John Newton was a spiritual gardener of the heart. Since he was so often a student of his own heart, he knew well how to find the character flaws of others, those “defects that [do] not rise to the level of blatant sins or gross violations of Scripture.” He knew how to treat them. He could both valiantly uproot trees and gently pull out weeds.
In chapter 8 of his book, Newton on the Christian Life, Tony Reinke shows us how “Newton zeros in on seven types of Christians who broadcast [their] character flaws, using rather picturesque names in the tradition of John Bunyan.”
[All quotes can be found in Chapter 8 of the book].
1. Austerus: Orthodox (but Strict)
Austerus prizes the truth and resists “the promises of worldly indulgence. His friends see his genuine humility, but those who do not know him well see him as cold and rigid.” He is strict and harsh which makes him “more admired than loved.” Sure, Austerus is not comfortable with the world and will not lose his biblical convictions, but he is not kind toward his friends, neighbors, or enemies.
See, Austerus misuses the law. He “believes God is glorified only by meticulous and calculated obedience, and yet he forgets that God is also glorified in the enjoyment of his good and perfect gifts,” especially with others.
2. Humanus: A Self-Sacrificing Life (with a Tireless Tongue)
Humanus loves people. We call this kind of person an “extrovert.” He is a loyal, helpful servant, but… he knows everyone’s business. If he’s a vault of secrets, there is no key. His tongue works as hard as his hands. But it’s not slander. Humanus simply can’t keep his mouth shut, nor his stories accurate. While his “faith is evident in his example of pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)…. Humanus must learn to bridle his tongue (James 1:26; 3:1–12).”
Solution: His prayer should be Psalm 141.3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
3. Prudens: Generous in Private (but a Miser in Public)
Prudens is generous… to his friends. But bring him down to the marketplace, and Mr. (or Mrs.) Prudens is quite the frugal one. He is good, perhaps too good, with his money, and he forgets that he is dealing with a real person. Though he is generous to friends, the world sees him as a Scrooge. At the end of the Christian’s life, how did one use the money with which God gave them? “Was it used in a way that honored God and reflected gospel simplicity? Was it used to care for others? Or was it withheld to take advantage of others?”
Solution: The solution is to become a spiritual hoarder, who is more concerned about running his hands through gospel riches than he is the change in his pocket: ‘Jesus is mine: in him I have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, an interest in all the promises and in all the perfection of God.”
4. Volatilis: Large-Hearted (but Always Late)
Volatilis is a loving server who puts too much on his plate and tries to serve too many dishes to too many people. As a result, Volatilis “appears late, if he appears at all.” Again Reinke asks, “A commitment is a commitment. If a man’s word is important, how much more important is a Christian man’s word?”
Solution: Because of this, “Volatilis needs to see how his tardiness spoils his love and agitates others.”
5. Cessator: Heavenly Minded (but Earthly Disconnected)
is quick to listen and very slow to act. ’Had he been sent into the world only to read, pray, hear sermons, and join in religious conversation, he might pass for an eminent Christian. But… his conduct evidences that his judgment is weak, and his views of his Christian calling are very narrow and defective. He does not consider, that waiting upon God in the public and private ordinances is designed… to instruct, strengthen, and qualify us for their performance.’
The sermon arrives on Sunday and by Monday it’s already out of the mind. He settles for sermons, books, lectures, prayer, and pithy sayings, but forgets about the real world of work and labor; of sacrifice and people.
Our labors and the seeming hindrances in life are all from him, and they are for our ultimate good and his ultimate glory. Our labors are golden opportunities to apply the means of grace and to worship God in the kitchen or at the office.
6. Curiosus: Upright and Interested (but Nosy and Closed)
While Humanus loves people and hears their tales, Curiosus pries “into the lives and details of others.” Humanus comes to the water and waits for the tide to roll in. Curiosus dives in head first. He means no harm, but others end up either avoiding him or giving him as little information as possible. Such curiosity “is drawn to details that do not concern him. He knows no boundaries between what he should know and what he should not know.”
Solution: He should “mind his ‘own affairs,’ so that he may ‘walk properly before outsiders’ (1 Thess. 4:11-12).
7. Querulus: Wrapped in Political Debates: (and Politically Powerless)
Querulus is always on board for a political fight. He reads the paper, heads to the office (or Facebook), and makes a show of himself. His mouth-gates flood fire against the machine, while his hands and feet lay sleeping in the comfort of their own pockets. Though he knows it, he lives as if he doesn’t believe that “‘The LORD Reigns’ (Pss. 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1),” and nothing is outside of the crucified Christ’s supreme rule.
Politically, Querulus is powerless. Now there is nothing wrong to be a Christian in politics. What’s wrong is the unproductive debating that forgets about the daily duties of life. Even worse, prayer, which does more than our griping, is forgotten. Rather than saying, “‘The greatest need for this nation is a power shift in political parties’ … the church should protect her contemporary opportunity to proclaim to the world, ‘The greatest problem we face as a nation is our sin, and the only ultimate solution is Christ crucified.’”
“Through this list of portraits, Newton intends to help us all locate a character flaw in our lives that may tarnish the glory of Christ in our interactions with the world. This is an act of pastoral love. Of course ‘some are offended at the minister who detects any part of their character which is defective; but a Christian is thankful when his defects are discovered to him.’”
These are character traits that can easily mask the sweet aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2.14-17). It smudges “the local church’s collective testimony in their city (Phil. 2:14-18).” Let us look at ourselves, let us see our sin, and let us change the way we live.