This precept is very extensive and important

John Newton

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” Romans 12:2

This precept is very extensive and important. As believers, we are strangers and pilgrims upon earth. Heaven is our country–and the Lord is our King. We are to be known as His subjects–and therefore it is His pleasure that we do not speak the language or adopt the customs, of the land in which we sojourn.

We must not conform to the spirit of the world. As members of society, we have a part to act in it, in common with others. But though our business is the same–our principles and ends are to be entirely different!

We must not conform to the maxims of the world. The world in various instances calls evil, good–and good, evil. But we have recourse to the law and to the testimony, and are to judge of things by the unerring Word of God–uninfluenced by the determination of the great or the many.

We must not conform to the world in their amusements and diversions. We are to mix with the world, only so far as our necessary and providential connections engage us–so far as we have a reasonable expectation of doing or getting good, and no farther.

“What fellowship has light with darkness, or what concord has Christ with Belial?” What call can a believer have into those places and companies . . .
where everything tends to promote a spirit of dissipation;
where the fear of God has no place;
where things are purposely disposed to inflame or indulge corrupt and sinful appetites and passions, and to banish all serious thoughts of God and ourselves?

If it is our duty  . . .
to redeem time,
to walk with God,
to do all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
to follow the example which He set for us when He was upon the earth,
and to work out our salvation with fear and trembling
–then it must of course be our duty to avoid a conformity with the world in those vain and sensual diversions, which stand in as direct contradiction to a spiritual frame of mind, as darkness to light.

’Tis a Point I Long to Know

So much of the beauty of poetry is finding words that express your soul. Poetry has a way of expressing both our conscious thoughts and our unconscious desires. Such is the case with this little poem I dug up recently. It’s an old one, written many years ago by John Newton. He expresses the universal experience of the Christian in our searching, our wondering, our perplexity, and, eventually, our confidence. The poem is titled “’Tis a Point I Long to Know.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I His, or am I not?

If I love, why am I thus?
Why this dull and lifeless frame?
Hardly, sure, can they be worse,
Who have never heard His name!

Could my heart so hard remain,
Prayer a task and burden prove;
Every trifle give me pain,
If I knew a Savior’s love?

When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark, and vain, and wild;
Filled with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?

If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do;
You that love the Lord indeed,
Tell me: Is it thus with you?

Yet I mourn my stubborn will,
Find my sin a grief, and thrall;
Should I grieve for what I feel,
If I did not love at all?

Could I joy His saints to meet,
Choose the ways I once abhorred,
Find, at times, the promise sweet,
If I did not love the Lord?

Lord, decide the doubtful case!
Thou who art Thy people’s sun;
Shine upon Thy work of grace,
If it be indeed begun.

Let me love Thee more and more,
If I love at all, I pray;
If I have not loved before,
Help me to begin today.


~ from Tim Challies’s blog

What kind of king is this?

from Borrowed Light

At present I’m reading the biography of Eric Clapton. Clapton, in my opinion and in the opinion of many others, is the king of the guitar. He is so good that not only do people know his name, many know his unique style and sound.

On one occasion when Clapton was in treatment for drugs and alcoholism a counselor asked him a penetrating question, “who are you?”. At first he was filled with rage. He felt deeply disrespected that someone would even ask such a question. “Of course you know who I am”, he thought to himself.

I think if we are being honest we can all identify with Clapton. None of us likes to be disrespected. We especially don’t like being forgotten. Who of us hasn’t been a bit insulted because someone has forgotten our name?  We have a certain idea of our standing in society and our dignity before our fellow man. If someone treats us in a way that does not match up to our perceived worth and dignity we respond with anger.

As I read through John Newton’s sermon Voluntary Suffering I was taken aback by the contrast between Jesus and my own heart in this regard. He as Newton says,


Know of any better statement of sanctification?

by John Newton

I am not what I ought to be. . . . I am not what I wish to be. . . . I am not what I hope to be. . . . Yet . . . I am not what I once was . . . and by the grace of God I am what I am.

John Newton’s Advice on Quarrels

from The VillageChurch by Jonathan Woodlief

Many know John Newton as the former slave-trader, preacher and author of “Amazing Grace,” but he was also a prolific letter-writer amid the Second Great Awakening. In fact, one of his best means of shepherding was through writing letters. One writer said of him, “They found in him one who had been a worse sinner than themselves and who could enter into their experiences with tenderness and sympathy.”

In the summer of 1761, Newton wrote a letter to his friend, Pastor Whitford, on the evil of a quarrelsome spirit. In it, Newton doesn’t address conflict per se because conflict is inevitable in a broken world. Rather, he addresses a spirit of pride that often persists in conflict. Here are five helps he offers:

1. Know the worth of communion with Jesus Christ.

Newton remarks to Whitford, “Tell those who know what communion with Jesus is worth, that they will never be able to maintain it, if they give way to the workings of pride, jealousy, and anger.” Newton is saying that people who know the worth of communion with Jesus seek to prevent even the smallest of things from getting in the way of that communion, even in the midst of conflict. They avoid gossip. They outdo one another in honor through service. They rejoice and weep with each other. If they have a problem, they bring it first to their heavenly Father and then to the person. They keep short accounts and overlook offenses. They are one.

Believers in Christ, do you know the worth of communion with Jesus?

More at

Newton’s autobiography of grace

from The Briefing by 

This month, our church’s sign board reads…

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved

Grace is God’s mercy – especially when we don’t deserve it! My first memory verse says,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9]

Newton_jGrace inspired those lines first quoted on our sign board, from that most famous of hymns, “Amazing Grace”, by Rev John Newton, the slave-trading sea captain, turned Anglican minister.

This month of August marks the 250th anniversary of the publication by John Newton in 1764 of his autobiography, An Authentic Narrative of Some Remarkable and Interesting Particulars in the Life of … Communicated in a Series of Letters. (They liked long book titles back then. They also liked to publish anonymously if being self-referential – a far cry from how we’d do it today!)

Newton lived 1725-1807. His mother died when he was six. Newton became a sailor, and lived what he considered a corrupt and immoral life, eventually as a slave-trading sea captain.

His conversion to Christ began with a storm at sea. Initially he continued in the slave trade but ensured the slaves were treated more humanely. But after leaving maritime life, at the age 39, also 250 years ago in 1764, he became an Anglican Minister. And eventually he came to oppose the slave trade. And to write his hymn.

Newton was a mentor for William Wilberforce, the British MP who led the dogged two-decade fight for the abolition of the slave trade. Newton also played a key role in ensuring a Christian chaplain, Rev Richard Johnson, was placed on the First Fleet sailing to establish the new colony of New South Wales. I guess Newton wanted the comfort and challenge of God’s grace to ring out to the many convicts transported to Australia.

His autobiography is structured around a series of letters he wrote to explain his life’s journey. He dates the start of his conversion to 10 March 1748, when he expected to die at sea in a storm, explaining,

“I continued at the pump from three in the morning till near noon, and then I could do no more. I went and lay down, uncertain, and almost indifferent, whether I should rise again.”

As he considered his immortality and rejection of God, he writes,

“I concluded, at first, that my sins were too great to be forgiven.”

But remarkably, when “ beyond all probability” the ship looked like surviving, he says,

“I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour. I began to pray. I could not utter the prayer of faith; I could not draw near to God, and call Him Father. … I now began to think of that Jesus whom I had so often derided; I recollected the particulars of His life, and of His death; a death for sins not His own, but, as I remembered, for the sake of those who, in their distress, should put their trust in Him.”

Newton said it was not till several years after that he had “gained some clear views of the infinite grace of God through Christ Jesus”. But he concludes his letter VIII by saying…

“About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayer.”

Here’s his hymn…

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.


Great story. I have added a the Youtube video of the hymn below.

“The More Thou Has Exalted Me”

Posted  by  at In Christ Jesus

Paul ran from Christ; Christ pursued Paul. Paul resisted Christ; Christ disarmed Paul. Paul persecuted Christ; Christ converted him. Paul was an alien; Christ made him a member of the family.”
– Lewis B. Smedes, All Things Made New, p. 119

While it is true that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13), it is equally true that those who call on God do so because “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (Jn. 6:44).

In John Newton’s personal diary he wrote that he was in school only two years, from ages 8 to 10. He was self-taught his entire life and never had any formal theological education. After his conversion and upon beginning his pastoral career, he devoted himself to a rigorous program of learning Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac. In addition, he read many theological works in Latin and French, which he taught himself while at sea. Yet, despite all his learning, he never ceased to be amazed that, as he says at age 72, “such a wretch should not only be spared and pardoned, but reserved to the honour of preaching thy Gospel, which he had blasphemed and renounced . . . this is wonderful indeed! The more thou has exalted me, the more I ought to abase myself.”
– John Piper, The Roots of Endurance, p. 51

Since the Good News that saves us is a gospel of grace, a few mindsets/attitudes that we must avoid are:

  1. “God helps those who helps themselves” suggesting that all of humanity is left spiritually equalized and capable of becoming born-again. This attitude says, in effect, “I came to Christ by myself” and it rests in a faulty anthropology that  maintains a higher view of humankind than Scripture allows.
  2. “God brought me to Christ and I did not resist.” This carries with it some other baggage that is equally suspect, such as the only determining factor as to whether persons heed the Gospel call is free will. The human will is free to resist but did not. However, this seriously misses the biblical data that points to a common grace or general call to all that can be resisted (Matt. 22:14; Lk. 16:24), yet the special grace that saves cannot be resisted (Rom. 8:29-30).
  3. “God started the process and I cooperated.” This is a seriously under-informed theology because God does not begin something and not finish it (Philip.1:6). God’s purposes are never made contingent upon humans (Pr. 16:4; Acts 17:25).

The mindset or attitude that most faithfully coheres with Scripture is “God brought me to Christ.” Consider the following:

  • If there are conditions to be met, God ultimately meets them (cf., Jn. 6:44; 2 Tim. 1:9).
  • Though many were invited to the banquet and sinfully rejected(Matt.22:1-6), those who were brought in to feast were done so at the king’s discretion. It is, therefore, God’s prerogative as King to save those whom He chooses.
  • Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost constitutes a general call to everyone present; yet only some were specially called by God (v. 39) and were baptized into the faith (Acts 2:14-39).
  • Saul’s conversion clearly sets forth God’s special call (Acts9).

Indeed “The more thou has exalted me, the more I ought to abase myself.”

Hymn Stories: How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds

by Tim Challies

John Newton has made regular appearances on this blog. Over the years I have posted a number of quotes and hymns by him. A few years ago Ireviewed Jonathan Aitken’s biography of Newton and provided a short summary of his life and legacy. And most recently I mentioned his influential role in the life of William Cowper and their collaborative hymn writing work.

Since the focus of this series is hymn writing, perhaps we could say a little more about how Newton came to write hymns and what about them made them so influential.

When John Newton was ordained a curate of Olney Parish in Buckinghamshire, England, after a hard past of working as a sailor and slave trader, he gave particular attention to ministering to the people in ways that went above and beyond the weekly worship service. He began arranging spiritual gatherings during the week: one on Thursday afternoons for children, where he would explain the Scriptures to them “in their own little way,” and one in the evenings for adults to allow for extemporaneous prayer and teaching.

For these meetings Newton began to compose little bits of verse to be sung, probably as a way to summarize and impress the Scripture lessons on the minds and hearts of his congregants. Regarding his composition of these hymns,Benson writes

Newton was not a poet and did not pretend to be one… . He was writing for plain people, and made his hymns so simple that these could follow and understand. In all this he took his cue from Dr. Watts. Newton had a ready pen, some imagination, deep feeling, a knowledge of Scripture, and an urgent motive.

Eventually Newton composed over 200 of these hymns and combined them with 68 more from his friend William Cowper to publish Olney Hymns. The book became quite popular in England and America as it captured the spirit and theology of the Evangelical revival that was happening in those days through the ministries of George Whitefield, the Wesleys, and many others.

The hymn “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” was published in Olney Hymnsunder the title “The Name of Jesus.” It was based on Song of Solomon 1:3: “Your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you.”

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.

Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death!

recent recording of the hymn is available from Indelible Grace (featuring Matthew Perryman Jones).

by John Newton

When I was young I was sure of many things; Now there are only two things of which I am sure: One is, I am a miserable sinner; and the other, that Christ is an all sufficient Savior. He is well taught who learns these two lessons”- John Newton, former 18th century slave trader and the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”

Communion with God Demands Union with Christ

by John Newton

Communion presupposes union. By nature we are strangers, yea, enemies to God; but we are reconciled, brought nigh, and become his children, by faith in Christ Jesus. We can have no true knowledge of God, desire towards him, access unto him, or gracious communications from him, but in and through the Son of his love.

He is the medium of this inestimable privilege: for he is the way, the only way, of intercourse between heaven and earth; the sinner’s way to God, and God’s way of mercy to the sinner. If any pretend to know God, and to have communion with him, otherwise than by the knowledge of Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent, and by faith in his name, it is a proof that they neither know God nor themselves.

God, if considered as abstracted from the revelation of himself in the person of Jesus, is a consuming fire; if they should look upon us without respect to his covenant of mercy established in the Mediator, we could expect nothing from him but indignation and wrath. But when his Holy Spirit enables us to receive the record which he has given of his Son, we are delivered and secured from condemnation; we are accepted in the Beloved; we are united to him in whom all the fullness of the Godhead substantially dwells, and all the riches of divine wisdom, power, and love, are treasured up.

The Works of John Newton, vol. 1, 1820, (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007) p. 306