Last week's Expositor's Quote concerned the need for preachers to be willing to preach the truth, even when it is unpopular. This week's helps us to conduct the fight for the truth with the right spirit. John Newton (1725-1807), author of "Amazing Grace," writes to a fellow pastor who is composing a tract against prevalent false doctrines:
You are likely to be engaged in controversy. . . . You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail. . . . I am not therefore anxious for the [outcome] of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail. . . . I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public and yourself.
As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord's teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write. If [he is a believer] . . . the Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever. But if [he is not a believer], . . . he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. Alas! "He knows not what he does." But you know who has made you to differ. If God, in his sovereign pleasure, had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel. You were both equally blind by nature. If you attend to this, you will not reproach or hate him, because the Lord has been pleased to open your eyes, and not his. . . . If you write with a desire of being an instrument of correcting mistakes, you will of course be cautious of laying stumbling blocks in the way of the blind or of using any expressions that may exasperate their passions, confirm them in their principles, and thereby make their conviction, humanly speaking, more impracticable. . . .
John Newton, Works, Vol 1 (Banner of Truth, 1985), p. 269f. The complete letter is available on the web. See also John Piper's excellent autobiographical sketch of Newton, "John Newton: The Tough Roots of His Habitual Tenderness", which includes part of this quote.
[Do we pray earnestly for those with whom we differ? Do we show the same tenderness towards them that God shows towards us? Are we out to win arguments, or to win people by speaking the truth in love? Lord, forgive us for our harshness, forgive our argumentative spirits, and enable us by your Spirit to proclaim your truths with boldness and gentleness -- Coty]
[Look for more quotes from this letter in weeks ahead, under Newton's headings of "respecting the public" and "respecting yourself."]
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