Imagine with me that you are a well-respected pastor. You’ve been serving at your church now for about eight years. Things are going well and you are beginning to gain respect in the larger world of evangelicalism.
A new pastor moves into a neighboring town. This new pastor is truly a hypocrite. He denies the Trinity and by his own confession he became a minister for the money, the ease, and the hopes of getting himself advanced in the literary world.
He also hates everything that you stand for and has made it known. In fact he often mocks you from his pulpit. He believes that you (and all those that share your theology) are “full of bigotry, enthusiasm, and spiritual pride”. Furthermore, he warns people that your view of the Scriptures is “dishonorable to God and destructive to morality”.
Now imagine with me that you go to your mailbox and receive a letter from this minister. He is feigning a friendship with you and as is quite obviously trying to goad you into controversy.
How do you respond?
The Not So Imaginary Story
The above scenario was a real situation in the life of John Newton. The hypocritical minister in this story is a man named Thomas Scott.
Here, according to Scott, was Newton’s reception of him:
“he declared that he believed me to be one that feared God, and that was under the teaching of his Holy Spirit, that he gladly accepted my offer of friendship, and was no ways inclined to dictate to me; but leaving me to the guidance of the Lord, would be glad as occasion served, from time to time, to bear testimony to the truths of the gospel, and to communicate his sentiments unto me on any subject, with all the confidence of friendship” (From Force of Truthby Thomas Scott, emphasis mine)
As I’ve studied the life and ministry of John Newton there is a trait to this man that has often inspired me. I refer to this grace as a relentless confidence. Here in his response to Thomas Scott he had a relentless confidence in the Lord’s ability to take an enemy of the gospel (not to mention Newton himself) and lead him into truth.
In the case of Thomas Scott the hope of Newton’s relentless confidence was realized. A couple of years after his letter exchanges with Newton, Scott was truly converted. In his narrative of the account, The Force of Truth, Scott attributes Newton as one of the great influences to that conversion.
Oddly enough the man that once mocked the pulpit of Newton would later preach Newton’s gospel from that same pulpit. Scott actually succeeded Newton as the pastor of Olney. He would also be influential in founding the Church Missionary Society.
As I reflect on how Newton responded to Scott I’m rebuked. I have to be honest and say that I don’t have the same relentless confidence. I want it, but I don’t yet have it. For the next couple of days I hope to share my reflections on this relentless confidence.