John Newton on Marriage by Review of Letters to His Wife

A few weeks ago I posted a brief biography of the “Great Blasphemer”, John Newton. In his biography we saw the beauty of God’s grace and mercy and the life changing effect that the Gospel of Jesus Christ brings to a man’s life once redeemed. Newton’s foul conduct and coarse speech were not the only areas that were changed by his encounter with Jesus. The sanctification of a saint involves all areas of his life.

Besides being a prolific hymn writer, John Newton penned many letters that we are still able to read today. It is through some of these letters that we receive insight on Newton’s thought’s on marriage.

On February 1, 1750 John Newton married Mary Catlett. During their 43 years of marriage John wrote Mary many letters. In 1793, three years after Mary’s death, Newton published a two-volume collection of letters he had sent to Mary over the years. He wanted to give public testimony of thanks to God for such a treasure as his wife. The next three quotes, taken from his letters to his wife, show us John Newton and his conclusions on:

(1) Marriage as a means to know Jesus more.
(2) The problems of a Christ-less marriage.
(3) Resting in contentment that our spouses are Earthly loans.

Marriage As a Means to Know Jesus More
When Newton was captain of his own ship, and he had to be separated from Mary for months at a time. The two corresponded constantly. Repeatedly in his letters John wrote how their love and marriage increased his thankfulness and gratefulness to the Lord:

“When I indulge myself with a particular thought of you, it usually carries me on farther, and brings me upon my knees to bless the Lord, for giving me such a treasure, and to pray for your peace and welfare . . . when I take up my pen, and begin to consider what I shall say, I am led to think of the goodness of God, who has made you mine, and given me a heart to value you. Thus my love to you, and my gratitude to him, cannot be separated. . . . All other love, that is not connected with a dependence on God, must be precarious. To this want, I attribute many unhappy marriages.”

The Problems of a Christ-less Marriage
Though he was in his love with Mary, Newton never wanted their love to be a substitute for, or take the place of their love for God. He felt that many of the problems people had in their marriages were caused by people trying to find all their happiness and fulfillment in a human relationship apart from their relationship with the Lord. While at sea in 1753 John wrote Mary,

“You will not be displeased with me for saying, that though you are dearer to me than the aggregate of all earthly comforts, I wish to limit my passion within those bounds which God has appointed. Our love to each other ought to lead us to love him supremely, who is the author and source of all the good we possess or hope for. It is to him we owe that happiness in a marriage state which so many seek in vain, some of whom set out with such hopes and prospects, that their disappointments can be deduced for no other cause, than having placed that high regard on a creature which is only due to the Creator. He therefore withholds his blessing (without which no union can subsist) and their expectations, of course, end in indifference”

Resting in Contentment That Our Spouses are Earthly Loans
On December 15, 1790, Mary died after a long illness. Newton was by her side and later wrote:

“When I was sure she was gone, I took off her ring, according to her repeated injunction, and put it upon my own finger. I then kneeled down, with the servants who were in the room, and returned the Lord my unfeigned thanks for her deliverance, and her peaceful dismission.
I was not supported by lively, sensible considerations, but by being enabled to realize to my mind, some great and leading truths to the word of God. I saw, what indeed I knew before, but never till then so strongly and clearly perceived, that as a sinner, I had no right, and as a believer, I could have no reason, to complain. I considered her as a loan, which He who lent her to me, had a right to resume whenever He pleased; and that as I had deserved to forfeit her every day, from the first; it became me, rather to be thankful that she was spared to me so long.”

God may we rest in your sovereignty in all things and may the marriage partners that you have given us be used to draw us nearer to you.

Information can be found at Christian History Institute.

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  1. February 1st, 2014

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