Family Lessons 37: John Newton

My 9x great-grandfather was John Newton. Those with an eye to history and our nation’s great heritage will be disappointed to learn it was not the famous Anglican hymnwriter who composed, most famously, Amazing Grace. My forbear is altogether plainer, as our knowledge of him is scant in the extreme. All we know is that he married my 9x great-grandmother Ursula, who died in 1734, and had a daughter called Phyllis, through whom I am descended. He was probably born around 1660 and lived at Ingleton in North Yorkshire. Whereas the better known John Newton was an infamous slave trader who was dramatically converted to Christ, my John Newton was likely a more civil, moral man. I doubt he ever employed manacles or thumbscrews; he was probably a regular farmer who worked hard and hoped for a good harvest. He might not have been entirely virtuous; maybe he worked the odd Sunday, or he enjoyed a good tipple at the alehouse; perhaps he sometimes dozed in church. An altogether nicer character than his famous name-sake; his crimes much smaller, his sins more respectable.

Yet this matters not a jot. He who has done much wrong is forgiven much; he who does little wrong but never seeks God’s forgiveness is condemned already. The thief on the cross had a bright future, but Simon the Pharisee who disdained the Lord Jesus’ grace had a grim prospect, unless he repented. Stop thinking yourself morally better than others; it matters only whether you have been forgiven by God, whether for much or less. On that great day of judgement, two John Newtons shall stand before the throne. One was potentially ‘good’ but unforgiven; one was bad, but saved by grace. Which one shall fare better?

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Image by Tumisu, please consider from Pixabay