III. The Scriptural Testimony
Having considered the practical effects based upon his observation, Newton looked to the Scripture example:
But, not to insist on this, nor to rest the cause on the authority or examples of men, the best of whom are imperfect and fallible, let us consult the Scriptures, which, as they furnish us with the whole subject-matter of our ministry, so they afford us perfect precepts and patterns for its due and orderly dispensation.
John Newton, Richard Cecil, The Works of the John Newton, vol. 1 (London: Hamilton, Adams & Co., 1824), 175.
Jesus is unquestionably the greatest example of how to properly present the “Gospel”.
- Jesus did not “tickle ears”
The Lord Jesus was the great preacher of free grace, “who spake as never man spake;” and his ministry, while it provided relief for the weary and heavy laden, was eminently designed to stain the pride of all human glory. He knew what was in man, and declared, that “none could come unto him, unless drawn and taught of God;” John 6:44–46.
2. Yet Jesus did call to repentance.
Newton gives three examples of Jesus preaching which some might consider “legalistic” as opposed to “grace”:
John 6:27 (ESV)27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”
John 12:35 (ESV)35 So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.”
Luke 13:24–27 (ESV)24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’
These passages show Jesus commanding people indiscriminately to obey the call of God. To these passages, one could easily append others:
Mark 1:14–15 (ESV)14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
This example is especially appropriate, because it calls all to repent in the direct context of proclaiming the “gospel”.
B. The example of the Apostles
1.No one can fairly accuse the Apostles of having a Pelagian view of human ability
Consider their letters. For example, Paul writes:
Romans 9:16 (ESV) 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
John 1:12–13 (ESV)12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
2. The Apostles repeatedly called for repentance
There are numerous examples in Acts of an Apostle preaching repentance:
Acts 3:19 (ESV) 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out,
Newton relies primarily upon the case of Simon Magus. This is a particularly strong example, because Simon Magus was unquestionably an unbeliever at the time Peter calls him to repentance:
Peter’s advice to Simon Magus is very full and express to this point; for though he perceived him to be “in the very gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity,” he exhorted him “to repent, and to pray, if perhaps the thought of his heart might be forgiven.” It may be presumed, that we cannot have stronger evidence that any of our hearers are in a carnal and unconverted state, than Peter had in the case of Simon Magus; and therefore there seems no sufficient reason why we should hesitate to follow the Apostle’s example.
Id at p. 176.