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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « If God Wills | Main | What About Reprobation? »

    John Newton By Tony Reinke

    A savage ocean storm awoke the crew of the Greyhound, a cargo ship crammed with merchandise collected from the west coast of Africa. From port to port, the ship had been slowly filled with African gold, ivory, bees-wax, and camwood (lumber). But now, late in the dark night of March 21, 1748, a twenty-two-year-old sailor named John was awakened by gale-force winds battering the ship. Waves slammed into her and ripped away the upper timbers on one side, sending water through a gaping hole into John’s room.

    Awakened by the chaos, he jumped half naked from his bed to furiously hand pump water back into the swaying ocean. With the cold saltwater pouring into the aging and broken vessel, crewmates grabbed buckets and began tossing the water back into the dark sea. Newton cranked for his life while waves broke over his head. Desperation overwhelmed the doomed crew, and John’s heart pounded furiously with adrenaline-charged fears of being dumped overboard in the middle of a dark sea, weeks away from the nearest coastline. Like many sailors of his time, he couldn’t swim.

    As John Newton later reflected, he was unfit to live and unfit to die. The fear of death strained his energies at the water pump, but it was a battle he could not win. Saltwater waves continued crashing against the ship, and the endless ocean of water rushed over the deck faster than the men could spit it back out. The ship creaked and groaned under the assault as the crew frantically battled the angry forces of the sea.

    Newton’s moral life had already sunk. He was a wicked and insubordinate young man with a profane tongue, flesh-driven appetites, and stone-cold heart. He had gambled his way into debt and dabbled in witchcraft. And as a young man in foreign lands, he had become sexually promiscuous. Later, as a young captain of a slave-trading ship, he may have indulged his lusts further by raping captive African women in the “sexual free-for-alls on board ship that most captains in the trade regarded as theirs by right.” 2 He didn’t particularly enjoy alcohol, but he drank to prompt drunkenness in others and to entertain himself by the follies the liquor encouraged in them. What is clear: Newton was immune from no sin. He delighted to lead others into temptation, later calling himself “a ringleader in blasphemy and wickedness.”

    Not content with running the broad way myself, I was indefatigable in enticing others; and, had my influence been equal to my wishes, I would have carried all the human race with me. I had the ambition of a Caesar or an Alexander, and wanted to rank in wickedness among the foremost of the human race.

    Life on the sea only amplified Newton’s wretched tendencies. 5 He sailed for months in a bubble of unchecked sin, estranged from godly examples, cut off from the gospel, hardened by the dangers of sea life, and entrenched among a group of men who incited one another to sin. Life on an eighteenth-century merchant ship was the spiritually deadening climate his soul least needed.

    The Wretch

    If any man was unworthy of deliverance from the raging sea, it was the twenty-two-year-old sailor John Newton. In this moment Newton was focused on survival and frightened by the nearness of death that knocked on the door with each crashing wave. Desperate and fully expecting to die, Newton finally blurted aloud, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us.” The Lord’s name from his mouth—that word he only spouted in vain—now struck his heart like an arrow, humbling and breaking him. “I was instantly struck by my own words. This was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for many years.”

    As with the thief on the cross facing death, the Lord ignited a marvelous work in John Newton’s heart here in this “great day of turning.” Although the precise time of his conversion is unknown, 7 his plea for mercy on the sea was immediately answered. And Newton’s heart, which once spewed wickedness and blasphemy, would soon become a heart gushing beloved hymns of praise to God. The same tongue that spit curses at the name of God and made sailors blush would become the tongue that steered the corporate worship of God’s people in honoring God’s holy name.

    This drowning wretch of a sailor would pen a hymn that endures in the minds and hearts of people to this day, a hymn so popular that its lyrics are as recognizable throughout the English-speaking world as any national anthem. On top of this, the lucrative African slave trade that he participated in would be ended, in part because of his abolitionist work. Newton would become a pastor, no longer leading sinners into sin but now enticing sinners away from it. In time, hundreds of souls would gather weekly on Sundays to listen to his sermons. Only God himself could have imagined what was in store for John Newton. Like Jonah running away from God, Newton was delivered from death at sea in order to preach the good news. Though never formally trained, Newton would become a prominent pastor in two churches in England for forty-three years. He would befriend George Whitefield and John Wesley. As Newton frantically churned the water pump on March 21, 1748, he could not have imagined his life physically continuing; still less could he have imagined his life spiritually thriving under the incredible plans foreordained by God.

    Posted by Marco on May 26, 2015 01:54 PM

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