Friday, April 8, 2011

John Newton on Dealing with Opposers of Calvinism

The18th Century preacher John Newton--most famous for writing the hymn Amazing Grace--held to the Reformed faith by strong conviction. His attitude toward those of the Arminian persuasion, however, was very different than that of some of the Reformed brethren in his day...and especially different than that of many of the purported Calvinists of our day. The following is an excerpt from the sermon, John Newton: The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness by John Piper:

Newton had a strong, clear Calvinistic theology. He loved the vision of God in true Biblical Calvinism: In the preface to the Olney hymns, he wrote, "The views I have received of the doctrines of grace are essential to my peace; I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without them. I likewise believe . . . them to be friendly to holiness, and to have a direct influence in producing and maintaining a gospel conversation; and therefore I must not be ashamed of them."[49] But he believed "that the cause of truth itself may be discredited by an improper management." Therefore, he says, "The Scripture, which . . . teaches us what we are to say, is equally explicit as to the temper and Spirit in which we are to speak. Though I had knowledge of all mysteries, and the tongue of an angel to declare them, I could hope for little acceptance or usefulness, unless I was to speak 'in love.'"[50]

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation. . . . The Scriptural maximum, that "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service to the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.[51]

He had noticed that one of the most "Calvinistic" texts in the New Testament called for tenderness and patience with opponents, because the decisive work was God's:

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will." (2 Timothy 2:24, rsv)

So, for the sake of repentance and knowledge of truth, Newton's pattern of tenderness in doctrinal matters was to shun controversy.

No comments: