Tag Archives: Works of John Newton

“Reading and studying the Bible” by John Newton

“I know not a better rule of reading the Scripture, than to read it through from beginning to end; and, when we have finished it once, to begin it again.

We shall meet with many passages which we can make little improvement of, but not so many in the second reading as in the first, and fewer in the third than in the second: provided we pray to Him who has the keys to open our understandings, and to anoint our eyes with His spiritual ointment.

The course of reading today will prepare some lights for what we shall read tomorrow, and throw a farther light upon what we read yesterday. Experience only can prove the advantage of this method, if steadily persevered in.

To make a few efforts and then give up, is like making a few steps and then standing still, which would do little towards completing a long journey.

But, though a person walked slowly, and but a little way in a day, if he walked every day, and with his face always in the same direction, year after year, he might in time encompass the globe.

By thus travelling patiently and steadily through the Scripture, and repeating our progress, we should increase in knowledge to the end of life.

The Old and New Testament, the doctrines, precepts, and promises, the history, the examples, admonitions, and warnings would mutually illustrate and strengthen each other, and nothing that is written for our instruction would be overlooked.

Happy should I be, could I fully follow the advice I am now offering to you. I wish you may profit by my experience.

Alas, how much time have I lost and wasted, which, had I been wise, I should have devoted to reading and studying the Bible!

But my evil heart obstructs the dictates of my judgment, I often feel a reluctance to read this Book of books, and a disposition to hew out broken cisterns which afford me no water, while the fountain of living waters are close within my reach.”

–John Newton, The Works of John Newton, Vol. 6, Ed. Richard Cecil (vol. 6; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 418–419.

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“The goodness of a wonder-working God” by John Newton

“The believer shall so conquer in the close of the campaign, that he shall never hear the sound of war any more and so conquer in time as to triumph to eternity.

This we owe to Jesus. We overcome not by our own might, but by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of His testimony.

He has conquered for us, and He goes before us, and He fights in us by His Spirit, and in His own time He will bruise Satan under our feet.

In the meanwhile, He will be your strength and your shield. He will be your song and your salvation. In His name you may lift up your banner, and bid defiance to Satan and all his hosts…

I think, when the Lord permits us all to meet here again together, we shall have much to say on the subject of redeeming love.

We shall have much to ascribe to the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of a wonder-working God, who causes light to shine out of darkness, and has given us the light of the knowledge of His glory in the person of Jesus Christ.

What an amazing change in our state, in our heart, in our views, is the result of this discovery! Old things pass away. All things become new.

Then we see how unavoidably we must be men wondered at by all who have not experienced the same things, and we are content to be so for His sake who has loved us, and to account His cross our glory.

Believe me to be, my dear Sir, most affectionately your’s, in the nearest and strongest bond of friendship,

John Newton”

–John Newton Letter V to Mr. William Cowper, March 15, 1770,” in The Works of John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 6: 155–156.

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“The Lord of Hosts is on our side” by John Newton

“I can only advise you to resist, to the utmost, every dark and discouraging suggestion. The Lord has done great things for you, and wonderfully appeared in your behalf already.

Take encouragement from hence to hope that He will not forsake the work of His own hands (Judges 13:23). There is much weight in the apostle’s argument in Romans 5:10.

Surely He who showed us mercy before we asked it, will not withhold it now that He has taught us how to plead for it agreeably to His own will. Though sin has abounded in us, grace has superabounded in Him.

Though our enemies are many and mighty, Jesus is above them all.

Though He may hide Himself from us at times for a moment, He has given us a warrant to trust in Him, even while we walk in darkness, and has promised to return and gather us with everlasting mercies.

The Christian calling, like many others, is easy and clear in theory, but not without much care and difficulty to be reduced to practice. Things appear quite otherwise, when felt experimentally, to what they do when only read in a book.

Many learn the art of navigation by the fireside at home, but when they come to sea, with their heads full of rules, and without experience, they find that the art is only to be thoroughly learned upon the spot.

So, to renounce self, to live upon Jesus, to walk with God, to overcome the world, to hope against hope, to trust the Lord when we cannot trace Him, and to know that our duty and privilege consist in these things, may be readily acknowledged or quickly learned.

But, upon repeated trial, we find, that saying and doing are two things. We think at setting out that we sit down and count the cost. But, alas! Our views are so superficial at first, that we have occasion to correct our estimate daily.

For every day shows us some new thing in the heart, or some new turn in the management of the war against us which we were not aware of. And upon these accounts, discouragements may arise so high as to bring us (I speak for myself) to the very point of throwing down our arms, and making either a tame surrender or a shameful flight.

Thus it would be with us at last, if the Lord of Hosts were not on our side. But though our enemies thrust sore at us that we might fall, He has been our stay.

And if He is the captain of our salvation, if His eye is upon us, if His arm stretched out around us, if His ear open to our cry, and if He has engaged to teach our hands to war, and our fingers to fight, and to cover our heads in the day of battle, then we need not fear, though a host rise up against us.

But, lifting up our banner in His name, let us go forth conquering and to conquer (Romans 16:20).

We hope we shall all be better acquainted soon. We please ourselves with agreeable prospects and proposals but the determination is with the Lord.

We may rejoice that it is. He sees all things in their dependencies and connections, which we see not, and therefore He often thwarts our wishes for our good.

But if we are not mistaken, if any measure we have in view would, upon the whole, promote our comfort, or His glory, He will surely bring it to pass in answer to prayer, how improbable whatsoever it might appear.

For He delights in the satisfaction and prosperity of His people, and without a need-be, they shall never be in heaviness. Let us strive and pray for an habitual resignation to His will for He does all things well.

It is never ill with us but when our evil hearts doubt or forget this plainest of truths.

I beg an interest in your prayers, and that you will believe me to be,

Your affectionate servant,

John Newton”

–John Newton, Letter I to Mr. William Cowper, July 30, 1767,” The Works of John Newton, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 6: 141–143.

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“Grace is the seed of glory” by John Newton

“The Lord claims the honour; and He engages for the accomplishment of a complete salvation, that no power shall pluck His people out of His hand, or separate them from His love.

Their perseverance in grace, besides being asserted in many express promises, may be proved with the fullest evidence from the unchangeableness of God, the intercession of Christ, the union which subsists between Him and His people, and from the principle of spiritual life He has implanted in their hearts, which in its own nature is connected with everlasting life; for grace is the seed of glory.

I have not room to enlarge on these particulars, but refer you to the following texts, from which various strong and invincible arguments might be drawn for their confirmation: Luke 14:28–30, compared with Phil. 1:6; Heb. 7:25, with Rom. 8:34–39; John 14:19, with John 15:1, 2; John 4:14.

Upon these grounds, my friend, why may not you, who have fled for refuge to the hope set before you, and committed your soul to Jesus, rejoice in His salvation and say:

‘While Christ is the foundation, root, head, and husband of His people, while the word of God is Yea and Amen, while the counsels of God are unchangeable, while we have a Mediator and High Priest before the throne, while the Holy Spirit is willing and able to bear witness to the truths of the Gospel, while God is wiser than men, and stronger than Satan, so long the believer in Jesus is and shall be safe. Heaven and earth must pass away; but the promise, the oath, the blood, on which my soul relies, affords me a security which can never fail.’

As the doctrines of election and perseverance are comfortable, so they cut off all pretence of boasting and self-dependence when they are truly received in the heart, and therefore tend to exalt the Saviour. Of course they stain the pride of all human glory, and leave us nothing to glory in but the Lord.

The more we are convinced of our utter depravity and inability from first to last, the more excellent will Jesus appear. The whole may give the physician a good word, but the sick alone know how to prize him. And here I cannot but remark a difference between those who have nothing to trust to but free grace, and those who ascribe a little at least to some good disposition and ability in man.

We assent to whatever they enforce from the word of God on the subject of sanctification. We acknowledge its importance, its excellency, its beauty; but we could wish they would join more with us in exalting the Redeemer’s name.

Their experience seems to lead them to talk of themselves, of the change that is wrought in them, and the much that depends upon their own watchfulness and striving. We likewise would be thankful if we could perceive a change wrought in us by the power of grace; we desire to be found watching likewise.

But when our hopes are most alive, it is less from a view of the imperfect beginnings of grace in our hearts, than from an apprehension of Him who is our all in all. His person, His love, His sufferings, His intercession, His compassion, His fulness, and His faithfulness,—these are our delightful themes, which leave us little leisure, when in our best frames, to speak of ourselves.

How do our hearts soften, and our eyes melt, when we feel some liberty in thinking and speaking of Him! For we had no help in time past, nor can have any in time to come, but from Him alone.

If any persons have contributed a mite to their own salvation, it was more than we could do. If any were obedient and faithful to the first calls and impressions of His Spirit, it was not our case. If any were prepared to receive Him beforehand, we know that we were in a state of alienation from Him.

We needed sovereign, irresistible grace to save us, or we had been lost forever. If there are any who have a power of their own, we must confess ourselves poorer than they are.

We cannot watch, unless He watches with us; we cannot strive, unless He strives with us; we cannot stand one moment, unless He holds us up; and we believe we must perish after all, unless His faithfulness is engaged to keep us.

But this we trust He will do, not for our righteousness, but for His own name’s sake, and because, having loved us with an everlasting love, He has been pleased in lovingkindness to draw us to Himself, and to be found of us when we sought Him not.”

–John Newton, “Letter IX: On the Doctrine of Election and Final Perseverance,” in The Works of the John Newton, Volume 1, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 191-192.

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“Union with Christ” by John Newton

“Dear Sir,

The union of a believer with Christ is so intimate, so unalterable, so rich in privilege, so powerful in influence, that it cannot be fully represented by any description or similitude taken from earthly things. The mind, like the sight, is incapable of apprehending a great object, without viewing it on different sides.

To help our weakness, the nature of this union is illustrated, in the Scripture, by four comparisons, each throwing additional light on the subject, yet all falling short of the thing signified.

In our natural state, we are κλυδωνιζομενοι και περιφερομενοι, driven and tossed about, by the changing winds of opinion, and the waves of trouble, which hourly disturb and threaten us upon the uncertain sea of human life. But faith, uniting us to Christ, fixes us upon a sure foundation, the Rock of Ages, where we stand immovable, though storms and floods unite their force against us.

By nature we are separated from the divine life, as branches broken off, withered and fruitless. But grace, through faith, unites us to Christ the living Vine, from whom, as the root of all fulness, a constant supply of sap and influence is derived into each of his mystical branches, enabling them to bring forth fruit unto God, and to persevere and abound therein.

By nature we are συγμτοι και μισουντες, hateful and abominable in the sight of a holy God, and full of enmity and hatred towards each other. By faith, uniting us to Christ, we have fellowship with the Father and the Son, and joint communion among ourselves; even as the members of the same body have each of them union, communion, and sympathy, with the head, and with their fellow-members.

In our natural estate, we were cast out naked and destitute, without pity, and without help (Ezek. 16); but faith, uniting us to Christ, interests us in His righteousness, His riches, and His honours. Our Redeemer is our husband; our debts are paid, our settlements secured, and our names changed.

Thus the Lord Jesus, in declaring Himself the foundation, root, head, and husband, of His people, takes in all the ideas we can frame of an intimate, vital, and inseparable union. Yet all these fall short of truth; and He has given us one farther similitude, of which we can by no means form a just conception till we shall be brought to see Him as he is in His kingdom. John. 17:21: ‘That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in us.’

Well may we say: What hath God wrought! How inviolable is the security, how inestimable the privilege, how inexpressible the happiness, of a believer! How greatly is he indebted to grace! He was once afar off, but he is brought nigh to God by the blood of Christ: he was once a child of wrath, but is now an heir of everlasting life. How strong then are his obligations to walk worthy of God, who has called him to His kingdom and glory!”

–John Newton, “Letter XXVII” in The Works of the John Newton, Volume 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 322-323.

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“On Controversy” by John Newton

NOTE: A minister, about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy, wrote to John Newton of his intention. Newton replied as follows:

“Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded.

To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

Consider Your Opponent

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him a believer, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: ‘Deal gently with him for my sake.’ The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! ‘He knows not what he does.’ But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in His sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his.

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. If, indeed, they who differ from us have a power of changing themselves, if they can open their own eyes, and soften their own hearts, then we might with less inconsistency be offended at their obstinacy: but if we believe the very contrary to this, our part is, not to strive, but in meekness to instruct those who oppose. ‘If peradventure God will give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth.’ If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.

Consider the Public

By printing, you will appeal to the public; where your readers may be ranged under three divisions: First, such as differ from you in principle. Concerning these I may refer you to what I have already said. Though you have your eye upon one person chiefly, there are many like-minded with him; and the same reasoning will hold, whether as to one or to a million.

There will be likewise many who pay too little regard to religion, to have any settled system of their own, and yet are preengaged in favor of those sentiments which are at least repugnant to the good opinion men naturally have of themselves. These are very incompetent judges of doctrine; but they can form a tolerable judgment of a writer’s spirit. They know that meekness, humility, and love are the characteristics of a Christian temper; and though they affect to treat the doctrines of grace as mere notions and speculations, which, supposing they adopted them, would have no salutary influence upon their conduct; yet from us, who profess these principles, they always expect such dispositions as correspond with the precepts of the gospel.

They are quick-sighted to discern when we deviate from such a spirit, and avail themselves of it to justify their contempt of our arguments. The scriptural maxim, that ‘the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God,’ is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit. The weapons of our warfare, and which alone are powerful to break down the strongholds of error, are not carnal, but spiritual; arguments fairly drawn from Scripture and experience, and enforced by such a mild address, as may persuade our readers, that, whether we can convince them or not, we wish well to their souls, and contend only for the truth’s sake; if we can satisfy them that we act upon these motives, our point is half gained; they will be more disposed to consider calmly what we offer; and if they should still dissent from our opinions, they will be constrained to approve our intentions.

You will have a third class of readers, who, being of your own sentiments, will readily approve of what you advance, and may be further established and confirmed in their views of the Scripture doctrines, by a clear and masterly elucidation of your subject. You may be instrumental to their edification if the law of kindness as well as of truth regulates your pen, otherwise you may do them harm. There is a principle of self, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a becoming zeal in the cause of God.

I readily believe that the leading points of Arminianism spring from and are nourished by the pride of the human heart; but I should be glad if the reverse were always true; and that to embrace what are called the Calvinistic doctrines was an infallible token of a humble mind. I think I have known some Arminians, that is, persons who for want of a clearer light, have been afraid of receiving the doctrines of free grace, who yet have given evidence that their hearts were in a degree humbled before the Lord.

And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility, that they are willing in words to debase the creature and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit.

Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace. Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments. Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress his wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify. I hope your performance will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

Consider Yourself

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of His presence is made?

Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who ‘when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.’ This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, ‘not rendering railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.’ The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savor and efficacy of our labors.

If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow creatures, and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves. If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may He give you a witness in many hearts that you are taught of God, and favored with the unction of His Holy Spirit.”

–John Newton, “On Controversy,” The Works of the Rev. John Newton, Vol. 1, Ed. Richard Cecil (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1824), 268-274.

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