Repentance Over Time: John Newton
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. (Romans 12:2)
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. When he returned safe and sound and saved to England after the storm, he signed on as a mate of another slave ship. He traveled back to America, studying his Bible as two hundred slaves lay captive beneath him.
Newton’s writings make clear that the revelation of the evils of the trade came slowly to him 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. But his transformation was a slow and oftentimes painful journey.
God often takes decades to complete a work in us—and in others. His goal with someone like Newton could just have been to convict him of the sin of slavery and renounce his part in it. 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, and amazing grace, 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 be. Thank You that You have the power and wisdom to work deeply and providentially over time.