On the news the other night I heard a politician characterizing anyone who did not agree with her party’s position as being guilty of bigotry. She seemed so sanctimonious in her denunciation of her opponents that it troubled me. Then I came across this letter from John Newton (1725-1807), the author of Amazing Grace. I found it to be more honest in its humility.
“I number my Christian correspondents among my principal blessings – a few judicious, pious friends, to who, when I can get the leisure to write, I end my heart by turns. I can trust them with my inmost sentiments, and I can write with no more disguise than I think. I shall rejoice to add you to the number, if you can agree to take me as I am (as I think you will) and suffer to commit my whole self on paper, without respect of names, parties and sentiments. I endeavor to observe my Lord’s command, to call no one master on earth; yet I desire to own and honor the image of God, wherever I find it. I dare not say I have no bigotry, for I know not myself, and remember to my shame that formerly… when I ignorantly professed myself free from it, I was indeed overrun with it…. but I strive and pray against it. And thus far, by the grace of God, I have attained, so that I find my heart as much united to many who differ from me, in some points, as to any who agree with me in all. I set no value upon any doctrinal truth, further than it has a tendency to promote practical holiness… “in things necessary.” What are these? I answer, those in which the spiritual worshippers of all ages and countries have agreed. Suppose it ran something in the following manner:
I believe that sin is the most hateful thing in the world; that I and all human beings are in a state of wrath and depravity, utterly unable to sustain the penalty, or to fulfill the commands of God’s holy law; and that we have no sufficiency of ourselves to think a good thought.
I believe that Jesus Christ is the chief among ten thousand; that he came into the world to save the chief of sinners, by making propitiation for sins by his death… that he is now exalted on high… and that he ever lives to make intercession for us.
I believe that the Holy Spirit (the gift of God through Jesus Christ) is the sure and only guide into all truth, and the common privilege of all believers; and that under his influence, I believe that the Holy Scriptures are able to furnish us thoroughly for every good work.
I believe that love to God, and to man for God’s sake, is the essence of religion, and the fulfilling of the law; and that without holiness no man shall see the Lord; that those who, by patient course in well doing, seek glory, honor and immortality, shall receive eternal life; and I believe that this reward is not of debt but of grace, even to the praise and glory of that grace, whereby he has made us accepted in the Beloved. Amen.