On the very first Sunday of 1773, John Newton, the well-known evangelist and hymn writer, presented a sermon to his Olney congregation with the new year in mind. His message was based on the scripture from 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 which highlighted the deep spiritual reflection of King David when he prayed, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?”
To further emphasize this reflection of God’s grace in one’s life, Newton composed a poem set to music titled “Faith’s Review and Expectation” which was to be sung as an accompaniment to his new year’s message. This hymn would later be known as Amazing Grace.
It was no doubt Newton’s hope that his lyrics would focus the congregation’s attention and set their hearts on the blessings of God’s grace in bringing them to Jesus Christ for salvation, both now and forever. Little did he know, however, the impact and popularity it would soon have on audiences through the coming centuries.
“Rend your heart, and not your garments.” — Joel 2:13
Garment-rending and other outward signs of religious emotion, are easily manifested and are frequently hypocritical; but to feel true repentance is far more difficult, and consequently far less common. Men will attend to the most multiplied and minute ceremonial regulations—for such things are pleasing to the flesh—but true religion is too humbling, too heart-searching, too thorough for the tastes of the carnal men; they prefer something more ostentatious, flimsy, and worldly. Outward observances are temporarily comfortable; eye and ear are pleased; self-conceit is fed, and self-righteousness is puffed up: but they are ultimately delusive, for in the article of death, and at the day of judgment, the soul needs something more substantial than ceremonies and rituals to lean upon. Apart from vital godliness all religion is utterly vain; offered without a sincere heart, every form of worship is a solemn sham and an impudent mockery of the majesty of heaven.
Heart-rending is divinely wrought and solemnly felt. It is a secret grief which is personally experienced, not in mere form, but as a deep, soul-moving work of the Holy Spirit upon the inmost heart of each believer. It is not a matter to be merely talked of and believed in, but keenly and sensitively felt in every living child of the living God. It is powerfully humiliating, and completely sin-purging; but then it is sweetly preparative for those gracious consolations which proud unhumbled spirits are unable to receive; and it is distinctly discriminating, for it belongs to the elect of God, and to them alone.
The text commands us to rend our hearts, but they are naturally hard as marble: how, then, can this be done? We must take them to Calvary: a dying Saviour’s voice rent the rocks once, and it is as powerful now. O blessed Spirit, let us hear the death-cries of Jesus, and our hearts shall be rent even as men rend their vestures in the day of lamentation.
— C.H. Spurgeon, from Morning And Evening
“My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” — Isaiah 46:10
There is one grand idea running through the whole of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation; and this one grand idea runs through every part of the sacred page, and, like a golden band, unites the whole together. What is this one grand thought? God has many thoughts as well as we, for he tells us that “the thoughts of his heart stand to all generations.” But we read also in the same verse of “the counsel of the Lord, which standeth for ever;” and elsewhere of his “working all things after the counsel of his own will” (Psalm 33:11; Eph. 1:11).
Thus in the mind of God, as well as in the mode of his subsistence, there is unity and variety. There is his one thought, and his many thoughts; for though his thoughts are many, his counsel is but one; and this counsel is the exaltation and glorification of his dear Son…
The word of God is a perfect mystery to us, and we see no beauty or harmony in the various books of either the Old Testament or the New until we see the mind of God in it, gather up God’s thoughts, and especially that grand thought which binds the whole together: the exaltation of his dear Son to his own right hand as the promised reward of his sufferings and death, and the glorious result of his resurrection and ascension up to the courts of bliss.
— From J.C. Philpot’s Through Baca’s Vale
The most recent comprehensive survey on the makeup of American spirituality should be deeply concerning to our predominately-Christian nation. According to the Daily Mail and other news outlets, the number of U.S. citizens who now identify as witches or other pagans has exploded to 1.5 million souls—which is more than the membership found in some evangelical denominations:
“A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 0.4 per cent of Americans, between 1 and 1.5 million – identify as Wicca or Pagan. That means there are now more witches in the U.S. than there are Presbyterians (PCUSA) who have around 1.4 million adherents.” – Daily Mail, Nov. 19, 2018
And while this shocking news will be sobering to most devout Christians, one could reasonably speculate for the sake of rhetorical effect that C.S. Lewis, the popular Christian philosopher who had the “deepest respect for Pagan myth” (The Problem of Pain, p.71), might be delighted with these statistics if he were alive today.
Lewis once said that if you’re not going to be a Christian, the next best thing is to be a good Norseman, because “the Norse pagans sided with the good gods…” (The Sign of The Grail by C.J.S. Hayward). He also once dared to slyly suggest, “First let us make the younger generation good pagans and afterwards let us make them Christians” (C.S. Lewis letter from Yours, Jack; p. 219).
Well, guess what, Mr. Lewis: good news! According to the latest Pew study and further research by Trinity College, your hope for the paganization of our children is coming to fruition by leaps and bounds.