Monday, December 19, 2011

Was John Newton A Calvinist?

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.
-John Newton

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.
-John Newton

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

10 comments:

  1. Newton sang ..."And none who come shall be denied." That is sweet music to my ears!

    Thanks for this great article! I pray that 2012 is a year of Jubilee!

    - Ron Hale

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  2. Thanks Ron. Have a great New Year. Keep on doing what you're doing.
    David R. Brumbelow

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  3. John Newton is an interesting Christian, and hard to categorize on a Calvinism to Arminianism scale. And it depends on how you define Calvinist as well. Here is a very unique hymn he wrote, called "The Legion Dispossessed." It appears to have "irresistible grace" in stanza two and specific election in stanza three. But then there is a commission to go preach to all around in the last stanza. I've seen a good bit of what many would call this kind of "inconsistency" in Newton's hymns. Perhaps he wasn't worried about fitting into anyone's soteriological mold.

    1. Legion was my name by nature,
    Satan raged within my breast;
    Never misery was greater,
    Never sinner more possessed:
    Mischievous to all around me,
    To myself the greatest foe;
    Thus I was, when Jesus found me,
    Filled with madness, sin and woe.
    2. Yet in this forlorn condition,
    When he came to see me free;
    I replied, to my Physician,
    What have I to do with thee?
    But he would not be prevented,
    Rescued me against my will;
    Had he stayed till I consented,
    I had been a captive still.
    3. Satan, though thou fain wouldst have it,
    Know this soul is none of thine;
    I have shed my blood to save it,
    Now I challenge it for mine,
    Though it long has thee resembled,
    Henceforth it shall me obey;
    Thus he spoke while Satan trembled,
    Gnashed his teeth and fled away.
    4. Thus my frantic soul he healed,
    Bid my sins and sorrows cease;
    Take, said he, my pardon sealed,
    I have saved thee, go in peace:
    Rather take me, Lord, to heaven,
    Now thy love and grace I know;
    Since thou hast my sins forgiven,
    Why should I remain below?
    5. Love, he said, will sweeten labors,
    Thou hast something yet to do;
    Go and tell your friends and neighbors,
    What my love has done for you:
    Live to manifest my glory,
    Wait for heav'n a little space;
    Sinners, when they hear thy story,
    Will repent and seek my face.
    (Olney Hymns, 1779)

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  4. Newton sang ..."And none who come shall be denied." That is sweet music to my ears!

    As a Five Point Calvinist,..That is EXACTLY what I believe as well!

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  5. Wasn't John Newton Anglican?

    Btw, the songs he wrote, like "..."And none who come shall be denied," can also be ascribed to an Arminian song-writer. It's music to my ears, also. As an Arminian, "That is EXACTLY what I believe as well!"

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  6. Piper claims Newton was a Calvinist. I am aware that it seems Calvinist assume all great Christians are Calvinists but how would you respond to Piper? Would you disagree? Agree? Thanks.

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  7. Newton wasn't a moderate Calvinist. He believed all of TULIP except limited atonement, which he was wrong about. The bible clearly teaches limited atonement. What trips you arminians up, of which I was one for ten years, is the words: all, world, and whosoever.
    "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."--John 12:32. Does the all mean all? No, because Jesus said the Father doesn't draw everyone:

    "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." John 6:44.

    The "all" are those the Father draws. You have no free will. God has to draw you and those he draws, he raises. If Jesus died for all, he failed miserably, because most go to hell, but of course He didn't fail. He died for only those He sought after:

    "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10.

    You have been tricked by Jacob Arminius. Study the scriptures diligently and God will show you.

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    Replies
    1. As much as both Calvinists and Arminians can "agree" on Newton's "and none who come shall be denied" on different planes of definition, the same goes for John 6:44. For both Calvinists and Arminians can read it with their own different interpretations. And Arminians can also say to Calvinists "study the Scriptures diligently and God will show you." What I can say is both need to listen to each other and healthily debate, and not accuse anyone of trickery.

      BTW, interesting and informative article David. Thanks.

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    2. I agree with the founding truth comment, and those quotes from those hymns do not say too much anyway, Christ is indeed a faliure, if his blood loses all those he died for, All the Father Gives me WILL come to me, and of all he has given me I lose None. None at all, and no sinner would come to him without being enabled,for the carnal mind is hostile to God. There are very very very few verses that seem to indicate unlimited atonement, and John 3:16 is NOT one of them.

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  8. Newton was a Calvinist, but the true mature Calvinist does not deny that there is a paradox with this doctrine: God is sovereign in the predestination of His people, yet all men are still accountable for their sins. This is why we make the call to all creatures, only God knows who the elect are so in the words of Spurgeon "I will preach who so ever will until who so ever does and then I will count him one of God's elect." No one deserves Grace, including the elect, that's what makes it grace. Here is a quote from Newton:

    “I am an avowed Calvinist; the points which are usually comprised in that term seem to me so consonant to Scripture, reason (when enlightened), and experience, that I have not the shadow of a doubt about them. But I cannot dispute; I dare not speculate. What is by some called High Calvinism [or Hyper-Calvinism] I dread. I feel much more union of spirit with some Arminians than I could with some Calvinists; and if I thought a person feared sin, loved the Word of God, and was seeking after Jesus, I would not walk the length of my study to proselyte him to the Calvinist doctrines. Not because I think them mere opinions, or of little importance to a believer—I think the contrary; but because I believe these doctrines will do no one any good till he is taught them of God. I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principal cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words, and sadly remiss as to the means of divine appointment. For this reason, I suppose, though I never preached a sermon in which the tincture of Calvinism may not be easily discerned by a judicious hearer, yet I very seldom insist expressly upon those points, unless they fairly and necessarily lie in my way.”

    I think some Calvinist's need to cool it but on that same note non-calvinists need to avoid speaking harshly of Calvinists that are based off of assumptions and hurtful rhetoric.

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What do you think?