I came across this letter recently from John Newton, the converted slave-trader most well-known as the author of “Amazing Grace.” It’s called “Advantages From Remaining Sin,” and is a fascinating explanation of the many ways God uses the remaining sin in the lives of believers. As J. C. Ryle said, “Christ is never fully valued, until sin is clearly seen. We must know the depth and malignity of our disease, in order appreciate the great Physician.”
“The gracious purposes [of this indwelling sin] . . . are manifold. Hereby his own power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love, are more signally displayed: his power, in maintaining his own work in the midst of so much opposition, like a spark burning in the water; his wisdom, in defeating and controlling all the devices which Satan, from his knowledge of the evil of our nature, is encouraged to practise against us.”
“The unchangeableness of the Lord’s love, and the riches of him mercy, are likewise more illustrated by the multiplied pardons he bestows upon his people, than if they needed no forgiveness at all.”
“When, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, wilfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them.”
“In a word, some of the clearest proofs they [Christians] have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness.”
Peter Kreeft has aptly observed that remaining sin can also keep us from pride. Sometimes God lets us stumble in the “smaller sins” (like lust) to keep us from committing the “bigger one,” pride.