John Newton on Calvinism

John NewtonOnce asked if he was a Calvinist, Newton plunked a lump of sugar into his tea, stirred the hot liquid, and said, “I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writing and preaching as I use this sugar. I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed, and diluted…(1)  I think these doctrines should be in a sermon like sugar in a dish of tea, which sweetens every drop, but is no where to be found in a lump – tasted everywhere, though prominent nowhere…(2)  The views I have received of the doctrines of grace are essential to my peace. (3)  I could not live comfortably a day, or an hour, without them.” (4)

(1)  Diluted in a holistic and permeating way – not weakened.
(2) Convincing others to embrace Calvinism was decisively accomplished not by teaching, he said, but by experience. Often it was only after a Christian was hit by a personal trial (a “pinch”) that he or she would be finally driven to embrace the comforting truths of Calvinism. Thus, from the pulpit, Newton felt no pressure to force-feed the doctrines of Calvinism.
(3) For Newton, Calvinism was sweetness for a weary soul.
(4) In this way Newton’s life was driven theologically. Rooted deep in personal experience, theology was the stuff of life, the stuff of Newton’s life, the stuff of the Christian life.

4 thoughts on “John Newton on Calvinism

    • Without the doctrines of grace, the gospel becomes bad news, wearisome, overbearing. Anyone who asks the question, “What would Jesus do?” with the intention of imitating his perfection is doomed to experience shame, guilt, and constant failure. The sweetness comes when the Spirit reminds us of the gospel, “Remember what Jesus has done, and is currently doing, for you. He has given his perfect life in exchange for your sin and he is currently praying and interceding for you at the throne of grace.” That is the sugar of our great faith – that we, having no merit in ourselves, have been chosen, pursued, loved, brought to salvation, and are now held in the grip of sovereign grace. This is rest for a weary soul.


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