A friend of Newton, nearing death, asked him to explain 2 Corinthians 5:10, which states that we will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.
Newton realized his friend was not merely concerned with an exegetically difficult text: His friend was really concerned with the question of Judgment Day: How will not be put to shame if we are going to still be judged for our sins — even if they are forgiven? Is Christ going to tell everyone every sin I have ever committed? If Christ does this, how will I live?
If Newton merely answered the exegetical question without looking to the heart which underlay that question, he would not have comforted the heart of a friend who was nearing death.
Therefore, Newton begins with (1) an acknowledgement that his friend is nearing death; and (2) some words of comfort:
MY heart congratulates you. What changes and events many in younger life may be reserved to see, who can tell? but your pilgrimage is nearly finished. You stand upon the river’s brink, with the city full in view, waiting and wishing for the appointed hour: you need not be anxious concerning your passage; for every circumstance attending it is already adjusted by Infinite Wisdom and Love, and the King himself will be ready to receive you.
Newton thus first strikes at the heart of the question: Does God really love me? The letter ultimately concerns assurance: Assurance not only of bare salvation, but assurance of welcome? Will I make it to Heaven and then be put to shame?
Newton now comes to state the issue. Notice how he phrases the issue in a willingness to help. Pastoral work can be taxing, and it is easy to not want to respond to one-more question. Moreover, many people think they are intruding or burdening their pastor by asking questions:
While you continue here, I am glad to hear from you, and should be glad to contribute in any way or degree to your satisfaction, or even to shew my willingness, if I can do no more. I can propose little more than the latter, by offering my thoughts on the subject you propose from 2 Cor. 5:10, and the apparent difficulty of understanding that passage in full harmony with the many texts which seem expressly to assert, that the sins of believers are so forgiven as to be remembered no more.
Notice how Newton phrases the question: The difficulty here is that 2 Corinthians 5:10 does not easily harmonize with other passages.
The next paragraph concerns the problem of textual difficulties at all. This understanding of how to handle a text fits with any number of exegetically difficult passages.