Marylynn Rouse of the John Newton Project has compiled these thoughts from John Newton on following Christ in 2009
Preaching on Isaiah 40:4, John Newton said: ‘[Our Lord] came to preach the gospel to the poor, to fill the hungry with good things, to save the chief of sinners, to open a door of hope and salvation to persons of the vilest and most despicable characters in human estimation.
‘Such was the woman mentioned by the evangelist Luke (7:37-38). The Pharisee thought our Lord dishonoured himself by permitting such a one to touch him, nor had she a word to say in her own behalf. But the compassionate Saviour highly exalted her, when he vouchsafed to plead her cause, to express his gracious acceptance of her tears and love, and to assure her that her sins though many were all forgiven.
‘Very low likewise was the state of the malefactor on the cross; he had committed great crime, was suffering grievous torments, and in the very jaws of death (Luke 23:42). But grace visited his heart; he was plucked as a brand out of the fire and exalted to paradise and glory’.
Looking to Jesus
As a young believer in his first year of employment in Liverpool in 1756, Newton returned home from church one day thinking about Hebrews 12:2: ‘Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith’.
He wrote: ‘Looking to Jesus is the great [secret] of a Christian by which he is enabled to withstand all his enemies and having done all, to stand. This is especially necessary in time of trouble and trial.
‘To look to him aright I must [see] him as the actual author and assured finisher of my faith; in this as in everything else he is the alpha and omega. As the author I am to give him the glory of his grace and mercy; as the finisher, the glory of his power and faithfulness.
‘I must look unto him likewise as my example and endeavour humbly to follow his steps, walking as he himself also walked. Lord help me thus to do’.
More than 40 years later, in March 1801, Newton’s awareness of his need for grace to keep following the Lord was still strong, as his diary shows: ‘My gracious Lord, Thou hast preserved me to see another anniversary of the 10 March 1748. On that day I had no prospect of living a quarter of an hour, but expected every wave would destroy the ship, and sink me in the ocean …
‘Help me to follow thee simply, to live today, and from day to day, without anxiety about the uncertain tomorrow – to live to thee, and for thee, to walk with thee, and to wait patiently, and thankfully for thine appointed hour of my [death], which cannot now be far [in the] distance. O guide me while here, by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to Thy glory. Amen’.
Newton’s experience of God’s goodness enabled him to encourage others in the thick of trials. To a recently widowed friend he wrote: ‘I know your trials have been great … However this may be, you have One Friend who perfectly knows and considers your case, knows your sorrows, knows your soul in adversity, and not only pities you, but is able to support and help you.’
‘Therefore though cast down you are not forsaken or destroyed. The Lord of hosts is with you, the God of Jacob is your refuge. Fear not, only believe! Here we are sufferers but we follow a suffering Saviour … He trod a thorny path for us, and we cannot expect, nay we ought not to wish, a quite smooth path for ourselves.
‘Should not the disciple be as his Lord? He has told us that in this world we shall have tribulation, but he has likewise said, In me you shall have peace … Heaven will make amends for all. He holds the prize in our view, and says, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life’.
From Hannah More’s home in the Mendips, Newton wrote to William Wilberforce: ‘[The gospel] shows us God reconciled to sinners in the Son of his love. It bids us, Go in peace and sin no more. It awakens an enquiry, by referring us to Jesus, not only as a Saviour, but as our pattern.
‘Follow him; live to him who died for you; forgive as you have been forgiven. Do all the good to others that you can, and abstain from whatever is displeasing to him who has so loved you’.