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“This is our pattern when we speak and write for God” by John Newton

“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 this 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 savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

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 defences were seasonable and expedient, they appear to be so in our 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 at most are but of a secondary value.

This shews, that, if the service is honourable, 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 defence 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.’ (1 Pet. 2:23) 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.’ (1 Pet. 3:9)

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 savour and efficacy of our labours. If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow-creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

If you can be content with shewing 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 favoured with the unction of His Holy Spirit.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 1: 272-274.

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“Look unto the Lord Jesus Christ” by John Newton

“Look unto the Lord Jesus Christ.

Look unto Him as He hung naked, wounded, bleeding, dead, and forsaken upon the cross.

Look unto Him again as He now reigns in glory, possessed of all power in heaven and in earth, with thousands of thousands of saints and angels worshipping before Him, and ten thousand times ten thousand ministering unto Him.

And then compare your sins with His blood.

Compare your wants with His fulness.

Compare your unbelief with His faithfulness.

Compare your weakness with His strength.

Compare your inconstancy with His everlasting love.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 2: 574-575.

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“Serious thankfulness” by John Newton

“If we are really Christians, and do indeed believe the tenour of the Scriptures, with what serious thankfulness, and joyful composure, ought we to commemorate the coming of a Saviour into the world?

If the little good offices we perform to each other demand a grateful return, what do we owe to Him, who, of His own free motion and goodness, humbled Himself so far, and suffered so much, to redeem us from extreme and endless misery?”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 5 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 5: 403.

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“My hope is built, not upon what I feel in myself, but upon what He felt for me” by John Newton

“The gospel gives me relief.

When I think of the obedience unto death of Jesus Christ in my nature, as a public person, and in behalf of sinners, then I see the law, which I could not obey, completely fulfilled by Him, and the penalty which I had incurred sustained by Him.

I see Him in proportion to the degree of faith in Him, bearing my sins in His own body upon the tree.

I see God well pleased in Him, and for His sake freely justifying the ungodly. This sight saves me from guilt and fear, removes the obstacles which stood in my way, emboldens my access to the throne of grace, for the influences of His Holy Spirit to subdue my sins, and to make me conformable to my Saviour.

But my hope is built, not upon what I feel in myself, but upon what He felt for me; not upon what I can ever do for Him, but upon what has been done by Him upon my account.

It appears to me becoming the wisdom of God to take such a method of showing His mercy to sinners, as should convince the world, the universe, angels, and men, that His inflexible displeasure against sin, and His regard to the demands of His truth and holiness, must at the same time be equally displayed.

This was effected by bruising His own Son, filling Him with agonies, and delivering Him up to death and the curse of the law, when He appeared as a surety for sinners.

It appears to me, therefore, that, though the blessings of justification and sanctification are coincident, and cannot be separated in the same subject, a believing sinner, yet they are in themselves as distinct and different as any two things can well be.

The one, like life itself, is instantaneous and perfect at once, and takes place the moment the soul is born of God; the other, like the effects of life, growth, and strength, is imperfect and gradual.

The child born today, though weak, and very different from what it will be when its faculties open, and its stature increases, is as truly, and as much, alive as it will ever be. And, if an heir to an estate or a kingdom, has the same right now as it will have when it becomes of age, because this right is derived not from its abilities or stature, but from its birth and parents.

The weakest believer is born of God, and an heir of glory.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIV,” The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 6: 247-249.

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“He will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now” by John Newton

“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.” (2 Sam. 18:5)

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 shew 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 defence 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 inconsistence 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.” (2 Tim. 2:25)

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 prejudices, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable.”

–John Newton, “Letter XIX: On Controversy,” The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 1: 268-270.

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“Professed loud sticklers for free grace” by John Newton

“I hope when this comes, it will find you and your’s comfortable, and your heart and mouth full of gratitude to Him who crowneth the year with His goodness. Well, these returning years each bear away a large portion of our time, and the last year cannot be far off.

Oh, that precious name which can enable a sinner to think of his last year and his last hour without dismay! What do we owe to Him who has disarmed death of its sting and horrors, and shown us the land of light and immortality beyond the grave!

May He be with us in the new year. Yea, He has promised He will, even unto death. Therefore, though we know not what a day may bring forth, we need fear no evil; for He knows all, and will provide accordingly.

Oh, what a relief is it, to be enabled to cast every care and burden upon Him that careth for us! Though the night should be dark, the storm loud, and the billows high, the infallible Pilot will steer our barks safely through.

Let us help each other with our prayers, that the little uncertain remainder of life may be filled up to the praise of our dear Lord; that we may be united to His will, conformed to His image, and devoted to His service.

Thus we shall show forth His praise; if we aim to walk as He walked, and, by a sweet constraining sense of His love, are formed into an habitual imitation of His spirit and temper, in meekness, integrity, benevolence towards men; in humility, dependence, resignation, confidence, and gratitude towards Him.

I pity such wise-headed Calvinists as you speak of. I am afraid there are no people more fully answer the character, and live in the spirit of the Pharisees of old, than some professed loud sticklers for free grace.

They are wise in their own eyes; their notions, which the pride of their hearts tells them are so bright and clear, serve them for a righteousness, and they trust in themselves and despise others.

One modest, inquiring Arminian is worth a thousand such Calvinists in my esteem.

You will do well to preach quietly in your own way, not minding what others say, while your own conscience testifies that you preach the truth. If you are travelling the right road, (to London for instance,) though fifty people should meet you and say you are wrong, you, knowing you are right, need not mind them.

But, alas! the spirit of self, which makes us unwilling to hear of contradiction, is not easily subdued.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 6: 196-197.

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“Our sea may sometimes be stormy, but we have an infallible Pilot, and shall infallibly gain our port” by John Newton

“I heartily sympathize with you in your complaints, but I see you in safe hands. The Lord loves you, and will take care of you.

He who raises the dead can revive your spirits when you are cast down. He who sets bounds to the sea, and says ‘Hither to shalt thou come, and no further,’ can limit and moderate that gloom which sometimes distresses you.

He knows why He permits you to be thus exercised. I cannot assign the reasons, but I am sure they are worthy of His wisdom and love, and that you will hereafter see and say, ‘He has done all things well.’

If I was as wise as your physician, I might say a great deal about your melancholy complexion; but I love not to puzzle myself with second causes, while the First Cause is at hand, which sufficiently accounts for every phenomenon in a believer’s experience. Your constitution, your situation, your temper, your distemper, all that is either comfortable or painful in your lot, is of His appointment.

The hairs of your head are all numbered; the same power which produced the planet Jupiter, is necessary to the production of a single hair; nor can one of them fall to the ground without His notice, any more than the stars can fall from their orbits. In providence, no less than in creation, He is maximus in minimis (‘the greatest in the smallest’).

Therefore, fear not, only believe. Our sea may sometimes be stormy; but we have an infallible Pilot, and shall infallibly gain our port.

I must now end my speech, and begin my supper. We wish you and Mrs. Bull a good night. The Lord be with you, and with your poor friend,

JOHN NEWTON
Olney,
November 2, 1778″

–John Newton, “Letter XIX,” Letters of the Reverend John Newton (London: Hamilton and Adams Co, 1847), 36-37.

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