John Newton on Grace in Sanctification

Barbara Duguid speaks about John Newton’s writings on the Christian life based on her book Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in Our Weakness. She appropriates John Newton’s wisdom to comfort and encourage Christians who feel guilt and failure in their fight against sin.

Barbara Duguid is a counselor and member of Christ Presbyterian Church (ARP) in Grove City, Pennsylvania. She holds an advanced certificate in biblical counseling from the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

Melissa Kruger is the author of The Envy of Eve: Finding Contentment in a Covetous World published by Christian Focus (Christ the Center 276). She is on staff in women’s ministry at Uptown Church (PCA) in Charlotte, NC, a mom to three kids and the wife of Dr. Michael Kruger, President and Professor of NT at Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte.

Nancy Guthrie is the author of The Son of DavidThe Promised One, and The Wisdom of God, on the topic of seeing Christ in the Old Testament. Nancy is a member of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and she speaks at conferences worldwide.

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Christ the Center focuses on Reformed Christian theology. In each episode a group of informed panelists discusses important issues in order to encourage critical thinking and a better understanding of Reformed doctrine with a view toward godly living. Browse more episodes from this program or subscribe to the podcast feed.

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Thomas Sullivan

6 years ago

There was a lot that WAS helpful in this interview. As a student of Newton myself, – I have narrated a number of his letters and his sermons, I think it would have been helpful to direct the listener to those letters which would be immediately helpful on the topic. In fact, there wasn’t a lot of Newton quotes in this discussion. Foremost these three… John Newton’s Letters. A B and C; or, The full corn in the ear. “First the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear”. Mark 4:28. http://www.gracegems.org/Newton/10.htm (2) Barbara makes a statement that I believe can be misinterpreted, and I will quote Edwards for a more helpful understanding. She stated that God is never disappointed with the state we are in during our sanctification. She means God is never frustrated. But we have to be careful or words like, grieve not the Spirit” have no context. Jonathan Edwards’s letter to Gillespie in the Appendix of the Religious Affections is very helpful, commenting on Romans 8:28. 3. That the sin, in general, of Christians, is for their good, in this respect, viz. that through the sovereign grace and infinite wisdom of God, the fact that they have been sinful fallen creatures, and not from the beginning perfectly innocent and holy as the elect angels, will issue in a high advancement of their eternal happiness; and that they shall obtain some additional good, on occasion of all the sin of which they have been the subjects, or have committed, beyond what they would have had if they never had been fallen creatures.

4. The sin of Christians cannot in this sense be for their good, that it should finally be best for them, that while they lived in this world, their restoration and recovery from the corruption to which they became subject by the fall, was no greater, that the mortification of sin, and spiritual vivification of the soul, was carried on to no higher degree, that they were so deficient in love to God, love to men, humility, and heavenly-mindedness, that they did so few good works, and consequently, that in general, they had so much sin, and so little holiness; for in proportion as one of these is more, the other will be less, as infallibly, as darkness is more or less, in proportion to the diminution or increase of light. It cannot finally be better for Christians, that in general, while they live, they had so much sin of heart and life, rather than more holiness of heart and life; because the reward of all at last will be according to their works. He that sowed sparingly shall reap sparingly, and he that sowed bountifully shall reap also bountifully; and he that builds wood, hay, and stubble, shall finally suffer loss, and have a less reward, than if he had built gold, silver, and precious stones, though he himself shall be saved. (3) There must always be an urgency in our sanctification. One cannot read John Owen’s Treatise on Indwelling Sin without realizing that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. Sue God works in us, but as we are working in such a way as the Scriptures call “buffeting the body” “running the race” and “plucking out right eyes,” or these words were most unfortunately included in Scripture. (4) Assurance of salvation is naturally – in God’s method of sanctification – withheld from a saint in a state of declension. Edwards says on signs of salvation, “No such signs are to be expected, that shall be sufficient to enable those saints certainly to discern their own good estate, who are very low in grace, or are such as have much departed from God, and are fallen into a dead, carnal, and unchristian frame. It is not agreeable to God’s design, (as already observed,) that such should know their good estate: nor is it desirable that they should; but on the contrary, it is every way best that
they should not. We have reason to bless God, that he has made no provision that such should certainly know the state they are in, any other way, than by first coming out of their ill frame and way.”
I know this will generate discussion, but that is a good thing.

Brian E

6 years ago

I enjoyed this episode. I think there are a lot of great talking points here and a lot to consider.

Thomas that is a great follow up response to that section of the interview. That was an area that pricked my mind when she said it and I think that your response fits quite nicely. Thanks for taking the time to type that out!

I may have to add this book to my list as well as get into Newton when I have some free time


6 years ago

I loved this episode. And I absolutely loved Barbara’s statement that God is never disappointed in the state we are in our sanctification. This is most certainly true. As a matter of fact we rejoice in our sufferings Romans 5:3 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,” And where is there more suffering for a christian than when he struggles against sin? Look at the apostle Paul in Romans 7. And Romans 8:28 , all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose.

So Thomas I disagree with what you wrote. Because when a Christian struggles against sin, this should be a cause of joy , when we see that Christ has atoned for this sin and now there is no condemnation. Romans 8:2 . Also we should glory in tribulation (our struggle with sin). So I totally agree with Barbara that God loves the state we are in our sanctification, even though we sin daily. The love of God is rooted in Christ’s work on the cross and not in our works. So there’s nothing I can do or not do to change the love of God for me. And a christian is a slave to righteousness, he always wants to obey, though he is seldom able to perform as Paul states in Romans 7. But God loves us unconditionally, regardless of the christian’s failure or victory. The christian life is one of repentance, we recognize our sin, confess it, and trust in Christ’s perfect obedience in his life and unto his death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.


6 years ago

Just to add to the post I just wrote. Our hope is not in this world. We have to be realistic as christians we all want perfection. However because there is no promise in the bible, we can not expect it. As a matter of fact we are taught that on this earth we are subject to futility, and our hope is in the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:20-23
20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.


6 years ago

I appreciate Mrs. Duguid’s frankness and honesty, but I do disagree with some of what she speaks. For instance, I think statements such as, “We are called to try very hard…..I have tried to think through….why would God call for us to try so hard even though we ourselves cannot decide whether we are going to stand or fall?” She explains that, “If God is God then He gets His way in every molecule of this universe every day. He has not left this great work of sanctification up to us. In order for us not to sin there has to be a fresh work of the Holy Spirit that enables us to stand and that God will restrain our sin.” She goes on to state that there have been times when she wanted to sin but God restrained her, and other times when He did not. So whether we stand against sin or fall into it is God’s sovereign choice for us. Then she says, “So if His Holy Spirit is presiding that specifically over us in every minute of every day, we can’t fail to meet God’s goals for us. It’s not possible. I don’t think God has given us that kind of power….that in any given moment God gets His way in this universe and that extends all the way down to you and what you are doing and not doing, even to what you are thinking and not thinking.”

I am sure that Barbara Duguid would never subscribe to the notion that it is ultimately God’s fault that we sin, but when carried out to its logical end this is the conclusion that is reached. Here I am, trying and trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to help me stand against temptation, but it may be God’s sovereign choice that I fall. May it never be. Where is the hope that one can be free from the sin that so easily entangles? Are the wonderful promises in Scripture concerning freedom from sin only applying to the eternal resurrected state? What about Romans chapters 6 and 7? What about all the warnings from Paul about falling into sin and the promises of the freedom from sin?

Before I am accused of legalism let me state that I fully lean on God’s wonderful grace. It is never about my performance as the best I can ever do is as filthy rags as Scripture tells me. Unfortunately, I do know what is in my heart and mind and at times, folks, it ain’t pretty. But I stand on the promises of Scripture that God always provides a way of escape for me and that I don’t ever have to willingly fall into sin. I have to believe those promises, no matter what my experience may be.

It is unbearable to me to believe that even though Christ died for me, and God’s very Word proclaims that I am no longer a slave to sin, that God might still require that I stay under its destructive bondage for some reason known only to Him and turn a deaf ear to real, sorrowful repentance.


6 years ago

I don’t know Nancy, I think your confusion is in what God expects from your Christian life and what God promises. I don’t see anywhere in scripture that God has promised us that we will not sin. I think the life of a christian is a life of repentance, i.e. we acknowledge our sin as christians and trust in Jesus for forgiveness. And also no christian sins willingly, if you look at Paul in Romans7, he goes as far as saying it is not him but sins that lives in him that makes him unable to keep the law. You see the christian does not disobey the law willingly but unwillingly as Romans 7 teaches.

And with regard to your comment that you don’t believe God will require you to stay under the destructive bondage of sin, I totally agree. It is God’s revealed will that we do not sin. Nevertheless as a result of the fall of Adam, the whole creation has been submitted to futility by God himself. And our hope right now is in the resurrection of the body, where we will not be raised up with a corrupt body but an incorrupt one as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. Romans 8:20 is very clear that God is not promising that we will not commit sin (even though christians sin unwillingly and God does not impute it) Romans 8:20 “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope”

Keith Furutani

6 years ago

I read Dr.Oliphint’s book God With Us not too long ago. I found it to be thick reading but very helpful. Very helpful. I think in a sense God Eimi is certainly never disappointed and in a Eikon sense He most certainly is. I could be misapplying Dr Oliphint here (so please don’t blame him) but I think that those Eimi Eikon categories help me to understand and discern what the author is saying about sanctification even though she not might be using those categories.

Chris Schroeder

6 years ago

Several things troubled me in this broadcast; now someone (Mark Jones) has articulated what’s wrong (with her view on sanctification):


I’m surprised Camden didn’t pick up on some of Barbara’s statements.


6 years ago

Against Jones I will simply say that I think he misrepresents Duguid’s position, and I appeal to WCF 5.4-5:

IV. The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men;[14] and that not by a bare permission,[15] but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding,[16] and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends;[17] yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.[18]

V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled;[19] and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.

If Duguid is “hyper-decretal,” as Jones states, I don’t really see how the Confession has avoided the same charge…

Angela Werner

9 months ago

Christ’s imputed righteousness is not an excuse to be indulgent about our sin.



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