Summary: When the spiritual life of the Christian Church is at a low ebb God raises up chosen servants to a revival of the Christian faith.

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The stories of men and women’s lives recorded in Scripture are often used in sermons to illustrate truths to help us in our own spiritual pilgrimage. The biographies of Christian leaders in more recent times can also be very interesting and helpful. I read the life of John Newton who died just 200 years ago. He has a fascinating story which is the basis of my address today and I hope it will be as helpful to you as it was to me.

Although the spiritual condition of a nation may be discouraging the situation hasn’t gone unnoticed by our Lord as the Head of the Church. He knows what is required and he raises up his chosen servants as his instruments to revive the Christian Church. This is seen in the Church of the Old Testament through the many prophets of Israel, with their clarion call to repentance and announcing the promised Messiah. It happened 500 years ago in the Reformation led by Martin Luther. In our own lifetime there’s been the Charismatic Renewal. And what of today? All we can say is ‘Lord, do it again!’

The 18th century produced some great men of God. The spiritual life of the Established Church in Britain was at a low ebb and in great need of revival. However, God had not given up and, in the words often found in Scripture in such circumstances, ‘visited his people’ (cf. Ruth 1:6; Luke 1:68). God did this by raising up men of faith for this purpose, such as John and Charles Wesley and their friend and colleague in early Methodism, George Whitefield. Each of them left an enduring legacy to the Christian Church, the Wesleys in the Methodist Societies and eventually the Methodist Church. John Newton’s legacy was rather different. Like John and Charles, Newton was a clergyman of the Established Church and all three had much in common in theology and in fellowship, especially in their early days, but John had quite a different career path, in his background and in God’s service. He made a great contribution to Christian life and witness in society and which remains a blessing to millions all over the world.

John was born in 1725 in London. His father was a respected sea captain and consequently was often away from home which resulted in the father-son relationship being somewhat distant, although he loved his son and was a forgiving parent over the years when John behaved rashly or made mistakes. His mother was a devoted Christian and from a young child taught him to believe in God’s omnipotence, to fear his judgement and to accept the Bible as the Word of God, a foundation which he never forgot although as a teenager he rebelled against these teachings. We must thank God for Christian mothers for their example and patient teaching of their children. The Apostle Paul paid generous tribute to the mother and grandmother of his colleague Timothy. The truths received may appear to be dormant for years but then the Holy Spirit reminds the wayward offspring of what they learned in their youth and is the means of a return to faith.

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