A Happy New Year with Hope for Habitual Tenderness

John Newton was born in London on July 24, 1725.  His mother died when he was six and his father was a seafarer.  At eighteen years old Newton was pressed into the naval service where, as remembered by his friend and biographer Richard Cecil, “The companions he met with here completed the ruin of his principles.”  On one trip home Newton deserted his naval post.  He was caught and spent two days confined in irons, publicly beaten and degraded from his office.  Newton himself would later write,  “I was capable of anything; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor (so far as I remember) the least sensibility of conscience. . . .”  The only goodness Newton recalls in himself was his love for Mary, the woman he eventually married.  “My love to [Mary] was now the only restraint I had left.” John met Mary at seventeen years of age (she was 13) and spent the next seven years at sea dreaming about her.  They married when Newton was 24 and remanined so for 40 years until her death in 1790.

Prior to that, at around 20 years old, Newton was put off a ship on a small island southeast of Sierra Leone and lived virtually as a slave.   He wrote that even the African slaves would try to smuggle him food.  Later in life Newton would remember the seemingly accidental moment when he was freed from bondage because a ship captained by a man who knew his father anchored near the island.  After spending another year at sea, upon returning home Newton awoke one night to a violent storm in the North Atlantic Sea. The ship was taking on water and while assigned to working the ship’s pumps Newton is said to have remembered saying to himself: “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us.” And when it finally appeared that there was hope for survival:  “I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour. I began to pray: I could not utter the prayer of faith; I could not draw near to a reconciled God, and call him Father . . . the comfortless principles of infidelity were deeply riveted;  . . .The great question now was, how to obtain faith.”

Thus began Newton’s conversion.  Eventually an epileptic seizure ended his career and Newton sought ordination in the church.  He was initially denied postulancy but persisted and we know the end of the story.  John Newton became the beloved pastor of two congregations in Olney and London for 43 years, was a personal friend to the likes of William Wilberforce, John Wesley and George Whitefield and wrote the lyrics to what is arguably one of the most famous hymns in the English language, Amazing Grace.  Newton died on December 21, 1807 at the age of 82.

It’s the perfect time of year to remember John Newton.  Perfect because Amazing Grace is presumed to be a hymn written in his attic study to accompany a sermon that Newton preached on New Year’s Day in 1773.  The sermon was based on 1 Chronicles 17:16,17 and Newton’s journals reveal what was his own “amazing journey” that led this beloved preacher to pen the lyrics to a timeless hymn; the journals reveal that it wasn’t always easy for Newton to see the Grace.  Below is Newton’s journal entry, written in shorthand, on Friday, January 1st, 1773 (if you click on the highlighted link for 1 Chronicles below you can read Newton’s own sermon notes – great and inspiring reflections for us as we journey from New Year’s Day last Friday to Epiphany this Wednesday):

This is the Ninth New Year’s day I have seen in this place. I have reason to say, The Lord crowneth every year with his goodness. The entrance of this finds me and my _ in health and peace. I am still favoured with strength, and with some liberty for my public work and hope the Lord is still pleased to work by me, for the edification of his people already called, and the awakening of sinners. As to myself, It is given me to trust in the Lord Jesus for life and salvation – I know he is both willing and able to save. Upon him as an All-sufficient Saviour and upon his word of promise I build my hope, believing that he will not suffer me to be put to shame. My exercise of grace is faint, my consolations small, my heart is full of evil, my chief sensible burdens are, a wild ungoverned imagination, and a strange sinful backwardness to reading the Scriptures, and, to secret prayer. These have been my complaints for many years, and I have no less cause of complaint than formerly. But my eye and my heart is to Jesus. His I am, Him I desire to serve, to him I this day would devote and surrender myself anew. O Lord, accept, support, protect, teach, comfort and bless me. Be thou my Arm, my Eye, my Joy and my Salvation. Mortify the power of sin, and increase the image of thy holiness in my heart. Anoint me with fresh oil, make me humble, faithful, diligent and obedient. Let me in all things attend to thy word as my rule, to thy glory as my end, and depend upon thy power and promise for safety and success. I am now in the 49th year of my age, and may expect in the course of a few years at most to go whence I shall no more return, nor have I a certainty of continuing here a single year or even a month or a day. May thy grace keep me always waiting till my appointed change shall come, and when the summons shall come may I be enabled to rejoice in thee, as the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

I preached this forenoon from 1 Chronicles 17:16,17.   Hope I was enabled to speak with some liberty, but found my own heart sadly unaffected.  The afternoon I devote to retirement, and to beg a blessing upon the important service of the evening, an annual sermon to the young people, which is usually laid upon my heart with more weight than any other opportunity in the course of the year.

Preached to the young people in the evening from Proverbs 8:34-36.  I went to church remarkably dull – but in singing the hymn before sermon I felt a softening of spirit, and was favoured in preaching with remarkable liberty.  The Lord grant it may be attended with a blessing.  There was a good congregation, and the customary New Year’s gift brought me after sermon including some gleanings afterwards amounted to near.

1 Chronicles 17:16,17
And David the king came and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O Lord God.
The accompanying hymn is presumed to be Amazing Grace, Olney Hymns, Book 1, Hymn 41

Proverbs 8:34-36
Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord. But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death.

A final thought as we journey from celebrating the beginning of a new year in 2016 toward the season of Epiphany in the church.  “Habitual tenderness” is the phrase Newton used to describe the life of one who believes.  With amazing grace Newton wrote: “[The believer] feels his (sic) own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of his Lord.  This gives him an habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit.”

May each of us, as we begin this new year, discover the amazing Grace of God that can lead us to a life lived in habitual tenderness…

Happy Monday,



This entry was posted in The Rev. Jim Quigley and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to A Happy New Year with Hope for Habitual Tenderness

  1. Janis Grogan says:

    What a beautiful expression and challenging goal to live into. Thanks, Jim

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. fpa4356 says:

    Thanks, Jim. I could use some habitual tenderness in my heart and mind; I need amazing Grace now more than ever. Why is it so hard to find ?

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