Wednesday, August 4, 2010

John Newton, 285 Years Old Today

John Newton was born July 24th 1725. However, after Britain switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar in 1752, Newton himself considered his birthday to be on August 4th. So 285 years ago on this day John Newton was born.
John Newton was so much more than just the man who wrote Amazing Grace. His life and conversion are as if pulled straight out of an adventure novel. His marriage and love for his wife put to shame any romance movie. His friendship with William Cowper is legendary and worthy of emulation.

The impact he has had on not only Christianity, but the entire world is simply astonishing. I am continually amazed (but more and more less surprised) every time I come across some great event or great movement or great man of God and find that I can trace it back somehow to Newton. Most people know that Newton was instrumental in William Wilberforce’s life. It is not hard to imagine that if there were no Newton there would be no Wilberforce and who knows how long slavery would have endured in England (and quite possibly America).

Perhaps a lesser known story is the part that Newton played in the beginning of the modern missions movement. When people think of modern missions the name William Carey comes to mind. But Newton plays a large role behind the scenes in this as well. Newton wrote constantly, advising and encouraging and training a young John Ryland, who along with Carey formed the first missionary society. Ryland was one of “three ropes” that held Carey as the “Father of Modern Missions” went off to preach the gospel in India. Not only did Newton play a large part in Ryland’s life, but also directly influenced William Carey himself. When Carey realized the near impossibility it was for missionaries to enter into India (due to the trade regulations and policies of the East India Company) he sought out Newton for advice. Carey asked what he should do if he was unable to enter and Newton replied, “Then conclude that your God has nothing there for you to accomplish. But if He has, no power on earth can hinder you." These words gave Carey the tremendous strength to carry on. Again, the case could be made that if there were no Newton then there would be no Ryland and if there were no Ryland there would be one less person to “hold the ropes” for William Carey. The mission society would not have been started and it is doubtful that Carey would have even made the trip, especially without the crucial advice and encouragement from John Newton.

And these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. It would take a scholarly work to figure out the exact impact John Newton has made (and continues to make) throughout the world and I doubt one could do it accurately. To say that John Newton’s life had a ripple effect would be an understatement. The man was a tidal wave.

Theologically Newton was a Calvinist, however he likened his Calvinism in preaching and his writings as sugar being mixed and dispersed in a cup of tea. It is abundantly evident when you read Newton because his lips are laced with the sovereignty of God. You cannot avoid it.

Instead of outright attacking heresy and false teachings Newton felt that, “The best method of defeating heresy is by establishing the truth.” This, I believe, is a major reason why Newton could be friends with both George Whitfield and the Wesley’s and remain friends with both parties even after Whitfield and the Wesley brothers bitterly split over theological differences. The friendships were so deep in fact that Charles Wesley requested that Newton be a pallbearer at his funeral. This spirit of gentleness and kindness mixed with an unflinching stand on truth and sound doctrine is what attracted and still attracts so many to John Newton. John Piper desires that Pastors would imitate John Newton by being “as strong and durable as redwood trees, and as tender and fragrant as a field of clover—unshakably rugged in the "defense and confirmation" of the truth, and relentlessly humble and patient and merciful in dealing with people.”

I could go on, and I’m tempted to do so, but I hope that the previous paragraphs have inspired you, at least a little, to do some research about John Newton on your own. I’ll only add that I cannot say enough about John Newton. The more I find out about him the greater I admire him. I find that I can relate to him in ministry and I strive to imitate his example. Simply put, he’s my hero.

Links on John Newton for further research:

Worship Leaders: Imitate John Newton - previous Sound Doxology post
John Newton's Approach to Hymn Writing - previous Sound Doxology post
John Piper Sermon on John Newton - simply excellent
The Cowper and Newton Museum in Olney - lots of good info and pictures
The John Newton Project - possibly the best John Newton site on the web
Thank God for John Newton - from Desiring God
John Newton's Olney Hymns - pdf version. must have.
Cardiphonia - from Google Books. These are Newton's collection of letters
Letters of John Newton

The Works of John Newton (6 Volumes)

Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland Jr.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace

Out of the Depths (Newton's Autobiography)

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