Letters of John Newton II: Grace in the Ear

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In this week’s episode, John and Matthew continue discussing John Newton’s letters where he described three seasons of a Christian’s life. The first, Grace in the Blade, was the topic of last week’s episode. If you haven’t listened to it, let us encourage you to click here and listen to it before moving ahead with this week’s episode.

Newton says the first season, the Blade Stage, is marked by a precious sweetness and mercy from God. The second stage, the Ear Stage, is marked by conflict. This comes as a shock to many new Christians as they did not expect the Christian life to be so difficult. They thought sin would have no grip on their lives. Sadly, we still contend with the world and flesh.

But why? Newton asks why God, who hates sin with an infinite hatred, allows Christians to live in this sinful world. His answer is brief and insightful: it is for the glory of God and our good. It will both glorify God as He conquers sin in our lives, and will benefit us as we are made to better reflect Jesus Christ.

While conflict is the mark of this letter, assurance is its theme. How can we be assured we have Christ? What assurance do we have that we are growing in the Lord? Newtons says to look for four things: knowledge of self, a prizing of the nearness of God, a greater application and reliance of God’s description of His love, and an increased grace toward others.

We encourage you work through these letters for yourself. You can find links to the digital copies of these letters, under Show Notes.


0:00 John and Matthew continue looking at three of John Newton letters. If you missed the first episode, let us encourage you to listen to it here. You can also read a digital copy of Newton’s letters here.

2:00 This week, the duo are looking at Newton’s second letters, which he called, “Grace in the ear.” Remember that he is drawing from Mark 4, the kingdom parable in which Jesus Christ described life first in the blade, then in the ear, and finally the full corn in the ear. This season, Newton says, is marked by a more full assurance, because of a more mature understanding of Christ and self. This is the overarching theme of his second letter. And he helpfully distinguishes between faith and assurance.

6:00 Newton characterizes the first stage of the Christian life as desire being present. He characterizes the second stage by conflict being present.  God allows these hardships for several reasons. But why? Why doesn’t God, at the moment of conversion, just take the Christian to heaven to be separated from sin? God infinitely hates sin, so it would make sense for Him to remove us. But the fact that He leaves us here means there is something that will happen in our lives for His glory and our good. 

9:00 But the Christian may be shocked to learn remaining here, though for God’s glory and our good, is not not easy. This is not a passive season for us. In fact, we have a new desire to obey the commands of God. But that doesn’t mean we always want to obey. In the day to day, moment to moment, experience, we may want to sidestep commands. We must come to God again and confess our neediness. Newton explains why this is so difficult for Christians.

12:00 As the Christian engages in spiritual warfare against sin, flesh, Satan, and the world, he will be given a deeper understanding of what exactly sin is. Before he rebelled out of hatred. Now he sins against love. That sight of sin is a painful thing for the Christian to see. While there may be a lack of outward sins, Newton confesses seasons of stupidity in his life.

15:00 Newton writes that because God knows these things about us, He appoints particular seasons in our lives that are custom designed to help us grow. These are often hard times. There are other times God shows our spiritual pride by revealing how weak we are.

17:00 This is also the season God shows the Christian his need for the means of grace. We must be taught that these are means God has appointed for the growth of His children.

20:00 Newton brings the letter to a close by summarizing Christian maturation in a few ways. We are seeing the young Christian add to his zeal understanding. The warm heart is still there, but there needs to be the addition of clarity and knowledge. The young Christian begins to take the doctrines of Scripture and apply them to his life and live upon them.

22:00 How can we know we are growing in the Lord? Newton’s conclusion offers us several helps in this area. First is knowledge of self, that you know you are weak and needy. It is also an understanding of your heart sins. Second is a prizing of the nearness of God. Third is a greater appreciation and reliance on God’s description of His love. Lastly, we become more gracious toward others who stumble.

30:00 John and Matthew come together again after the break to summarize this pastoral letter from John Newton. They also share what we will look at next week.

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Show Notes

Mark 4:26-28

Letter I: Grace in the Blade

Letter II: Grace in the Ear

Letter III: The Full Corn in the Ear

Full series:

Letters of John Newton I: Grace in the Blade

Letters of John Newton II: Grace in the Ear 

Letters of John Newton III: Grace in the Full Corn