John Newton's Letters

God rules all!

February, 1774
Dear sir,
"I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods. The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. Psalm 135:5-6. God rules all! And though He is concealed by a veil of second causes from common eyes, so that they can perceive only the means, instruments, and contingencies by which he works, and therefore think He does nothing; yet, in reality, He does all, according to His own counsel and pleasure, in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.

Who can enumerate all the beings and events, which are incessantly before His eye, adjusted by His wisdom, dependent on His will, and regulated by His power! If we consider the heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars which He has ordained; if we call in the assistance of astronomers to help us in forming a conception of the number, distances, magnitudes, and motions of the heavenly bodies—the more we search, the more we shall be confirmed, that these are but a small portion of His ways! But He calls them all by their names, upholds them by His power, and without His continual energy upholding them—they would rush into confusion, or sink into nothing!

If we speak of intelligences, He is the life, the joy, the sun of all that are capable of happiness. Whatever may be signified by the thrones, principalities, and powers in the world of light, they are all dependent upon his power, and obedient to his command. It is equally true of angels as of men, that without him they can do nothing. The powers of darkness are likewise under his subjection and control. Though but little is said of them in Scripture, we read enough to assure us that their number must be immensely great, and that their strength, subtlety, and malice are such as we may tremble to think of them as our enemies, and probably should—but for our strange insensibility to whatever does not fall under the cognizance of our outward senses. But he holds them all in a chain, so that they can do or attempt nothing but by his permission; and whatever he permits them to do has its appointed subservience in accomplishing his designs.

To come nearer home, and to speak of what seems more suited to our scanty apprehensions—still we may be lost in wonder. Before this blessed and only Potentate, all the nations of the earth are but as the dust upon the balance, and the small drop of a bucket, and might be thought (if compared with the immensity of his works) scarcely worthy of his notice! Yet here he presides, pervades, provides, protects, and rules. In him his creatures live, move, and have their being. From him is their food and preservation. The eyes of all are upon him—what he gives they gather, and can gather no more! And at his word they sink into the dust! There is not a worm which crawls upon the ground, or a flower which grows in the pathless wilderness, or a shell upon the sea-shore—but bears the impress of his wisdom, power, and goodness.

With respect to men, he reigns with uncontrolled dominion over every kingdom, family, and individual. Here we may be astonished at his wisdom in employing free agents, the greater part of whom are his enemies, to accomplish his purposes! But, however reluctant, they all serve him. His patience likewise is wonderful. Multitudes, yes, nearly our whole species, spend the life and strength which he affords them, and abuse all the bounties he heaps upon them—in the ways of sin! His commands are disregarded, his name blasphemed, his mercy disdained, his power defied—yet still he spares! It is an eminent part of his government, to restrain the depravity of human nature, and in various ways to check its effects, which, if left to itself, without his providential control, would presently make earth the very image of hell—for the vilest men are not allowed to perpetrate a thousandth part of the evil which their hearts would prompt them to. The earth, though lying in the wicked one, is filled with the goodness of the Lord. He preserves man and beast, sustains the young lion in the forest, feeds the birds of the air, which have neither storehouse or barn, and adorns the insects and the flowers of the field with a beauty and elegance beyond all that can be found in the courts of kings!

Still more wonderful, is Christ's administration in His kingdom of grace! He is present with all His creatures—but in a special manner with His own people. Each of these are monuments of a more illustrious display of power, than that which spread abroad the heavens like a curtain, and laid the foundations of the earth. For He finds them all in a state of rebellion and enmity—and makes them His willing people! From the moment that He reveals is love to them—He espouses their cause, and takes all their concerns into His own hands. He is near and attentive to every one of them—as if there was only that one!

This high and lofty One, who inhabits eternity, before whom the angels veil their faces—condescends to hold communion with those whom men despise. He passes by the kings and the princes, to manifest Himself to an humble soul in a mud-walled cottage! He comforts them when in trouble, strengthens them when weak, makes their beds in sickness, revives them when fainting, upholds them when falling, and so seasonably and effectually manages for them, that, though they are persecuted and tempted, though their enemies are many and mighty—nothing is able to separate them from His love!

And all this he does alone. All the abilities, powers, and instincts, which are found among creatures, are emanations from his fullness. All changes, successes, disappointments—all that is memorable in the annals of history, all the rising and falls of empires, all the turns in human life—take place according to his plan. In vain men contrive and combine to accomplish their own counsels, unless they are parts of his counsel likewise! The efforts of their utmost strength and wisdom are crossed and reversed, by the feeblest and most unthought-of circumstances. But when he has a work to accomplish, and his time has come, however inadequate and weak the means he employs may seem to a carnal eye—the success is infallibly secured. For all things serve him, and are in his hands as clay in the hands of the potter. Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God Almighty! just and true are your ways, O King of saints!

This is the God whom we adore! This is he who invites us to lean upon his almighty arm, and promises to guide us with his unerring eye! He says to all of his children, "Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine! When you go through deep waters and great trouble—I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty—you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression—you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!" Isaiah 43:1-3.

Therefore, while in the path of duty, and following his call, we may cheerfully pass on, regardless of apparent difficulties; for the Lord, whose we are, and who has taught us make his glory our highest end, will go before us, and at his word crooked things become straight, light shines out of darkness, and mountains sink into plains! Faith may and must be exercised; experience must and will confirm what his word declares, that the heart is deceitful, and that man in his best estate is vanity! But his promises to those who fear him, shall be confirmed likewise, and they shall find him, in all situations, to be our sun, shield, and exceeding great reward.

I have lost another of my people; a mother in our Israel; a person of much experience, eminent grace, wisdom, and usefulness. She walked with God forty years. She was one of the Lord's poor; but her poverty was decent, sanctified, and honorable. She lived respected, and her death is considered as a public loss. It is a great loss to me: I shall miss her advice and example, by which I have been often edified and animated. But Jesus still lives. Almost her last words were, "The Lord is my portion, says my soul."