Letters of John Newton: Grace in the Blade

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You have been introduced to John Newton and his gift of writing letters in previous episodes. For the next three weeks, we are looking at three more of his letters. In these Newton exposits a Kingdom parable of Jesus from Mark 4:26-28. Newton finds different seasons of the Christian life, beginning with grace in the blade and ending in the full ear. 

Many difficulties and mercies mark the early blade season. Newton said it is filled with conviction of sin. But there are different types of conviction. An ignorance of this reality has led to many false conversions, apostasies, and a diminishing belief among some Christians in the promises of the gospel.

In the midst of true conviction, which is painful, the young believer will be overrun with several spiritual sweetnesses. One of these is a strong sense of the presence of God. Another is hunger and yearning for Scripture and the means of grace. 

Links to the resources John and Matthew share and a list of Scriptures they mention can be found under Show Notes.




 0:00 This week we begin a new series looking at three letters from John Newton. We have discussed some of Newton’s letters in previous episodes. But in this two-part series, we are going to take three letters where Newton looks at the progressive work of grace in several stages of a believer’s experience.

2:00 Newton spends these letters expounding one of Jesus’ Kingdom parables found in Mark 4:26-28. Newton points out several things but one is that the work of God is a mysterious thing. Things happen in a field that a farmer does not understand. So it is with the spiritual field. The first major point Newton makes is in regard to conviction. He begins with the bad news that all mankind is born in enmity toward God.

5:00 If we are going to understand this letter, we must understand the environment he was writing into. A common Anglican belief was that children were Christians who would simply grow into their faith. Newton taught that all must be given the new birth. Regeneration was instantaneous, but the effects of it were progressive. And this instant regeneration was started by conviction. He said this conviction was an early mark of God’s work on a soul. He called it the “blade stage.”

8:00 While the conviction that leads to repentance is what we are looking for, a wise guide to Christ must be knowledgable that there are different types of conviction. And it helps to be able to identify the differences. While we are not God and cannot look into the heart of a person undergoing conviction, the Bible gives evidence of what the work of God looks like. Godly conviction leads to repentance and faith. General conviction simply leads people to feel bad about sin but does not reveal to them the nature of their sin.

11:00 Newton says we should not be surprised when those under general conviction make professions of faith and shortly thereafter fall away. Many are satisfied with a stirring of the emotion and a momentary experience. These apostasies, as Newton calls them, should not shock us, but they should shake us and break our hearts. But do not let it shake your faith in the truths of the gospel. Have you allowed a shallow view of faith to shrink your faith in the claims of the gospel?

15:00 Newton’s next step in the blade stage is a new love and appreciation for Scripture. He says the new believer will both see new doctrines and want to see more. That is a sign of life that will be present in a 10-year-old believer and a 60-year-old believer.

19:00 In the early days of the faith, the young Christian may ask if they have truly been regenerated. Newton says this season is marked by God’s gracious pouring out of His presence. It is easy to misunderstand this season and its purpose.

22:00 There are some strengths in this stage. One of them is the eagerness with which a new believer attends the means of grace. There is also a zeal for souls, though it can be mixed with immaturity.

24:00 What are we looking for as people move from the blade stage to a more mature stage? Newton says there will be more solid, judicious views of Jesus Christ that results in a more established hope and dependence upon the perfect Savior.

26:00 There are many difficulties in the blade season, but it is filled with mercy and grace. These young years are like a tree in bloom during spring. It will be pruned by the hands of the wise Gardener to produce fruit in later seasons of life.

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Show Notes

Podcast Resources:

Letters of John Newton (Volume I)

Newton's First Letter

Newton's Second Letter

Newton's Third Letter

Mark 4:26-28

1 John 2:13

John 6:44

 

Supporter Appreciation Episode Resources:

Chad Vegas

Sovereign Grace Church Bakersfield

Radius International

John Owen Hebrews Commentary

Two volume Martyn Lloyd-Jones Biography by Iain Murray

Call the Sabbath a Delight by Walter Chantry

Forgotten Spurgeon by Iain Murray

Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices by Thomas Brooks

Memoirs and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar

(Shorter) Robert Murray M’Cheyne by Andrew Bonar

A History of the Work of Redemption by Jonathan Edwards

The Mysteries of Christianity by T.J. Crawford

Evangelicalism Divided by Iain Murray

Holiness by J.C. Ryle

Faith Shaped Life by Ian Hamilton 

New Testament Commentaries Volume One: Romans to Ephesians by Geoffrey B. Wilson

Bishop J.C. Ryle’s Autobiography

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels by J.C. Ryle

Archibald G. Brown by Iain Murray

Podcast episode with John Rawlinson discussing this book

The Great Awakening by Joseph Tracy

Works of John Flavel

The Doctrine of Justification by James Buchanan

Doctrine of the Holy Spirit by George Smeaton

Works of John Owen

Charity and Its Fruits by Jonathan Edwards

Following Jesus by Andrew Randall

The Atonement by Hugh Martin

Communion with God by John Owen

Letters of Samuel Rutherford

Fair Sunshine by Jock Purves