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John Newton: Infidel Restored
John Newton continued his ministry into his old age, turning a deaf ear to friends who urged him to accept retirement, as by the time he reached 80 he was almost blind and partially deaf. "I cannot stop" he replied. "What! Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?"
But in December 1806, the end was coming. His diary recorded his prayer asking God to help him meet his end with a faithful spirit: "Oh for grace to meet the approach of death with a humble, thankful, resigned spirit becoming my profession. That I may not stain my character by impatience, jealousy or any hateful temper but may be prepared and permitted to depart in peace and hope and be enabled, if I can speak, to bear my testimony to thy faithfulness and goodness with my last breath. Amen." That’s the prayer that I would make my own and perhaps you as well.
Newton’s friend wrote: "I saw Mr Newton near the closing scene. He was hardly able to talk; and all I find I noted down upon my leaving him was thus: ’My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour.’"
Newton would not have been pleased by the eulogistic reference in The Times report of his death to his "unblemished life," for he never forgot that he owed his redemption from a life of sin to a life in Christ entirely to divine mercy. He made this clear in the epitaph he wrote for himself. It was to be the inscription on his tomb at Olney and on a commemorative tablet to him at St. Mary Woolnoth:
"Once an Infidel and Libertine,
A Servant of Slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST,
Preserved, restored and pardoned,
And appointed to preach the faith
He had long laboured to destroy."
SOME THOUGHTS ON FORGIVENESS
Bernard Meltzer was a United States radio host for several decades. His advice call-in show was called "What's Your Problem?" Meltzer said, "When you forgive, you in no way change the past--but you sure do change the future."
Mark Twain had some sour thoughts about Christianity, but he had this much right: "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel of the one who crushed it."
Forgiving is hard but it is essential to spiritual and mental well-being. Noted religious author Agnes Sanford said, "As we practice the work of forgiveness we discover more and more that forgiveness and healing are one."
A woman testified to the transformation in her life that had resulted through her experience in conversion. She declared, "I'm so glad I got religion. I have an uncle I used to hate so much, I vowed I'd never go to his funeral. But now, why, I'd be happy to go to it any time."
Here is a sad story: A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval.
After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply.
After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.
The story is told in Spain of a father and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: "Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father."
The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 "Pacos" showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.
A man, who was telling his friend about an argument he'd had with his wife, commented, "Oh, how I hate it. Every time we have an argument, she gets historical." The friend replied, "You mean 'hysterical.'" "No," he insisted, "I mean historical. Every time we argue, she drags up everything from the past and holds it against me."
We call that "gunnysacking" -- packing up everything in this argument so you can dump it out during the next one. But things that have been dealt with in forgiveness should not be carried forward.
Two little brothers, Harry and James, had finished supper and were playing until bedtime. Somehow, Harry hit James with a stick, and tears and bitter words followed. Charges and accusations were still being exchanged as mother prepared them for bed.
The mother instructed, "Now, James, before you go to bed, you're going to have to forgive your brother." James was thoughtful for a few moments, and then he replied, "Well, OK, I'll forgive him tonight, but if I don't die in the night, he'd better look out in the morning."
Adults sometimes act childish. Rabbi David A. Nelson likes to tell the story of two brothers who went to their rabbi to settle a longstanding feud. The rabbi got the two to reconcile their differences and shake hands.
As they were about to leave, he asked each one to make a wish for the other in honor of the Jewish New Year. The first brother turned to the other and said, "I wish you what you wish me." At that, the second brother threw up his hands and said, "See, Rabbi, he's starting up again!"
An anonymous story: I was assisting another pastor in a revival meeting when we visited a man who had been active in the church, but, due to a dispute with a fellow member, he had quit attending church. We reasoned with him at length about the need for forgiveness and returning to church. Reluctantly, he agreed, and we had prayer together. When we were leaving, he followed us to the car and said, "Now, I'll forgive him, but all I want is for him to stay on his side of the road, and I'll stay on mine."
Contrast that attitude with this familiar story: Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, was never known to hold resentment a...
On a particularly rough airplane flight, a lady became very airsick. Her shoulders drooped, and her head slumped forward - she was totally wiped out. The stewardess came by to help her. "Come, come now," she said, "buck up and get control of yourself. Sit up and take courage." She put her arm under the lady’s arm and helped her sit upright in her seat, gave her gum to chew, and then went to get her some water. With the help of the stewardess, the lady finished the trip in far better condition than she began it in. This is like the mi...