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John Newton (1725 – 1807) wrote many things, that many Christians have found pastorally helpful. He is certainly best remembered for his classic hymn Amazing Grace, and also for his long sermon series that employed the Biblical texts used in the composition of Handel’s Messiah. But his parish letters are also full of godly wisdom and practical advice, like this observation about the difference between ignorance and disobedience.
“The experience of past years has taught me to distinguish between ignorance and disobedience. The Lord is gracious to the weakness of his people; many involuntary mistakes will not interrupt their communion with him: he pities their infirmity, and teaches them to do better. But if they dispute his known will, and act against the dictates of conscience, they will surely suffer for it. This will weaken their hands, and bring distress into their hearts. Wilful sin sadly perplexes and retards our progress. May the Lord keep us from it.”
Thank you Newton! That’s very helpful. Christians often fret about mistakes they have made in the course of life, and often condemn themselves bitterly. But to know that the Father understands and condemns not, is a great relief and a great consolation. But then to also remember that wilful disobedience has its certain consequence of a troubled spirit and a hindered way, is salutatory and a helpful caution. For it is one thing stumble in the light. It is quite another to walk intentionally in the dark. And may God help us to know the difference.
DM 5th Sept 2017