We've looked at Andrew Bonar's response to the death of his wife, lessons we can learn from Bonar's grief, and Hudson Taylor's loss of his wife and newborn baby. This week, in our final episode in this series on Bereavement, we look at John Newton's life as a guide for godly grief.
John Newton, the great 18th-century pastor and hymnist who was radically converted after serving as a captain of slave ships, walked through loss as well. John Newton lost his wife, Mary. Mary was Newton's childhood sweetheart. He called her "Polly" and she was incredibly dear to him. He always admired her and thought she excelled him in nearly every area. They had an ever-deepening friendship in marriage.
But Mary Newton had many bouts of sickness that confined her to her bed. She was spiritually warm and mature. However, she had serious spiritual struggles near the end of her life. She became terrified of dying. For John Newton, this was “hard to bear indeed.”
Mary is not the only Christian to struggle near the end of her life. Even the strongest of believers have experienced this in old age or pain. We must trust that their lives—and ours, too—are hid in Christ.
At one point, she grew stronger and was able to express her assurance of God’s love to John, which was a great comfort to him. But soon, Mary lost her eyesight and her ability to speak. She became weaker and weaker. “I hope her sufferings will soon be over,” Newton writes. When she drew her last breath, Newton felt a deep relief that Mary was resting with Jesus. Miraculously, Newton wrote, “The Lord strengthened me and I was strong.” Newton even preached multiple times the next day. He preached from the following passage in Habakkuk:
“Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18).
Newton’s grief came in waves in the following months and years. “I have seldom passed two minutes without feeling a void within that Thou alone can supply.”
How do we make good use of the trials we walk through? Newton says they should stir us to pray. “Troubles rouse our spirits and constrain us to call upon the Lord in good earnest.” Trials remind us that this world is not our rest, not our home. It calls our minds and hearts up to God in heaven.
How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see!
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flow’rs,
Have all lost their sweetness to me.
The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay;
But when I am happy in Him
December’s as pleasant as May.
Content with beholding His face,
My all to His pleasure resigned;
No changes of season or place,
Would make any change in my mind.
While blessed with a sense of His love,
A palace a toy would appear;
And prisons would palaces prove,
If Jesus would dwell with me there.
For this week’s Supporter Appreciation Episode, take a look behind-the-scenes of our Church Filming Trip. Our crew drives from Rome, Italy to Lyon, France. Learn why we went to Lyon, the important role Lyon plays in Christian History, and get a sneak peek at some authentic Italian Food (i.e., McDonald's).
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John Newton: From His Grace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Akin