Saturday, November 21, 2009

John Newton on disagreeing with grace

Today I purchased a newly published volume of letters by John Newton. I had already owned The Letters of John Newton
(Banner of Truth), but this new volume contains eighty-three previously unpublished letters (the title of this work is Wise Counsel, also published by Banner). All the letters are addressed to a single correspondance, John Ryland Jr--a young Baptist pastor. Though twenty-five years his senior, Newton struck up a friendship with the younger man and the two corresponded for over thirty years.

Newton's first letter, written when Ryland was still a teenager (though the lad had recently published a volume of theological poetry), was nothing short of a firm (yet loving) rebuke of the younger man's vanity. Here we see Newton, seasoned with spiritual maturity, intentionally stepping into the life of a younger believer in order to show him the fuller riches of the Christian life. The letter, as well as the entire volume, is a beautiful expression of wise counsel.

In one section of the letter takes Ryland to task for his arrogance towards Arminian believers. Newton writes:
"You say 'I have aimed to displease the Arminians', I had rather you had aimed to be useful to them, than to displease them. There are many Arminians who are only for want of clearer light. They fear the Lord, and walk humbly before Him. And as they go on, by an increasing acquaintance with their own hearts and the word of God, their objections and difficulties gradually subsided. And in the Lord's time (for He is the only effectual teacher) they receive the doctrines of grace which they were once afraid of. These individuals should not be displeased by our endeavouring to declare the truth in terms the most offensive to them which we can find, but we should rather seek out the softest and most winning way of encountering their prejudices. Otherwise we make a parade, and grow big with a sense of our own wisdom and importance, but we shall do little good. Our Lord you know taught his disciples as they were able to bear it, he did not aim to displease them thought it is pretty plain they had a good deal of the Arminian spirit in them for some time after they began to follow him. You will perhaps say, 'A humble Arminian! Surely that is impossible!' I believe it not more impossible to find a humble Arminian, than a proud and self-sufficient Calvinist. The doctrines of grace are humbling, that is in their power and experience, but a man may hold them all in the notion, and be very proud. He certainly is so, if he thinks his assenting to them is a proof of his humility, and despises others as proud and ignorant in comparison to himself. I believe you mean well, but some things you have written against the Arminians manifest that you have not been aware of your own spirit. "

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