Wisdom from John Newton

John Newton (1725-1807) may be best known as the author of the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” His life story is a vivid illustration of the power of the Christian gospel to rescue and transform  a ruined life. The hymn is his personal testimony.

I invite you to read about Newton to learn more about him. (Wikipedia has a summary of his career.) In his pre-Christian life he was a navy seaman, captain of slave ships, and investor in the slave trade.  After a spiritual struggle leading to his conversion to faith in Christ, he became a minister in the Anglican Church. He served in the country parish of Olney for sixteen years. During those years he wrote many hymns which are beloved by Christians worldwide.

As an evangelical, he was committed to the proclamation of the gospel. He wrote his own life story to magnify the gospel  and to influence others to believe. He wrote tracts and an introduction to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Later as a pastor in London, he became an influential leader in the movement to abolish the slave trade.

His greatest contribution was his pastoral ministry in the lives of the people he served. His preaching pointed them to Jesus as savior. His personal counsel was a help to many who were troubled and tempted. It has been said that “They found in him one who had been a worse sinner than themselves and who could enter into their experiences with tenderness and sympathy.”

One of his ministries was correspondence. He wrote long replies to the many who wrote to him with questions about the Christian life and faith. He said, “It is the Lord’s will that I should do most by my letters.” His letters reveal the belief that the Christian faith is a personal experience of God through Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, not just an abstract system of doctrine.

The letters also show that the Christian life is practical, leading to a healthy spiritual condition.  He demonstrates how it is only through knowledge of and obedience to the written Word of God that we can practice Christianity as it is meant to be lived. His letters are marked by practical wisdom and sanctified common sense.

I recently read The Letters of John Newton published by Banner of Truth. I want to share with you some quotations from the letters. I am sure that his desire would be, not that we would admire his wisdom, but the truth and beauty to be found in his Savior.

The law entered that sin might abound, not to make men more wicked, but to make them sensible of their sin.

The law reveals the glory of God. We see the perfection and excellence of the law in the life of Jesus.

If opposition has hurt many, popularity has wounded more.

Truth is a sacred thing.

National concerns are no more affected by our remonstrances (arguments), than the heavenly bodies are by the disputes of astronomers.

Plead for the country in prayer

“Dipping” into scripture, ignoring the context, is an unreliable guide, contrary to the intentions of the text and contrary to common sense.

The Word of God, guided by the Holy Spirit, furnishes just principles to regulate our actions and decisions.

On frequency of prayer: Those whom we love, we love to be with.

Some temptations of Satan are permitted by the Lord to humble and test his people.

By discontinuing prayer we give the enemy the greatest encouragement possible.

There is no fool like the sinner who prefers the toys of earth to the happiness of heaven.

 Cultured men try to polish the manners without improving the heart.

I’ll pass along more of these next week.

Pastor Randy Faulkner