Why these inward trials, Lord? Why not instantly subdue my sin with the mighty wave of Your hand? Why not deal softly with my treasured designs for a safe and secure life? Why not allow your child even a bit of self-indulgence or self-bolstering pride?
Ah. Because You are resolute. You are determined. You are for me. For my good.
And You know that satiation of my desire for the worship of myself — by an attained level of approval and success I deem appropriate, or the degree of power or control I crave for myself — would mean the death of my worship of You.
For I don’t need You if I worship me.
And that would deaden my soul.
You plan better.
You created me to know deep and abiding joy as I bask in your steadfast love. And because You want me to know that greater joy, You employ inward trials. They set me free from my determination to find earthly joy apart from You.
Thank you for John Newton’s tough and beautiful reminder of this life-giving truth:
I asked the Lord, that I might grow in faith, and love, and every grace; might more of His salvation know, and seek more earnestly His face.
I hoped that in some favored hour at once He’d answer my request, and by His Love’s constraining power subdue my sins, and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart; and let the angry powers of hell assault my soul in every part.
Yea more, with His own hand He seemed intent to aggravate my woe; crossed all the fair designs I schemed, blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
‘Lord, why is this?’ I trembling cried, ‘Wilt thou pursue Thy worm to death?’ ‘Tis in this way,’ the Lord replied, ‘I answer prayers for grace and faith.
These inward trials I employ from self and pride to set thee free; and break thy schemes of earthly joy, that thou may’st seek thy all in Me.’
(John Newton, 1725-1807)
If you were to wander past the old stone wall and ivy covered steeple into the churchyard in Olney, England, John Newton’s tombstone, inscribed with words he himself wrote, still stands for you to read:
“John Newton, once an Infidel and Libertine, a Servant of Slaves in Africa, was, by the Rich Mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.”
Newton didn’t want attention drawn to his famous hymns, or powerful preaching, or influence in the abolition of slavery, but instead to his life as a libertine and once degrading status as a slave in the home of African slave traders. Why?
Because for Newton, the rich mercy and amazing grace of His Lord were what mattered as he looked back on his life. God had pulled him from the depths. God had then worked circumstances to set him free from his own self-sufficiency and self-important pride.
And Newton understood that these circumstances, even if painful and a thwarting of his own pleasant designs of what he’d have chosen for himself, were given by a Father who cared too resolutely for him to leave him content with his own lesser-than schemes of earthly joy.
John Newton’s eloquent words lead me, trembling, to this simple phrase:
O Father, do the same for me.