BB NOTE: John Newton, the former slave dealer on an English ship who became a devoted Christian, abandoning his old horrific ways to become an Anglican clergyman who had a major impact on William Wilberforce, wrote this letter in 1763 on his conversion to Christ. You can click on the headline above to read the entire letter. But it came to mind today as I got into a dicussion about when do we associate – or not associate – with those who hold views we find abominable. I am of the mind that Jesus is always near, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to redeem any of us in moment’s notice. When do I shut the door on a non-believer or one who has shut their eyes to God? I ask myself in the case of the Episcopal Church, but also with politicians who seek office and glory and will associate even with Christian leaders for personal benefit. How do we know this to so? How do we know those moments belong to the Lord, when He is the one who is inviting, the one seeking, the one calling the sinner to come home? The Lord called John Newton, right from the sea, right from the depths of his most henius sin.
Here Newton draws a picture here in the opening of his letter of the voyage and the “number of vessels, at different times, and from different places, bound to the same port…” What makes Newton different from what we deal with today is that indeed, the port is agreed to be the same, where that is no longer the case today. The port is the harbor of Jesus Christ, the Lord and our Redeemer, the Way, the Truth, and the Life – the only port we may call home. But here we have this image of the ships at sea, all entering the port through different voyages, different journeys, but all arriving at their port of call. May it be so for us today – whether we set sail from a dstant land or return home, whether we are all ready out on the seas or only now setting out. But along the way, may we be ready for the sudden conversion, the sudden call that one that we were sure was lost, has been found – the one who was so blind, but now can see.
January 20, 1763.
My connections with sea-affairs have often led me to think, that the varieties observable in Christian experience may be properly illustrated from the circumstances of a voyage. Imagine to yourself a number of vessels, at different times, and from different places, bound to the same port; there are some things in which all these would agree,—the compass steered by, the port in view, the general rules of navigation, both as to the management of the vessel, and determining their astronomical observation, would be the same in all.
In other respects they would differ: perhaps no two of them would meet with the same distribution of wind and weather. Some we see set out with a prosperous gale; and when they almost think their passage secured, they are checked by adverse blasts; and after enduring much hardship and danger; and frequent expectations of shipwreck, they just escape, and reach the desired haven. Others meet the greatest difficulties at first; they put forth in a storm, and are often beaten back; at length their voyage proves favorable, and they enter the port with a PLEROPHORIA, a rich and abundant entrance. Some are hard beset with cruisers and enemies, and obliged to fight their way through; others meet with little remarkable in their passage. Is it not thus in the spiritual life?
All true believers walk by the same rule, and mind the same things: The word of God is their compass; Jesus is both their polar star and their sun of righteousness; their hearts and faces are all set Zion-ward. Thus far they are as one body, animated by one spirit, yet their experience, formed upon these common principles, is far from being uniform. The Lord, in his first call, and his following dispensations, has a regard to the situation, temper, talents of each, and to the particular services or trials he has appointed them for. Though all are exercised at times, yet some pass through the voyage of life much more smoothly than others.
But he “who walketh upon the wings of the wind, and measures the waters in the hollow of his hand, will not suffer any of whom he has once taken charge, to perish in the storms, though for a season, perhaps, many of them are ready to give up all hopes.
We must not therefore make the experience of others, in all respects, a rule to ourselves, nor our own a rule to others; yet these are common mistakes, and productive of many more.
John Newton is immortalized as the author of the hymn Amazing Grace.