John NewtonIn recent Perspectives (June 13 & 28, 2016) I have shared the testimony of how John Newton, author of the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace,” was brought from fierce spiritual rebellion to saving faith in Jesus Christ, then how he went on to play a part in bringing an end to the British slave trade that he was once a part of. In this Perspective I’d like to relate a few highlights of Newton’s forty-three year career as a faithful, fruitful Christian minister. His example is instructive for all Christians (not just vocational ministers) in their service for Christ.

After leaving the slave trade at age twenty-nine, Newton served for nine years as Tide Surveyor in the Customs and Excise office at Liverpool. With a staff of fifty-five people under him, he was responsible for searching for smuggled goods in all vessels coming into port. By the time he was thirty-three years of age, Newton concluded (after months of earnest prayer about the matter) that God was calling him to be a vocational minister. But five more years would pass before he was able to start pastoring. During that rather unsettling period of Newton’s life he was turned down for, or declined himself, pastoral ministries in the Established Church (Church of England), Dissenting churches, itinerant Methodist ministry and starting a church of his own in Liverpool.

Finally at age thirty-eight he was ordained as a minister in the Church of England and began pastoring a parish in Olney, Buckinghamshire, about seventy miles northwest of London. Under Newton’s ministry in that small agriculturally-based market town, the church grew and soon needed to add a balcony to accommodate the increased attendances. In the era before Sunday Schools, Newton devoted Thursday evenings to children’s services, which were sometimes attended by a couple hundred young people. He also started a weeknight prayer meeting for adults which eventually grew so large it had to be moved from a cottage to the grand hall of the local Earl’s mansion house.

John Newton's Olney HymnsDuring his years in Olney, Newton was a faithful friend and neighbor to a poet named William Cowper (pronounced Cooper). Both Newton and Cowper were prolific hymn writers, and together they published a popular collection called The Olney Hymns. Besides “Amazing Grace, John Newton’s hymns still sung today include “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” and “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” while two of Cowper’s enduring hymns are “There Is a fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Sadly, Cowper had a history of suicidal depression. After six pleasant years, Newton had to carefully shepherd Cowper through six dark and dangerous years, during which Cowper was convinced he had been rejected by Christ and was again suicidal.

Shortly after moving to Olney, at the ongoing insistence of friends, Newton published his personal testimony in book form. It became a bestseller in England and America, and led to his gaining prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. Newton was also a prolific letter writer. His thoughtful missives were of striking style and savory spiritual content. These were considered so worthwhile that Newton was encouraged to publish them. He eventually did so in a two-volume work entitled Cardiphonia (meaning “utterance of the heart”), and it too became a bestseller.

At age fifty-four Newton was called to pastor St. Mary Woolnoth Church, a prominent Anglican congregation in the heart of London. That church also grew under his capable pastoral ministry. So many strangers came to hear Newton preach that the church’s regular attendees complained they could not get to their normal seats!

St. Mary Woolnoth Church, modern London

St. Mary Woolnoth Church, modern London

During both his pastorates, Newton often traveled to visit friends in other locations. While doing so, he was frequently invited to speak in churches or house meetings. Often large audiences turned out to hear him. But many Anglican churches refused their pulpits to him due to his clear evangelical convictions.

Newton became largely deaf and blind in his latter years, but he insisted (against the advice of close associates) on continuing to pastor his church. He preached and quoted Scripture from memory. But his mind sometimes wandered in the middle of discourses and at times his understanding seemed unclear.

Near the end of his life Newton told a man who came to visit him: “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” At his death at age eighty-two on December 21, 1807, Newton immediately passed into the presence of his Savior in heaven.

A number of excellent biographies have been written on Newton’s extraordinary life and ministry: John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Aitken (Crossway, 2007 & 2013); “But Now I See,” The Life of John Newton, by Josiah Bull (Banner of Truth, 1998, a reprint of a work first published in 1868); The Life of John Newton, by John Newton and Richard Cecil (Baker, 1978, a reprint of a work originally published in the 1800s); John Newton, The British Slave Trader Who found “Amazing Grace,” by Catherine Swift (Bethany, 1991, a somewhat shorter account of Newton’s life).

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

The massive amount of ministry Andrew Murray carried out all through his long ministerial career was truly impressive. Equally or perhaps even more impressive was the steady, sanctified spirit with which he carried out his many ministry demands, despite the considerable pressures he bore in doing so.

In 1864, at the age of 36, Murray became one of three co-pastors of Cape Town’s Dutch Reformed Church, with its constituency of 5,000 people. He served in that capacity for nearly seven years. Every Sunday Murray preached (usually more than once) at one of the two large churches in that metropolitan parish, normally to thousands of people, including many of the city’s leading citizens.  He held two weeknight services for fishermen and other poor individuals, and frequently spoke at one of the weekly services held at Cape Town’s three Dutch Reformed schools. Murray faithfully carried out pastoral visitation in the poorer districts of town. He also promoted ministry to young men by helping establish and serving as first president of a Cape Town chapter of the Young Men’s Christian Association.

Groote Kerk (Great Church), Cape Town

Groote Kerk (Great Church), Cape Town

In addition, during those years Murray was Moderator of his denomination in Cape Colony. At that time stringent battles were being waged to resist the encroachment of theological liberalism. More than once Murray needed to be the primary representative of his denomination in court cases that came out of that period of marked controversy.

Besides their own eight children, Andrew and Emma Murray had other young people living in their home during those years. Those youths resided with the Murrays while pursuing their education in Cape Town. One of the young people, Frederick Kolbe, later bore this glowing testimony of his experience as part of the Murrays’ household:

“I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Murray knew by instinct how I loved them, but I never could tell them. … That was the time I saw Andrew Murray at the closest possible quarters. I may have been shy, but I certainly was observant. He was a very highly strung man. His preaching was so enthusiastic, his gesticulation so unrestrained, that he was wearing himself out, and the doctor ordered him to sit while preaching. So he had a special stool made for [the] great pulpit in order to obey the doctor without letting everybody know.

“Now, such an output of nervous energy (and he was a frequent preacher) might well mean some reaction at home – some irritation with his wife, some unevenness towards his children, some caprice towards the stranger within his gates. But no, I never saw him thrown off balance. His harmony with Mrs. Murray was perhaps easy; she was such a gracious, wifely, motherly person, that not to be in harmony with her would itself be self-condemnation. But he never did condemn himself. He was solid gold all through.”

Andrew Murray statue at Groote Kerk, Cape Town

Andrew Murray statue at Groote Kerk, Cape Town

Kolbe’s testimony of Murray’s pleasantness even in the privacy of his own home is all the more impressive given the enormous ministerial pressures and problems Murray faced throughout those years. “Why how is it you never get angry?” Murray was once asked. “It takes too much trouble to recover your good temper,” was his sage reply.

May God help each of us to grow in the ability not only to bear up under significant pressures and problems in life, but to do so with an even, pleasant Christlike spirit. We can do that as the Holy Spirit increasingly conforms us to the image of Christ.

For much more on Andrew Murray’s remarkable ministry career and his commendable Christian spirit see my newly-released biography, Andrew Murray: Christ’s Anointed Minister to South Africa.

Copyright 2015 by Vance E. Christie

Shaun Tabatt

Shaun Tabatt

I thought those of you who kindly read my Perspectives might enjoy meeting the skilled individual, Shaun Tabatt, who constructed and manages my writing website and its affiliated Facebook page. I share these thoughts out of appreciation for all that Shaun has done to help promote my own writing endeavors AND to heartily affirm the several significant ministries of his own that Shaun carries out.

Shaun and his wife, Lynette, live in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota, and have been blessed with eight children. Shaun has a heart for Christ and advancing His kingdom. He effectively promotes Christ’s kingdom work by actively using the verbal and technological gifts and abilities that God has given him.

Shaun’s a busy guy! He works with several publishers and numerous authors, helping to promote their titles and other ministries on-line and in other ways. Through his company, Cross Focused Media, he seeks to serve the Christian publishing community by providing social media and literary publicity services.

At his Bible Geek Gone Wild website, Shaun blogs and has posted many book reviews he has written for various publishers through the years. There you’ll also find his popular podcast, “Author Talks with Shaun Tabatt.” In just over a year Shaun has compiled nearly eighty on-line interviews with various authors, and these interviews have been downloaded over 10,000 times. I’ve had the privilege of recording two Author Talks interviews with Shaun, one featuring my newly released biography Adoniram Judson, Devoted for Life (Nov. 1, 2013) and the other highlighting my Women of Faith and Courage and Timeless Stories titles (June 6, 2013).

Shaun’s interviewing skill recently received high praise in a blog written by Dr. Michael Milton entitled “Areopagitica and Bible Geeks Gone Wild: The New Christian Journalists”. I’d encourage you to read the article as a commendation of the important ministry that Shaun and other modern Christian journalists are carrying out.

I would like to echo the appreciation Dr. Milton expressed for Shaun’s expertise in conducting his interviews. Unfortunately, my limited experience with book-related interviews has not been overly positive on the whole. In the majority of the interviews I’ve been part of, it seemed the host had little or no familiarity with the work I had written and that we were supposed to be discussing. Instead, the host “shot from the hip” based on his or her general, prior knowledge of the subject, sometimes saying very little that related directly to the book under discussion!

Shaun, by contrast, comes to his interviews having familiarized himself with the book to be discussed and prepared with insightful questions and comments that help bring out the main emphases an author intends to communicate in his or her work. In the dealings I have had with Shaun, I’ve appreciated his great balance of being both very personable and highly professional.

Thanks for everything, Shaun. May the Lord continue to use you to His glory and for the great good of many people.

Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie