John Newton to Rev. Scott, Letter IV(a): Predestination, November 17, 1775.

20130415-085947.jpgNovember 17, 1775.

My dear friend,

My present part is but to repeat what I have elsewhere expressed, only with some variety and enlargement. You yourself well state the situation of our debate, when you say, “Nor in truth do you offer any arguments to convince me, nor does it seem very consistent on your grounds so to do. And if this important change is to be brought about by the intervention of some extraordinary impulse of the Holy Spirit, and cannot be brought about without it–I do not see anything further that I have to do, than to keep my mind as much unbiased as I can, and to wait and pray for it.” I think my letter from London was to the purpose of these your own words, though you seemed dissatisfied with it.

However, to take some notice of your queries as they offer themselves:

The first which occurs is complicated. The substance I think is, whether such belief and aims as you possess, will stand you in no stead unless you likewise believe grace irresistible, predestination absolute, faith in supernatural impulses, etc.? You may have observed, I have several times waived speaking about predestination or election, not that I am ashamed of the doctrine; because if it is indeed absurd, shocking, and unjust, the blame will not deservedly fall upon me, for I did not invent it–but upon the Scriptures, where I am sure it is laid down in as plain terms, as that God created the heavens and the earth. I own that I cannot but wonder, that people professing any reverence for the Bible should so openly and strongly declare their abhorrence of what the Bible so expressly teaches; namely, that there is a sovereign choice of people by the grace and good pleasure of God, where by nature there is no difference; and that all things respecting the salvation of these people is infallibly secured by a divine predestination.

I do not offer this as a rational doctrine, (though it be highly so to me,) but it is scriptural–or else the Scripture is a mere nose of wax, and without any plain meaning. What ingenuity is needful to interpret many passages in a sense more favorable to our natural prejudice against God’s sovereignty! Matthew 11:25, 26, and 13:10-17; Mark 13:20-22; John 17; John 10:26; Romans 8:28-30, and 9:13-24, and 11:7; Ephesians 1:4, 5; 1 Peter 1:2.

Were I fond of disputing, as I am not–I think I could put a close reasoner hard to it, to maintain the truth of Scripture prophecies, or the belief of a particular providence–unless he would admit a divine predestination of causes and events as the ground of his arguments. However, as I said, I have chosen to waive the point; because, however true and necessary in itself–the knowledge and comprehension of the Scripture doctrine of election, is not necessary to the being a true Christian, though I can hardly conceive he can be an established consistent believer without it.

Your two sheets may lead me to write as many quires, if I do not check myself. I now come to the two queries you propose, the solution of which you think will clearly mark the difference of our sentiments. The substance of them is,

1st, Whether I think any sinner ever perished in his sins (to whom the gospel has been preached) because God refused to supply him with such a proportion of his assistance as was absolutely necessary to his believing and repenting, or without his having previously rejected the incitements of his Holy Spirit? A full answer to this would require a sheet. But briefly, I believe, that all mankind being corrupt and guilty before God, He might, without impeachment to his justice, have left them all to perish, as we are assured He did the fallen angels. But He has pleased to show mercy, and mercy must be free. If the sinner has any claim to it, so far it is justice, not mercy. He who is to be our judge assures us, that few find the gate that leads to life, while many throng the road to destruction. Your question seems to imply, that you think God either did make salvation equally open to all, or that it would have been more becoming his goodness to have done so.

But He is the potter, we are the clay; his ways and thoughts are above ours–as the heavens are higher than the earth. The Judge of all the earth will do right. He has appointed a day, when He will manifest, to the conviction of all–that Me has done right. Until then, I hold it best to take things upon his Word, and not too harshly determine what it befits Jehovah to do. Instead of saying what I think, let it suffice to remind you of what Paul thought. Romans 9:15-21. But further, I say, that unless mercy were afforded to those who are saved, in a way peculiar to themselves, and what is not afforded to those who perish–I believe no one soul could be saved.

For I believe fallen man, universally considered as such, is as incapable of doing the least thing towards his salvation, until enlivened by the grace of God–as a dead body is of restoring itself to life. Whatever difference takes place between men in this respect is of grace, that is–of God, undeserved. Yes, his first approaches to our hearts are undesired too; for, until He seeks us–we cannot, we will not seek him. Psalm 110:3. It is in the day of his power, and not before–that his people are made willing.

But I believe where the gospel is preached, those who do perish–do willfully resist the light, and choose and cleave to darkness, and stifle the convictions which the truths of God, when his true gospel is indeed preached, will, in one degree or other, force upon their minds. The cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the love of other things, the violence of sinful appetites, their prejudices, pride, and self-righteousness–either prevent the reception, or choke the growth of the good seed! Thus their own sin and obstinacy is the proper cause of their destruction; they will not come to Christ–that they may have life. At the same time, it is true that they cannot, unless they are supernaturally drawn of God. John 5:40; 6:44.

They will not, and they cannot come. Both are equally true, and they are consistent. For a man’s cannot is not a natural–but a moral inability: not an impossibility in the nature of things, as it is for me to walk upon the water, or to fly in the air; but such an inability, as, instead of extenuating, does exceedingly enhance and aggravate his guilt! He is so blinded by Satan, so alienated from God by nature and wicked works, so given up to sin, so averse from that way of salvation, which is contrary to his pride and natural wisdom–that he will not embrace it or seek after it; and therefore he cannot, until the grace of God powerfully enlightens his mind, and overcomes his obstacles.”

About John Newton

John Newton was born 24 July 1725, and died 21 December 1807. He was a former shipmaster and slave trader, turned minister of the gospel, and author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace. I have published five letters that he wrote to a fellow clergyman by the name of Rev. Thomas Scott, who held to Socinian beliefs.

“Socinianism denies the full deity of Christ, predestination, original sin, total inability (of man to convert himself), the atonement as a penal satisfaction, and justification by faith alone.” (Theopedia)

Through these thoughtful and gracious letters Reverend Scott received from John Newton, He accepted the gospel in its fulness, and was born again. The story of his conversion and shift from Socinianism to embracing the good news as expressed in Evangelical Christianity can be read in his brief autobiography, The Force of Truth.

Letter I: Religious knowledge Gradual
Letter II: Sincerety, the Trinity, the Way of Salvation
Letter III: The New Birth, the Gospel, Human Depravity
Letter IV.–Predestination–Divine sovereignty–Man made willing by the power of God.
Letter IVb: Divine Sovereignty
Letter V: Reason and Scripture, Faith and Works

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