The Great Cloud of Witnesses

I wonder what entered the minds of Newton’s parishioners as they watched their new pastor mount the pulpit for the first time. Vivid scenes from his earlier days? His being stripped and flogged by the Navy? His transporting chained African slaves? His immoral indulgences? His filthy mouth? His months of bondage to a sadistic woman?

Now this man, John Newton, was their pastor!

But apparently some were also troubled by his evangelical fervor. Newton had reportedly been so totally transformed by Jesus Christ that he preached the Bible with greater passion than other Anglican clergy. Were they getting a fanatic? An enthusiast?

So every eye watched Newton step into the pulpit of the little baroque church in the heart of London. He had chosen a text for his first sermon—Ephesians 4:15. The two great monosyllables in the phrase, “speaking the truth in love,” he said, would mark his ministry. His voice rang out:

Every attempt to disguise or soften any part of the truth to accommodate the prevailing taste around us must be an affront to the Majesty of God. My conscience bears me witness that I mean to speak the truth among you. May the grace of God enable me always to do it.

But he also was prepared to care for his flock, to feel the warmest emotions of friendship and tenderness toward them. This love which my heart bears, I offer as plea for the earnestness and importunity which I must use. Love will prompt me to be faithful and earnest.

He admitted that he once was “a scorner and a despiser of the gospel,” and he promised to hide nothing about his past life. But, he said, he stood before them “as a pattern of the long-suffering of God.”

The little church, St. Mary’s, was soon packed each Sunday. In time Newton’s influence reached the highest members of the British government, and it was his ministry that fueled the movement for the abolition of the slave trade. Souls were saved, and all the world still sings his hymns, including one that begins, Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. …

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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