Hug a liberal?


How many evangelicals would hug a liberal? I don’t mean literally. Paul tells Titus to “rebuke them [the circumcision party] sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” [Titus 1:13] and it is easy to take that as a warrant to kick a liberal, argue with him or get into politicking. But in his letter to Titus, Paul first describes the necessary qualities of anyone who seeks to rebuke others:

Titus 1:7-9 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

John Piper retells the amazing conversion of a liberal minister under the influence of John Newton’s teaching and godly example:

Another instance of remarkable patience and tenderness was toward Thomas Scott, who was a liberal, “nearly…Socinian” clergyman in Ravenstone, a neighbouring parish. Scott made jest of of Newton’s evangelical convictions. He looked upon Newton’s religious sentiments as “rank fanaticism” and found his theology unintelligible. “Once I had the curiosity to hear Newton preach; and, not understanding his sermon, I made very great jest of it, where I could do it without giving offense. I had also read one of his publications; but, for the same reason, I thought the greater part of it whimsical, paradoxical, and unintelligible.”

But things were soon to change. Gospel-driven love triumphed over liberalism and turned Scott into a strong evangelical preacher. The turning point came when Scott was shamed by Newton’s pastoral care for two of his own parishioners whom he had neglected.

In January, 1774 two of my parishioners, a man and his wife, lay at the point of death. I had heard of the circumstance; but, according to my general custom, not being sent for, I took no notice of it: till, one evening, the woman being now dead, and the man dying, I heard that my neighbor Mr. Newton had been several times to visit them. Immediately my conscience reproached me with being shamefully negligent, in sitting at home within a few doors of dying persons, my general hearers, and never going to visit them. Directly it occurred to me, that, whatever contempt I might have for Mr. Newton’ s doctrines, I must acknowledge his practice to be more consistent with the ministerial character than my own.

Scott and Newton exchanged about ten letters between May and December 1775. Scott was impressed with how friendly Newton was, even when Scott was very provocative. Newton “shunned everything controversial as much as possible, and filled his letters with the most useful and least offensive instructions.” After a lull in their correspondence from December 1775 to April 1777, Scott came into “discouraging circumstances” and chose to call on the tenderhearted evangelical. “His discourse so comforted and edified me, that my heart, being by this means relieved from its burden, became susceptible of affection for him.” This affectionate relationship led Scott into the full experience of saving grace and evangelical truth. He became the pastor at Olney when Newton was called to London and wrote a distinctly evangelical book, “The Force of Truth” and was among William Wilberforce’s favourite preachers. Such were the persons and fruit of Newton’s habitual tenderness.

Taken from Roots of Endurance by John Piper.

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