To be enabled to form a clear, consistent, and comprehensive judgment of the truths revealed in the Scripture, is a great privilege; but they who possess it are exposed to the temptation of thinking too highly of themselves, and too meanly of others, especially of those who not only refuse to adopt their sentiments, but venture to oppose them. We see few controversial writings, however excellent in other respects, but are tinctured with this spirit of self-superiority; and they who are not called to this service (of writing) if they are attentive to what passes in their hearts, may feel it working within them, upon a thousand occasions; though so far as it prevails, it brings forcibly home to ourselves the charge of ignorance and inconsistence, which we are so ready to fix upon our opponents. I know nothing as a means more likely to correct this evil, than a serious consideration of the amazing difference between our acquired judgment, and our actual experience; or, in other words, how little influence our knowledge and judgment have upon our own conduct. This may confirm to us the truth and propriety of the apostle’s observation, “If any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.” Not that we are bound to be insensible that the Lord has taught us what we were once ignorant of; nor is it possible that we should be so; yet because, if we estimate our knowledge by its effects, and value it no farther than it is experimental and operative (which is the proper standard whereby to try it), we shall find it so faint and feeble as hardly to deserve the name.
How firmly, for instance, are we persuaded, that God Is omnipresent! Great as the difficulties may be which attend our conceptions of this point, the truth itself is controverted by few. It is generally acknowledged by unawakened persons and I may add, too frequently known even by believers, as if they knew it not. If the eyes of the Lord are in every place, how strong a guard should this thought be upon the conduct of those who profess to hear him! We know how we are often affected when in the presence of a fellow-worm; if he is one on whom we depend, or who is considerably our superior in life, how careful we are to compose our behaviour, and to avoid whatever might be deemed [improper or offensive]!
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty likewise, though not so generally owned as the former, is no less fully assented to by those who are called Calvinists. We zealously contend for this point in our debates with the Arminians; and are ready to wonder that any should be hardy enough to dispute the Creator’s right to do what he will with his own. While we are only engaged in defense of the election of grace, and have a comfortable hope that we are ourselves of that number, we seem so convinced, by the arguments the Scripture affords us in support of the truth, that we can hardly forbear charging our adversaries with perverse obstinacy and pride, for opposing it. Undoubtedly the ground of this opposition lies in the pride of the human heart, but this evil principle is not confined to any party: and occasions frequently arise, when they who contend for the divine sovereignty are little more practically influenced by it than their opponents. This humiliating doctrine concludes as strongly for submission to the will of God, under every circumstance of life, as it does for our acquiescing in his purpose to have mercy. But, alas! how often do we find ourselves utterly unable to apply it, so as to reconcile our spirits to those afflictions which he is pleased to allot us. So far as we are enabled to say, when we are exercised with poverty, or heavy losses or crosses, . ‘I was dumb and opened not my mouth, because thou didst it,” so far, and no farther, are we truly convinced, that God has a sovereign right to dispose of us and all our concemments as he pleases. How often, and how justly at such seasons, might the argument we offer to others, as sufficient to silence all their objections, be retorted upon ourselves, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? shall the thing formed say unto him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” A plain proof that our knowledge is more notional than experimental. What an inconsistency, that while we think God is just and righteous in withholding from others the things which pertain to their everlasting peace, we should find it so hard to submit to his dispensations to ourselves in matters of unspeakably less importance!
But the Lord’s appointments, to those who fear him, are not only sovereign, but wise and gracious. He has connected their good with his own glory, and is engaged, by promise, to make all things work together for their advantage. He chooses for his people better than they could choose for themselves; if they are in ‘heaviness, theme is a need-be for it, and he withholds nothing from them but what upon the whole it is better they should be without. Thus the Scriptures teach, and thus we profess to believe. ~ John Newton