The Care and Feeding of the Born-Again Heart: In Remembrance of Our Spiritual Forebears
Our “Principle from a Puritan Forbearer” for today’s feast of the heart at The Training Table is John Newton’s, Conviction of Sin: An Awakening.
“What is most personal is most universal.” (Soren Kierkegaard)
In celebration of the 30th anniversary of my own personal realization of my own hard-heartedness, my own Sin [by Adam], my own sinning [by habit], my own awakening, and my own conversion in October 1983, I’m trusting this missive will universally resonate with many others as well!!
Before I offer my own personal testimony of Conviction of Sin: An Awakening please carefully read John Newton’s offering below. Newton had recently received a letter from a friend that provided some amount of detail about the depth and breadth of the nature of Sin as well as his own personal sin. As I have implored of your patience in previous Puritan quotes, please work through the antiquated language to glean the full measure of what’s being said. It’s very much worth your while.
August 14, 1770
“My Dear Sir,
Your letter did me good when I received it… I know not that I ever had those awful views of sin which you speak of. And though, I believe, I should be better for them, I dare not seriously wish for them. There is a petition which I have heard in public prayer, Lord, show us the evil of our hearts (Psalms 51, 139).
To this petition I cannot venture to set my ‘Amen’, at least, not without a qualification: Show me enough of Thyself to balance the view, and then show me what Thou pleaseth. I think I have a very clear and strong conviction, in my judgment, that I am vile and worthless, that my heart is full of evil, only evil, and that continually. (Genesis 6:5)
I know something of it, too, experimentally; and, therefore, judging of the whole by the sample, though I am not suitably affected with what I do see, I tremble at the thought of seeing more: A man may look with some pleasure upon the sea in a storm, provided he stands safe upon the land himself, but to be upon the sea in a storm is quite another thing.
And yet, surely, the coldness, worldliness, pride, and twenty other evils under which I groan, owe much of their strength to the want of that feeling a sense of my own abominations with which you have been favoured: I say, favoured; for I doubt not but the Lord gave it you in mercy, and that it has proved, and will prove, a mercy to you, to make you more humble, spiritual, and dependent, as well as to increase your ability for preaching the Gospel of His grace.
For I often seem to know what the Scripture teaches—both of sin and of grace—as if I knew them not: So faint and languid are my perceptions of both, that I often seem to think and tell of sin without any sorrow… and of God’s grace without any joy.” (Emphasis added.)
Carefully consider: When we take too lightly the depth of our sin and the heights of God’s grace, “…I often seem to think and tell of sin without any sorrow, and of God’s grace without any joy.”
PLEASE NOTE: To the depth we will know well our own heart’s Conviction of Sin we will also know well and better An Awakening of the heights of God’s grace and manifold mercies in Christ!
So, if we insist on staying in state of knowing LITTLE of the depths and darkness of our Conviction of Sin, then we will absolutely know LITTLE of An Awakening about the heights and light of God’s manifold mercies in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.
Period: You can bank on this axiom as being truer than true: Even as verifiable Christians if we are purposeful in our denial of the reality of Sin and sinning, we will be dull in word and deed in our passions about the mercies of God (Revelation 3:16; Hebrews 5:12; Deuteronomy 6:5).
The Story of My Conviction of Sin, Awakening, and Conversion (as quoted from The Weeping, the Window, the Way)
[As a result of my early life filled with heart-wounding criticism, shame and anonymity… ] “The void in my heart created an insatiable hunger for affirmation, for a sense of self-worth that extended beyond my poor circumstances. I desired to be seen as the unique, valuable, and valued the person I was, rather than a means of fulfilling another’s dreams or as a potential embarrassment when I faltered. I yearned to find an alternative to the lifestyle I was living—a lifestyle of ferocious acting out, of exploiting power, of using/abusing others, and manipulating reality.”
The Rock of My Salvation
“Not instantaneously, but gradually God himself ended the hiding and hardening. He began the process of draining away the hideous strength of my shame. And the journey began quite abruptly.
I was thirty-one years old and had arranged to meet my girlfriend Christy in Paris after I completed a solo bike tour around most of Scotland’s coastline. We traveled together for a while until we reached a tiny town in the Dordogne Valley in southwestern France. There, she had finally had enough of my neediness and decided to take the rest of the trip with a friend.
I was alone. God had me exactly where he wanted me. I couldn’t speak the language. I couldn’t go home—my scheduled flight out of the UK was three days away. I had nowhere to go and no one with whom to be. My relationship with my girlfriend (and a deeply-seated idol) had been yanked so quickly out of its place of ascendancy within my heart you could almost hear the sucking sound as the void was replaced with a vacuum of darkness and nothingness.
As I looked inside my heart in a real way, and for the first time in my life, I was utterly terrified of the void and darkness I saw there. I sat near a fountain in the center of the village square, weeping and rocking back and forth. I felt paralyzed with fear and unable to see how I might ever move from this place. At that moment, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said something in French.
I looked up into the eyes of a comforter sent by God: a Roman Catholic priest. Father Steven, a total stranger, spoke only fragmented English. But I understood his invitation to come with him to morning Mass and then to breakfast with a close friend of his in the tiny village.
My brokenness, coupled with this simple invitation of hospitality and the opportunity to worship, began God’s softening process within my heart.
How ironic that God chose to use a representative from the church of my family, childhood, and religious woundedness to begin a process that eventually climaxed in the unashamed confession of my sins and the experience of a deep and lasting fellowship with Jesus Christ, the Rock of My Salvation.
Though I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I will always thank “the God of greatest irony” for sending Father Steven to me at the exact right time, to befriend me, to ease my despair in that moment, and to set me on the path of hope and eventual healing.
A Dramatic Change of Heart
Back in Aspen where I was living at the time, after I had become a baby Christian, I took the stone I had found twenty years earlier out of its storage place. Immediately I saw the shape inside as a cross. Later, as I spoke to my sisters on separate occasions, each of them reminded me we had called the shape in the stone a “window.” I had completely forgotten that fact. It dumbfounded me at first. How could something be so obvious at one point in my life and so completely different at another?
I believe there is only one answer: I was different. I had changed in a very fundamental and dramatic way. God had a very special plan for my story. The cross that as a child I had never seen in my heart of stone had been revealed to me as my stony heart was broken and remade again.
What do you see in the stone—and the story of its origins? Your answers might well depend on how well you know God’s redemptive plan, the details of your unique life story, and the true nature of your own heart right now .
[Conviction of Sin: An Awakening]
God deeply desires to have his people know their own hearts and to trust him to transform them—with our cooperation. He has personally put in place a process for doing so that is not hidden, mysterious, or “meritorious”—do it well and then God will love you. He wants to remove our hearts of stone, and give us hearts of flesh. Not just once at conversion, but again and again as we become more Christ-like over time.
At the core of my being, I now believe that God accompanied me at every moment throughout my childhood of hiding and hardening. He was my loving companion at the creek, under the steps, and in my darkest places, even though I was never consciously aware of his presence. I believe the stone I found and cracked open was a miraculous gift from my heavenly Father. God gave me the gift of a window into my heart which revealed something very special inside: a lovable, unspeakably valuable, and treasured little boy of inestimable worth.
As God might have it, my heart would be so miraculously re-created that it would result in my “having a heart for the heart of the heart” that exists within the heart of everyone—but especially those God has placed within the reach of my concern or influence. Today my story continues to unfold as a key part of God’s own story, the story of his glory and blessings to mankind. I have a unique place in it. And so do you!
At an early place in my life’s journey, God gave me the unmerited and grace-filled gift of the cross. He showed me how my heart would look after he had watered the seeds of hope he had planted there. It would take twenty years and more before that image would become reality for the ten year-old fifth grader who found that rock and cracked it open. During those twenty years, my heart would be hardened, broken apart, redeemed, and born again.
The plan of God the Father, the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ on the cross, and the person and power of the Holy Spirit would make this all possible. God would send friends to me, some of his faithful followers, to love me out of the pit of darkness and deep despair, and rescue me from difficult and life-changing times. Just like the Psalmist said: He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand (Psalm 40:2).
By God’s grace and divine design, when I returned home to Aspen from the trip abroad, John Russell, Carl Yarbrough, and Father Tom Dentisi rescued me by showing the unconditional love of Jesus, the Sin and sinning I needed to repent of, and the bible… none of which I had never experienced before.” (John Dozier, WWW)
In mid-October, 1983, at my Conviction of Sin and Awakening… My new life in Christ began at age 31.
As I grew up from being a milk-eating spiritual babe, I saw the reality more all the time: “And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…” (Ezekiel 11:18-19—emphasis added).
The Journey from Salvation to Sanctification: Stay on the Extremes of Conviction of Sin and the Daily Awakening of God’s Mercies in Christ!
Do you know full-well of an articulation of a “universal yet personal Gospel” that goes something like this:
“I am more sinful and idolatrous than I could ever dare imagine, and yet, in Christ, I am more loved and cared for than I could ever dare hope for!”
In conversion and salvation, every regenerated, bona fide, born-again Christian gets an insight into this True Gospel Truth: Like me, some see it in very dramatic ways as God plucked out an underlying and driving idol of my hardened heart in order to give me a realistic perspective of what my heart truly consisted of as dark-as-dark, black-as-black, empty-as-empty as could be.
Yet others get a hint, a glimpse, a momentary revelation, sometimes a pattern, a quiet yet disturbing voice of their dark and hardened heart that just won’t let go and slowly grows more obvious and actionable over time.
Dramatic or dimly lit, slowly, over time… Either way, we all should be able to MARK when such a change occurred—and be regularly reminded of where God brought us FROM… to help us see each day… where we’re going TO:
From glory to glory, in God’s Story, as our own very PERSONAL story… Seen each day as a UNIVERSAL Conviction of Sin and Awakening all humankind is in need of!
Lastly, please consider this: If, within your heart-of-heart, you might say to yourself, “Alas, I do not live on the extremes of the Gospel; at best my faith feels lukewarm most days; in reality my heart is cold and dead and there is not a serious desire stirring in it after Christ… Rather, I am mostly filled with the anxieties of yesterday, the worries of tomorrow, with nothing left for “Today…” (Psalm 95:7-8); and the powers of the world, other people’s opinions, the flesh, and the devil are more my daily bread than Christ my savior and Lord…”
Then please join us at The Training Table next week when we will look at an excerpt from John Flavel’s Christ the Desire of All Nations as he provides “Directions 1-8” for going from “cold and dead” to “passionate and alive for Christ”!
“By influence of the Light divine
Let thy own light to others shine.
Reflect all Heaven’s propitious ways
In ardent love, and cheerful praise.”
(Thomas Ken, 1674)