Who gave Himself a ransom for all. -1 Timothy 2:6
John Newton is the famous author of the hymn Amazing Grace. Newton lived a wicked life. He served as captain on a slave ship. But eventually he was gloriously saved, came to oppose slavery, and preach the Gospel. American Tract Society has a great tract on him, The Amazing Story of Amazing Grace.
Was John Newton a Calvinist? The answer is yes, and no.
Newton claimed to be a Calvinist. That is pretty good evidence. The point is this - there are a hundred different varieties of Calvinists. What kind of Calvinist was he?
Some Baptists claim to be non-Calvinists, meaning they are neither Arminian or 5-point Calvinist. Others, believing the same thing, call themselves Moderate Calvinists. This would stand in contrast to more Strict Calvinism or 5-point Calvinism.
Many have put it that all Southern Baptists are Calvinists because they at least agree with one of the five points of Calvinism; the one called Perseverance of the Saints. This is also referred to as Eternal Security, or Once Saved, Always Saved. In this sense, we are all at least Moderate Calvinists. Many Moderate Calvinists would also say they believe in other of the five points of Calvinism, depending on how they are defined.
On the other hand, most Southern Baptists reject one of the five points of Calvinism known as Limited Atonement. The big majority of Southern Baptists believe Jesus sacrificially died for all people on the face of the earth (John 1:29; 3:16-17; Romans 5:6.; 2 Corinthians 5:14-16, 19; 1 Timothy 2:4, 6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; 3:9; 1 John 2:2). A Strict Calvinist, however, believes Jesus only died for the elect, those who will eventually get saved (Limited Atonement).
Some Strict Calvinists of today love to point out Christian leaders of the past as Calvinists, implying they believed in all five points of Calvinism. The reality is many of them were more of the Moderate rather than the Strict 5-point variety.
Now back to John Newton. It is interesting that he gently reproved some of the more militant Calvinists of his day.
Did John Newton believe in the modern day view of all five points of Calvinism? Apparently not. It appears that Newton was of the more Moderate Calvinist variety.
Evidently John Newton did not believe in Limited Atonement. Why? Consider a couple of his hymns, and you be the judge.
My Soul Once Had it’s Plenteous Years
O sinners, hear His gracious call!
His mercy’s door stands open wide,
He has enough to feed you all,
And none who come shall be denied.
Now Let Us Join With Hearts and Tongues
When angels by transgression fell,
Justice consigned them all to hell;
But mercy formed a wondrous plan,
To save and honor fallen man.
O glorious hour, it comes with speed
When we from sin and darkness freed,
Shall see the God Who died for man,
And praise Him more than angels can.
In his hymns, Newton often says Jesus died for sinners. All are sinners.
It appears John Newton was indeed a Calvinist, but one of the more Moderate variety. Evidently he did not believe the view of Limited Atonement.
Note: It also seems evident from their writings that John Calvin himself, and B. H. Carroll, founding president of SWBTS, also believed Jesus died for all mankind.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, December 19, AD 2011.
Related Articles (find many more in lower right margin).
Unlimited Atonement, Jesus Died For All
Books on Calvinism, Predestination