D. Scott Meadows
The Church, Christ’s beloved bride, will someday be gloriously beautiful, wholly without spot, wrinkle, or blemish, and absolutely perfect (Eph 5.27). In this life, however, she is seriously in need of a makeover! John Newton wrote this letter as a mirror for self-examination. He uses Latin names for seven fictitious and flawed characters as a literary device to help us remember them. I have added further descriptors, not necessarily definitions, for clarity.
1. “Whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report— think on these things” (Phil 4.8). Christians are blameworthy in ways that may not seem sinful at first, but are truly inconsistent with the high standard to which Scripture calls us, even in seemingly little things. These blemishes diminish our good influence and hurt our reputation. I think the best way to clarify my particular concerns is by portraying typical characters in which you might be able to see yourself.
2. AUSTERUS (harsh) is a solid Christian in his walk with the Lord except that he overlooks one thing in his Bible study and spiritual concerns about himself—the command to be courteous. He tends to be harsh with people, not meek and gentle like those more closely resembling Jesus. This man’s closest friends know that, though he is difficult sometimes, he really is a humble man, but those less well-acquainted consider him proud, dogmatic, and self-important, because that is so often how he comes across.
3. HUMANUS (chatterer) is easy to praise for his warmth and generosity. His heart burns with love for Jesus and all who love Him. Still, he has one glaring fault. He lacks discretion and repeats things inappropriately. You could trust him with a million dollars but not with a secret. He blurts it out before even realizing it himself. Also, in the little things of everyday life, his word is unreliable, though he does not mean to mislead anyone. He might unburden his heart to a friend but his friend dare not do the same, because it would be like broadcasting it to the world.
4. PRUDENS (penny-pinching) is naturally frugal but not without love. He helps people in practical ways behind the scenes and he would not willingly hurt anyone, but still, he is so determined to avoid any unnecessary expense both for himself or in business deals that it really does hurt his testimony as a Christian. He dresses like a pauper and spends as little as possible just to get by, though he could easily afford much better. He is not a miser, though he gives that impression. His fault makes him look like someone in the grip of money-love, a root of all kinds of evil (1 Tim 6.10).
5. VOLATILIS (undependable) keeps his promises that he considers important like helping someone in serious need. But he is so poor at time-management, he is always in a hurry, always too late, and he often realizes he cannot fulfill his rashly-made commitments, for he would have to be in two or three places at the same time. Still, he keeps bungling his schedule. Now nobody expects him until they see him. This lack of punctuality has infected his whole life, both at home and away. He keeps making excuses for himself, for example, by saying certain missed appointments were no big deal. He ought to remember that truth is a sacred thing, and a man’s word should be his bond. Rarely there might be unforeseen and unavoidable hindrances, but to fail repeatedly on account of trifles has really hurt his reputation and gives unbelievers an excuse not to take his religion seriously.
6. CESSATOR (sluggish) gives attention to spiritual reading, praying, hearing sermons, and religious conversation, but he greatly neglects his other duties. He has too narrow a view, really a defective one, of his calling as a Christian. Church attendance is not an excuse to be exempt from engagement with this world, but is intended to instruct us in this, and to strengthen and qualify us for it. His affairs are in disorder and his wife and children probably suffer on account of his laziness. He illustrates the slur that one may be so heavenly-minded as to be no earthly good. The apostle wrote of such sluggards, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3.10).
7. CURIOUSUS (nosy) is a sincere Christian who knows God’s grace in truth, but he pries into everyone’s personal affairs. He is forward to ask impertinent questions of a private nature. He pummels people with one question after another. Is it any wonder that everyone is on guard around him and even avoids him if possible? Those who think best of him are amazed he seems to have nothing better to occupy his thoughts than all these details about other people’s lives. He largely gets away with it because they are polite to him.
8. QUERULUS (complaining) is a self-appointed critic of politicians, even though he has no responsibilities in civic affairs. Our national concerns are no more affected by his protests than the heavenly bodies are by the disputes of astronomers! His main source of information is the unreliable media, yet he fancies himself a competent judge of very complex matters of public policy and governance. This is especially troubling in a professing Christian, because it is to embrace the perspective of ungodly agitators who disbelieve that the LORD reigns. If Providence places a Christian in public service, he should be faithful to his calling and strive to transmit our privileges to posterity, but Querulus should let the dead bury their dead. There are enough people for politicking who do not know how to do anything more useful. Our Lord’s kingdom is not of this world. Most Christians would do more real good by praying for our country than by griping about things they have no power to change. If some had to live in other countries for a while, they would appreciate more how good we have it here. This man’s misguided zeal embitters his spirit, distracts his attention, and diminishes his gratitude.
9. More examples come to mind, but these are enough for now. Signed, JN.
The Lord help us apply these convicting counsels to ourselves. Ω