I am greatly enjoying reading a biography of John Newton, the English pastor who is most famous for writing the hymn 'Amazing Grace'. The book by Jonathan Aitken is entitled John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.
Like many biographies, Aitken traces Newton's life from his earliest childhood days, detailing the influences of his youth and his spiritual struggles. Newton worked in the slave trade, becoming the captain of his own ship. He fell in love and spent years apart from his bride to be while he earned money to support her. Newton struggled with the temptations of the slave trade, but in the midst of that was drawn to God and experienced God's saving grace.
Eventually John Newton felt the call to the ministry. He had friends in many religious groups, being friends with prominent Church of England pastors as well as revivalists like John Wesley and George Whitefield. Newton quickly became known in religious circles as a man who was a religious enthusiast – in other words, he took his faith seriously. Unfortunately religious enthusiasm was frowned upon by the formal, socially accepted Church of England he sought to join as a minister. Only after many years and many refusals and disappointments was he granted a pastoral position in the township of Olney.
Newton's mindset as he approached his first church is what struck me. We can all learn from it. This is what he wrote to his wife on the eve of his move to Olney:
“I now almost stagger at the prospect before me. I am to stand in a very public point of view, to take charge of a large parish, to answer the incessant demands of stated and occasional services, to preach what I ought and to be what I preach.” John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, p. 179.
I am challenged by his last two phrases. First, to preach what I ought – to be faithful in preaching the truth of the Word of God. And that challenge exists for all of us, whether we are in full time ministry or not, because we are all involved in communicating truth, preaching as it were, to family and friends around us. Is our communication in line with the Word of God?
And then, even more challenging, his last phrase – to be what I preach. To live a life consistent with the truth that I am communicating to others. A life that is not hypocritical – saying one thing and living another – but a life that lines up with the truths of God's Word.
Lord, help me be faithful in your service, preaching what I ought, and being what I preach. Amen.