Good Advice From John Newton On Confronting Others

Here are some wonderful principles from John Newton, puritan pastor and author of Amazing Grace, to keep in mind when confronting someone.  Whether we confront them for sin or wrong doctrine, whether in private or in a blog, these are critical principles to apply.

As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing. This practice will have a direct tendency to conciliate your heart to love and pity him; and such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.

If you account him as a BELIEVER, though greatly mistaken in the subject of debate between you, the words of David to Joab concerning Absalom, are very applicable: “Deal gently with him for my sake.” The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly! The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others—from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven—he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now! Anticipate that period in your thoughts, and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.

The Scriptural maxim that “man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn—we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit!

In a little while you will meet in heaven—he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now!

There is a principle of SELF, which disposes us to despise those who differ from us; and we are often under its influence, when we think we are only showing a fitting zeal in the cause of God.

Whatever it is that makes us trust in ourselves, that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party—is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit!

I hope your article will savor of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance; or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit; or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those spiritual truths which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith—and spend their time and strength upon matters that are at most but of a secondary value! This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is also dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary—if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

If we act in a wrong spirit—we shall bring little glory to God; do little good to our fellow creatures; and procure neither honor nor comfort to ourselves!

God cares as much about the spirit in which we act, how we confront someone, as he cares about the issue we confront them about.  God definitely cares about truth, sound doctrine, justice and righteousness, but he is not glorified if we speak with pride, anger, bitterness or sarcasm.  He cares about his glory more than our being right.

God cares about our motives as much as our message.  We may speak the truth, but if our motive is not love for a person and the glory of God in their life, we’re noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

Lord Jesus, help us all learn how to speak the truth in love.

All quotations from The Letters of John Newton

  • lisa

    Wish I had had this pretty much when I was first born, because I've been messing up in this area ever since! This is so excellent; will definitely be printing it and keeping it in my bible. So convicting. Thanks Mark, for sharing this wise and helpful counsel with us. The other thing I've learned that's been tremendously helpful is a question from a sermon by Kenneth Maresco — a good question to ask AFTER you've brought correction or exhortation to someone: "Do you have any concerns about my attitude or my approach as I've sought to help you?" This is great for remembering to stay humble and teachable even as you're correcting someone else!

  • Mark Altrogge

    Excellent addition, Lisa! Boy that Kenneth – he’s really something. thanks for adding that!