John Newton: Parent with Intention, Grace, and Confidence in God

John Newton: Parent with Intention, Grace, and Confidence in God

Some good people have wearied their children by expecting conduct from them as if they were experienced Christians, and have thereby given them a disgust and distaste for religion, and made them look upon it as a burden.” Parents should instead use a light touch: “A little advice now and then, always in the spirit of love and not too much at a time, is the best course.” After all, he writes, “If any correction or restraint is attempted . . . in anger and heat, . . . it is like Satan casting out Satan. If you do not bring in the authority of God and act in a spirit of meekness and steadiness, you may make them fear you, but you will do but little good.”

ohn Newton’s mother spent the first six years of his life, and the last six of her own, teaching her son in the ways of the Lord. But after her death, Newton’s life changed drastically. He was treated harshly, first by his stepmother and then by the headmaster at his boarding school.

Soon, Newton ran away to become a sailor and dove headfirst into a life of sin, before turning to the Lord at age 22. John married two years later, and within five years, he became a pastor. John and his wife, Polly, were unable to have children. But in 1774, after almost 25 years of marriage, they adopted 5-year-old Betsy, one of Polly’s nieces who had been orphaned. Nine years later, they adopted another of Polly’s orphaned nieces, 12-year-old Eliza. When Betsy joined the family, Newton was almost 50; when Eliza entered, he was nearly 60.

Until recently, most of Newton’s writings on parenting were inaccessible, but now Marylynn Rouse has collected them as part of a year-long devotional. As I’ve worked through these writings, Newton’s unique parenting perspective has encouraged me. It was sown by his mother’s influence in his early years, shaped by amazing grace, and forged in the maturity of middle age.

Here are six intentional principles Newton taught Christian parents preparing to launch their children.

1. Set a good example for your children.

Integrity is the oil that allows the rest of the parenting engine to run. Some parents think loving their children means protecting them from harm. But embodying before your children what you expect from them is one of the highest forms of parental love, and it protects them from great harm. Newton said, “Many poor children are forced to blush every day for the behavior of their parents. If you love them, be careful of laying stumbling blocks in their way.”

2. Talk frequently with your children.

Newton encourages parents to train their children in God’s truth, but he wrote, “I mean more by this than to teach them a catechism by rote as you would teach a parrot. They should be conversed with, and every occasion laid hold of, to explain and make them know that God sees and hears them and that this God is only to be known and worshipped in Jesus.”

Newton said parents should leverage their children’s natural curiosity, and he used this approach with Betsy:

When you read our Savior’s discourses, recorded by the evangelists, attend as if you saw him with your own eyes….

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