Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Newton : My dead friend

My story involves at one point my giving up my job to go and work for my local church. I was wholly unqualified for the task and knew nothing of theology or church practices or the nuances of the thing that is the Church of England. I genuinely has no idea what on earth the people who 'worked for the church' were supposed to do and floundered wondering what I should do apart from pray and read the Bible.

In those early difficult days suspecting my utter lack of competence for the job would soon be discovered , I happened upon a dead mentor- a man by the name of John Newton. I discovered him quite by chance (not that we believe in that) through a couple of sermons called 'Principles of Christian Growth 1' and 'Principles of Christian Growth 2' and immediately went and bought a copy of his letters. I have been dipping into them on and off ever since, particularly when I hit a situations that perplex me, which is almost all the time. What I have learnt from Newton is the things that assail my own soul and other people's souls are in fact exactly the same for him as they are for you and me.

So, if you are currently struggling with a secret sin or character trait or habit that you think you will never defeat, reading Newton will encourage you that he faced the same. If you are wondering how on earth you will attain maturity in the faith (Eph 4:13) and need a few tools to help you achieve this, he will be your helper. If you want to know how the gospel transforms your inner being and the process by which that occurs then Newton is a man who can give you a tip or two. If you feel amidst a battle with all its difficulties and snares Newton will explain to you the rules and means of combat. Finally, if you are a pastor or are involved in pastoring others and are looking for a one-stop shop handbook of wisdom for the job (if ever such a thing exists) then these letters will come as close as any to that. For all our whizz bang techniques, courses, prayer ministry, musical shows and all the dry ice of some parts of the contemporary church, the truth is walking out the gospel hasn't changed at all, it has never been easy and is unlikely to become so any time soon.

Imagine my joy then at finding this post called 'John Newton's Preface to Pilgrim's Progress' which for a Newton fan like me was the very happiest of discoveries. You see none of us when we make the decision to follow Jesus have any idea how hard it is going to be. Very few of us, particularly if you are a first generation follower, are prepared for the long journey and the painful surgery the Spirit has planned for our characters and souls. On many days one may, as I have often, feel like giving up or turning back (as Bunyan captured so brilliantly) but by amazing grace we each one of us really can and will be able to persevere. So if you need a companion to walk with you in the Spirit then I doubt you will find a much finer friend than John Newton and reading this preface today may be just the encouragement your soul needs to keep putting one foot in front of another.

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