"His Mercy Is More": A Letter from John Newton

John Newton was a Puritan pastor who is most famous for his hymn “Amazing Grace” and his book Pilgrim’s Progress. As a former slave trader, Newton understood the power of the gospel to overcome sin and guilt. His legacy has lived on his books, hymns, poems, and letters.

John Newton

John Newton

One letter from Newton has had particular impact on me. I came across it by the modern worship song “His Mercy Is More.” Matt Papa was leading worship at a conference that I attended and shared the story behind the song. Newton wrote this letter to a man in his congregation who struggled with doubt and ongoing sin. Papa shares the letter on his website and I have copied it here.

I can truly say, that I bear you upon my heart and in my prayers. I have rejoiced to see the beginning of a good and gracious work in you.

And I have confidence in the Lord Jesus, that He will carry it on and complete it and that you will be amongst the number of those who shall sing redeeming love to eternity.

Therefore fear none of the things appointed for you to suffer by the way. But gird up the loins of your mind, and hope to the end. Be not impatient, but wait humbly upon the Lord.

You have one hard lesson to learn, that is, the evil of your own heart. You know something of it, but it is needful that you should know more. For the more we know of ourselves, the more we shall prize and love Jesus and His salvation.

I hope what you find in yourself by daily experience will humble you, but not discourage you: humble you it should, and I believe it does.

Are not you amazed sometimes that you should have so much as a hope, that, poor and needy as you are, the Lord thinketh of you?

But let not all you feel discourage you. For if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear?

Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power. Most of our complaints are owing to unbelief, and the remainder of a legal spirit. And these evils are not removed in a day.

Wait on the Lord, and He will enable you to see more and more of the power and grace of our High Priest.

The more you know Him, the better you will trust Him: the more you trust Him, the better you will love Him; the more you love Him, the better you will serve Him.

This is God’s way: you are not called to buy, but to beg; not to be strong in yourself, but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. He is teaching you these things, and I trust He will teach you to the end.

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely.

Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection. And in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root.

Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavour to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well.

I commend you to the care of the good Shepherd, and remain, for His sake,

Yours,

John Newton
March 18, 1767

— John Newton, “Cardiphonia” in The Works of John Newton (vol. 2; London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 140–141.

Thanks to Matt Papa for sharing this letter. You can learn more about the song “His Mercy Is More” at his website. I shared my favorite rendition of the song below.