose without it; that if we have not this assistance, whatever else we have, or may think we have, we shall but 'darken counsel by words without knowledge.' For this, I think, I have warrant in John xv. 5. If any person supposes he has so far mastered a system of divinity, that though he can indeed do better with the Spirit's assistance, yet he can make a tolerable shift without it, I envy him not this attainment.
But if the question intends, How far a dependence upon the Holy Spirit may lawfully supersede the use of means? I answer, Not in the least. The blessing and the means are so closely united that they cannot be separated. The blessing may be surely expected if diligently sought in the use of proper means, and we have no just reason to expect it without them. But to clear up the whole, let it be considered what may deserve the name of diligence in this matter? and what are the proper means?
By diligence, I understand Spiritual diligence. Such an active, improving, industrious habit, as is peculiar to a heart impressed with some real abiding sense of the love of God, the worth of souls, the shortness of time, and the importance of eternity. Without this turn of mind, though a man should spend sixteen hours every day in his study, he may be a mere trifler. The greatest part of his application
The chief means for attaining wisdom, and suitable gifts for the ministry, are the Holy Scriptures, and prayer. The one is the fountain of living water, the other the bucket with which we are to draw. And I believe you will find, by observation, that the man who is most frequent and fervent in prayer, and most devoted to the word of God, will shine and flourish above his fellows. Next to these, and derived from them, is meditation. By this, I do not mean a stated exercise upon some one particular subject, so much as a disposition of mind to observe carefully what passes within us and around us; what we see, hear, and feel; and to apply all for the illustration and confirmation of the written word to us. In the use of these means, and an humble dependence upon the Lord in all the changing dispensations we pass through, our spiritual experience will enlarge: and this experience is the proper fund of our ministerial capacity, so far as it may be considered inherent in us: Prov. xvi. 23. - Matth. xiii. 52. - 1 John i. 3.
These means are of universal importance. The wisest can do nothing without them: the weakest shall not use them in vain. There are likewise subordinate means, which may be helpful, and should in general be attended to. Yet they ought not, I apprehend, to be considered as a sine qua non in a minister's call and fitness. The first preachers had them not, and some in the present day are enabled to do well without them. Under this head, I principally intend all that comes under the usual denomination of literature. A competent acquaintance with the learned languages, history, natural philosophy, &c. is very desirable. If these things are held in a proper subserviency, if they do not engross too much of our time, nor add fuel to the fire of that self-importance which is our great snare, they may contribute to increase and enlarge our ideas, and facilitate our expressing ourselves with propriety. But these attainments (like riches) are attended with peculiar temptations; and unless they are under the regulation of a sound judgment, and a spiritual frame of mind, will prove (like Saul's armour to David) rather cumbersome than useful in preaching. The sermons of preachers thus qualified are often more ingenious than edifying, and rather set off the man, than commend the Gospel of Christ.
As you desire my advice with respect to your future studies, I shall comply without hesitation or ceremony.
The original Scriptures well deserve your pains, and will richly repay them. There is doubtless a beauty, fulness, and spirit, in the originals, which the best translations do not always express. When a word or phrase admits of various senses, the translators can only preserve one; and it is not to be supposed, unless they were perfectly under the influence of the same infallible Spirit, that they should always prefer the best. Only be upon your guard,
Another thing which will much assist you in composing and speaking properly and acceptably, is logic. This will teach you what properly belongs to your subject, and what may be best suppressed; and likewise to explain, divide, enumerate, and range your ideas to advantage. A lax, immethodical, disproportionate manner is to be avoided. Yet beware of the contrary extreme. An affected starchness and over accuracy will fetter you, will make your discourses lean and dry, preclude an useful variety, and savour more of the school-lamp, than of that heavenly fire which alone can make our meditations efficacious and profitable either to ourselves or our hearers. The proper medium can hardly be taught by rule; experience, observation, and prayer, are the best guides.
As your inquiry seems chiefly to be, How to fill up your outlines; I would advise you to study the living as well as the dead, or rather more. Converse much with experienced Christians and exercised souls. You will find advantage in this respect, not only from the wise, but from the weak of the flock. In the course of your acquaintance, you will meet with some in a backsliding state, some under temptations, some walking in darkness, others rejoicing in the light, &c. Observe how their spirits work, what they say, and how they reason
The tempted and distressed will be most probably relieved by opening the various states and exercises of the heart, and by showing, from scriptural and other examples, that no new thing has befallen them. The careless and backsliders, who have made a profession, should be reminded of that blessedness they once spoke of, and warned of their danger. Those who are now upon the mount should be cautioned to expect a change, and to guard against security and spiritual pride. To the dead in trespasses and sins, (some such will be always present,) it is needful to preach the spirituality and sanction of the law, that they may be stirred up to seek to Jesus. Of him all awakened souls love to hear much. Let him, therefore, be your capital subject. If you discuss some less essential topic, or bend all your strength to clear up some dark text, though you should display much learning and ingenuity, you will probably fall short of your main design, which I dare say will be to promote the glory of God, and the good of souls.
You will likewise find advantage by attending, as much as you can, on those preachers whom God has blessed with much power, life, and success in their ministry. And in this you will do well not to confine yourself to any denomination or party, for the Spirit of the Lord is not confined. Different men have different gifts and talents. I would not wish you to be a slavish admirer of any man. Christ alone is our master and teacher. But study the excellencies of each; and if you observe a fault in any, (for no human models are perfect,) you will see what you are yourself to avoid.
Your inquiries respecting my own experience on this subject must be answered very briefly. I have long since learnt, that if I was ever to be a minister, faith and prayer must make me one. I desire to seek the Lord's direction both in the choice and management of subjects; but I do not expect it in a way of extraordinary impulse, but in endeavouring to avail myself, to the best of my judgment, of present circumstances. The converse I have with my people usually suggests what I am to preach to them. At first my chief solicitude used to be, what I should find to say: I hope it is now, rather, that I may not speak in vain. For the Lord has sent me here, not to acquire the character of a ready speaker, but to win souls to Christ, and to edify his people. As to preparation, I make little use of books, excepting the Bible and Concordance. Though I preach without notes, I most frequently write more or less upon the subject. Often when I begin, I am at a loss how I shall proceed; but one thing insensibly offers after another, and, in general, I believe the best and most useful parts of my sermon occur de novo while I am preaching. This reminds me of Luther's maxim, Bene precasse est bene studuisse. When I can find my heart in frame and liberty for prayer, every thing else is comparatively easy.
I should be very glad if any thing I have offered may afford you satisfaction. The sum of my advice is this: Examine your heart and views. Can you appeal to him who knows all things, concerning the sincerity of your aim, that you devote yourself to the work of the ministry, not for worldly regards, but with an humble desire to promote the Redeemer's kingdom? If so, and his providence has thus far concurred with you, trust him for your sufficiency of every kind, and he will not disappoint you, but will be near, to strengthen you according to your day. Depend not upon any cisterns you can hew out for yourself, but rejoice that you have liberty to come to the fountain that is always full, and always flowing. You must not expect a mechanical sufficiency, such as artificers acquire by habit and exercise in their business. When you have preached well nineteen times, this will be no security for the twentieth. Yea, when you have been upheld for twenty years, should the Lord withhold his hand, you would be as much at a loss as at first.
If you lean upon books or men, or upon your own faculties and attainments, you will be in fear and in danger of falling continually. But if you stay yourself upon the Lord, he will not only make good your expectations, but in time will give you a becoming confidence in his goodness, and free you from your present anxiety.
One thing more I must mention as belonging to the subject; That a comfortable freedom for public service depends much upon the spirituality of our walk before God and man. Wisdom will not dwell with a trifling, an assuming, a censorious, or a worldly spirit. But if it is our business, and our pleasure, to contemplate Jesus, and to walk in his steps, he will bless us, we shall be like trees planted by a constant stream, and he will prosper the work of our hands.
John Newton, an excerpted letter from "The Works of the Rev. John Newton"
"The Holy scriptures ... are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" 2 Tim 3:15-17 KJV