One common struggle I see in believers, particularly believers of the North American kind, is in regards to the appreciation and enjoyment of earthly things. How should believers engage with entertainment? What should be our heart posture in regards to a brand new SUV with all the creature comforts one could imagine? How should we think about all-you-can-eat buffets and Costco-sized grocery portions? These are the sorts of things we wrestle with. You might call them first-world problems, but in fact, the proper perspective on worldly comforts is something that every believer in every context needs to think about.
That being said, John Newton’s writings help me in regards to thinking about such things. For instance, in a letter to his wife that I read this morning Newton writes, “religion alone can teach us, how to use the good things of this world without abusing them; and to make our earthly comforts blessings indeed, by improving them to a farther view; by tracing them, as streams to their fountain; by extending our views, from time to eternity; and making our mutual affection [the Newtons’ mutual earthly love for each other] a means of raising our desires to the great Lord of all.”
I love the phrase about our earthly comforts which indicates we should be “improving them to a farther view.” That is what we need to do with the things of this world which are good gifts from the Father. We need to improve them by always letting them take us to a farther, higher, more grandiose view; a view of the Father of lights from whom every good and perfect gift comes.
This letter, which I read this morning, does not represent the first time I have heard this. C. S. Lewis famously speaks about taking creature comforts and employing them to lead us into worship in these lines: “Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.”
To Newton’s idea of improving these earthly gifts “to a farther view,” Lewis adds his looking “back up the sunbeam” to follow it back to its source. Further, I recall pastor Matt Chandler exhorting believers in his book Explicit Gospel with this: “We worship God when, while we partake of his good gifts, something occurs in the deepest parts of or soul that forbids glory terminating on the gift itself or on our enjoyment of it but that runs deeper into and extends out to the Giver.” Again, the same idea. We ought not to let things terminate on themselves; they are just things. We should see that these things are gifts and are therefore an extension of the Giver and worship him as such.
There are other people who speak to these things, and speak to them well. And despite the number of times God has taught me through his Word and through the legacy of godly teachers he has given the church, I still needed to hear Newton’s reminder today. The Works of John Newton are not Scripture, but they are another good gift that I can use to improve my current view to an even farther view in which I see my good and merciful God once again being good and merciful to me.