Yesterday I noted the relentless confidence of John Newton. He had such a confidence in the power of God to change human hearts that he was able to practice what John Piper has called a habitual tenderness. It’s what makes him respond in love to a man like Thomas Scott that is slandering him.
Today I want to look at the life of Newton and ask, “where does such a relentless confidence come from”? I see 5 strongly held theological beliefs that brought about his relentless confidence.
The power for change lies in the power of God not man.
In his letter On Controversy Newton counseled a young and seemingly aggressive Calvinist with these words:
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 we really believe that God alone has the power to change men then we’ll respond with the only means that has proven to change hearts; namely, a loving declaration of the truth of God.
Truth will ultimately prevail
In that same letter Newton reminded that young man, “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.”
If you are of a more Arminian persuasion don’t get caught up in your disagreement with which side “truth is on”. Just rest in the truth behind what he is saying. Eventually we’ll the truth will prevail—this gives us great confidence to humble present the truth as we see it. Knowing that if we are wrong we’ll be made right as well others.
The patience of God with him
Newton consistently marveled at the patience of God with him. It wasn’t some trite phrase that Newton employed he believed it with all of his heart. In a conversation with a woman about those with differing views of religion Newton had this to say:
Nor did I learn everything all at once—God has been pleased to exercise much patience and long-suffering towards me, for the past twenty-seven years—since He first gave me a desire of learning from Himself. He has graciously accommodated Himself to my weakness, borne with my mistakes, and helped me through innumerable prejudices, which, but for His mercy, would have been insuperable hindrances! I have therefore no right to be angry, impatient, or censorious to others, especially as I have still much to learn, and am so poorly influenced by what I seem to know!
Newton believed that he owed the same patience towards others that the Lord had shown with him.
Respect of persons
Even if dealing with the vilest of men, Newton believed that they still had the image of God within them. As such, he believed that they must be treated with great respect. In that same letter to the woman asking about dissenting views, Newton said this:
But while I desire to hold fast the sound doctrines of the Gospel towards the persons of my fellow-creatures, I wish to exercise all moderation and benevolence. Protestants or Papists, Socinians or Deists, Jews, Samaritans, or Mohammedans, all are my neighbors; they have all a claim upon me for the common offices of humanity.
The grace of God
I don’t know that I need to quote anything from Newton on grace. After all he’s the guy that wrote Amazing Grace. Newton lived his life amazed by grace. Such a one has a tendency to be gracious in his dealings with others. He was astonished that God would accept such a wretch as him. This flowed out into the way that he loved and treated others.
If we don’t have a relentless confidence similar to Newton then we’ll be controlling and worn out. We’ll try to play the role of the Holy Spirit and end up frustrated and frustrating.
Let us pursue a different path. Let us be like Newton who drank deeply of the grace of God and lived out the implications of serving a powerful God in a way marked by humility and love.