Few pastors in church history have communicated gospel truth with more grace and compassion than John Newton. Today, Newton is best known for composing the best loved hymn in the English language, Amazing Grace, as well as for his dramatic conversion from a life of slave-trading to Christian faith. Newton was also a pastoral counselor par excellence, and a mighty instrument of evangelical renewal in the Anglican communion in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
I find in Newton’s published letters a tremendous source of personal encouragement, and a model of pastoral care. He was such a good friend to needy sinners (like the troubled poet William Cowper), because he never forgot “it is by the grace of God I am what I am.” He ever knew himself to be a needy sinner in the hands of a merciful Savior; this made him patient and tender with his fellow struggling pilgrims. I can’t say it better than Newton himself—we need more weather-beaten Christians in the ministry:
Surely much of that hasty and censorious spirit, too often observable in young converts, arises from their having, as yet, a very imperfect acquaintances with the deceitfulness of their hearts. But the old, weather-beaten Christian, who has learnt by sorrowful experience how weak he is in himself, and what powerful subtle enemies he has to grapple with, acquires a tenderness in dealing with the bruises and broken bones [of others], which greatly conduces to his acceptance and usefulness.
Letters of John Newton (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 145
Eric Smith is the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Savannah, Tennessee. He and his wife, Candace, have three children: Coleman, Crockett, and Clarabelle. Eric is currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.