Repentance Over Time, Part 1
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
John Newton: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
John Newton, author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” has a dramatic story of salvation. He was a notorious slave trader who came to Christ on a slave ship after a terrible storm. Later he became a minister, wrote hymns, and became an avid abolitionist. It’s a great tale.
But Newton’s story doesn’t fit the modern narrative of becoming a Christian and getting things straightened out right away. For example, when he returned safe and sound and saved to England after the storm, he signed on as a mate of another slave ship. He continued to buy and trade slaves, and traveled back to America, studying His Bible as 200 slaves lay captive underneath. Though it was ultimately Christians who provided the heart and soul of the abolitionist movement, most people didn’t see that slavery was wrong. In fact, Newton only stopped the work when it became medically necessary.
If you read his writings, it becomes clear that the revelation of the evils of the trade came slowly to him, changing over time as he read the Scriptures and lived in communion with the Spirit of God, who leads us into all truth. Newton later worked actively against the slave trade, allying himself with William Wilberforce, the legendary British Parliamentarian whose life was dedicated to ending slavery in England. Newton came to be ashamed of his former stance, and spoke of it often. But it was a slow and oftentimes painful journey.
For us today, we need to recognize that God often takes decades to complete a work in us—and in others. Our experience of salvation might have seemed quick to some of us, but as we look back, we realize that God worked over quite a period of time to bring us to Himself.
We need to be patient with ourselves and with other people. God’s goal with someone like Newton could have just been to convict him of the sin of slavery and have him quit. But it was deeper and wider than that. Newton became a minister who was greatly influential in ending the trade, and who also wrote the most popular and perhaps powerful hymn in the English language—one that still ministers to millions today. It took time to create that person.
Prayer: God, help me to be patient with your work in me and in others. Lead me to pray with wisdom for your work in the hearts, souls and minds of other people. Forgive me for judging them for not being transformed at the rate I think they should. Thank you that you have the power and wisdom to work deeply and providentially over time.