REFLECTIONS
by Al Maxey

Issue #265 ------- September 13, 2006
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Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton {1725-1807}

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John Newton
A True Testimony to the
Amazing Grace of God

It has been called "the pearl of all spiritual songs," and has the distinction of being the most recorded hymn in history. No other Christian composition even comes close. Written almost a quarter of a millennium ago, by a person who at one time had been a successful slave merchant, Amazing Grace has left an indelible mark upon the spiritual landscape of virtually every continent in the world. It has touched hearts and transformed lives like no other hymn ever has, or likely ever will. It is unique among its kind. Some have stated, "It is a song of reconciliation, and of hope" ... "It allows you to reach down into yourself" ... "It gets to the very heart of man" ... "It helps you to see a better day" ... "While you are singing it, you are free!" Little wonder that it became popular among the African slaves as they labored in the homes and fields of this nation. How ironic that the hymn which brought them such comfort was penned by one of the very men who had originally traded in their misery!

Just who was this incredibly complex and fascinating man who, through his spiritual music, has touched the lives of countless millions, and yet through his former occupation, as the Captain of a slave ship, brought such untold grief, suffering and heartache to numerous men, women and children, as he tore families apart? What led him to the godless vocation of selling humans into bondage, and what turned his life around, leading him to become a Minister of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? What act of divine intervention caused such a dramatic and life-altering transformation in this man that it would turn him from being a seeker of slaves to a seeker of souls? This is the story we will seek to relate in this account of the power of God's amazing grace to redirect our lives to His divine purpose. It is the unforgettable story of a man named John Newton.

On July 24, 1725, John Newton was born in Wapping, London, England. His father was a successful and well-respected Captain of a merchant ship involved in trade throughout the Mediterranean region for the East India Company. His mother, Elizabeth, was a rather frail woman, but what she lacked in physical strength she made up for in spiritual determination. She was a very religious woman, and a close personal friend of one of the great hymn writers of her day: Isaac Watts, who wrote, among many other hymns, "When I Survey The Wondrous Cross." She raised up young John on the "Children's Hymns" of Isaac Watts, and dedicated herself to John's early education. She taught him to read and write, and she prayed fervently every day that he would someday grow up to be a gospel minister. Sadly, her godly influence upon John Newton was to be rather short-lived. She died of consumption when he was only six years old.

It was not long before his father had remarried, and young John was sent off to Essex to live with his step-mother's father. That too did not last long. Soon, John was shipped off to boarding school, where he remained until he was ten years old. He was a good student and enjoyed mathematics. By the time he left, he could even read Latin. However, John was developing a rather strong "rebellious streak," and was frequently in trouble with those who had charge over him. He had quite a temper, and was known for some rather violent outbursts when things didn't suit him. Considering what he had been through during the past few years, however (the loss of his dear mother, being shipped off to boarding school by his father), it was little wonder that he was experiencing some emotional and behavioral problems. Newton, reflecting upon those years in boarding school and its impact upon him spiritually, would later write, "Instead of making progress, I nearly forgot all that my good mother had taught me."

At the tender age of only eleven, John Newton left school and went to sea with his father. "I made five voyages with him to the Mediterranean," Newton wrote years afterward. This would fill the next six years of his young life. In 1742, however, his father decided to leave the sea, but not before using some of his considerable influence to try and secure a good future for his son. Joseph Manesty, a good friend and successful businessman in Liverpool, offered the seventeen year old John a job working as an overseer of slaves on a Jamaican plantation. If he did well, and proved himself worthy, he was promised a partnership by the age of thirty. He accepted the offer. Shortly before sailing away to his new position, John made a trip to Chatham on some business for his father, staying with a relative of his deceased mother. While there he fell head-over-heels in love with a fourteen year old named Mary (although she was known to all as "Polly"). Unable to bear the thought of departing from her presence, he lingered there for another three weeks, missing his ship to Jamaica. When he finally returned home, his father punished him by forcing him to serve as a lowly seaman aboard a ship leaving for the Middle East.

Upon his return from this voyage, John's father once again sought to help his son get a good, respectable job -- this time as an officer aboard a merchant ship. Unfortunately, this was a time of great struggle between England and France, and young men were being forcibly impressed into service in the Navy. Before young John could take this new assignment he was grabbed by one of the many "press-gangs" and impressed into service. His father, even though he tried, was unable to secure his release. Thus, on March 4, 1744, John Newton became a low-ranking seaman aboard the HMS Harwich, a 50-gun man-of-war in the English Navy. A month later war broke out. Not too long after that, the ship's commanding officer, Captain Carteret, called John into his cabin. As a favor to Newton's father, who was now serving with distinction in the Royal Africa Company, John was being promoted to the rank of Midshipman (which, essentially, was a warrant officer).

Sadly, John did not have the good sense to take advantage of the opportunities that came his way. He was still quite rebellious toward any kind of authority, and was known as a "hard drinker and coarse talker." One biographer wrote, "He strayed so far from his mother's spiritual teaching that he began influencing others away from their deeply held religious beliefs. His life had so degenerated that he was often disliked and distrusted by officers and crew alike. He ran from his father's support, ignored his superior officers' authority, and fell so far from his mother's dreams that he became known among the sailors as 'The Great Blasphemer.'" John Newton was basically lazy and self-centered; caring nothing about the feelings of others. Time and again he would be late returning to his ship; constantly finding himself in trouble. Around April, 1745, when he discovered that the ship was due to sail to the East Indies, and that it would be five years before it returned, John Newton deserted, which at that time was a hanging offence.

Some time later, an opportunity arose for Newton to leave the naval service. The Commodore had ordered Captain Carteret to supply two men from his ship to serve as crewmen aboard a merchant ship from Guinea. John pleaded with the Captain to allow him to go. In less than an hour, much to the relief of all concerned, John Newton was out of the English Navy and aboard a merchant ship headed for the coast of Sierra Leone, Africa. John was now part of the crew of a slave trading ship. It just so happened that the captain of this ship knew John's father, thus once again special consideration was extended to the young Newton. For six months the ship sailed up and down the coast picking up slaves to be transported to the American colonies. One of the owners of the ship, a Mr. Clow, was aboard during this time, and John got to know him. Just before the ship sailed to America, the captain died. Seeing his chance, John approached Mr. Clow and asked if he could leave the ship and become part of his slave trading business. Mr. Clow accepted his offer and put John in charge of a new "slave factory" (where newly captured slaves would be taken and prepared for shipment) that had just been built at the mouth of the Sierra Leone River.

What followed was somewhat reminiscent of the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife [Genesis 39]. Mr. Clow had an African wife who was very "highborn," viewing herself as some sort of princess, and who didn't take well to the demeanor of Newton. On one occasion, Mr. Clow planned to take John on a buying trip up and down the coast, but Newton fell ill and had to remain behind. Clow's wife wasted no time in deposing John from his position and locking him in an empty slave shed, giving him only a handful of boiled rice per day as food. Newton almost starved to death, but managed to stay alive by eating roots he dug up, and the small amounts of food some of the captured slaves shared with him. Years later he would write, "I have sometimes been relieved by strangers, yea even by the slaves in the chain who have secretly brought me victuals (for they durst not be seen doing it) from their own slender pittance." When Mr. Clow finally returned, Newton reported to him what had happened, but Clow didn't believe his story.

John Newton was able to make the second trip with Mr. Clow, but another slave trader took a great disliking to Newton and reported to Mr. Clow that John was cheating him. Clow believed this other merchant of misery. Newton later wrote, "I was condemned without evidence. From that time he likewise used me very hardly; whenever he left the vessel I was locked upon the deck, with a pint of rice for my day's allowance." While chained to the deck, he suffered exposure to the elements. "Nor did I suffer less from the inclemency of the weather and the want of clothes. The rainy season was now advancing; my whole suit was a shirt, a pair of trowsers, a cotton cloth about two yards long, to supply the want of upper garments: and thus accoutered, I have been exposed for twenty, thirty, perhaps forty hours together, in incessant rains, accompanied with strong gales, without the least shelter, when my master was on shore." In time, Newton was allowed to leave and began to work for another slave trader, a Mr. Williams, who treated him far better than Mr. Clow and his wife had. Soon John Newton had been promoted to a management position and things began to look up for him again.

In the year 1747, John Newton left his work with Mr. Williams and became part of the crew of a merchant vessel named the "Greyhound." This was not a slave ship, but rather one trading in gold, ivory, beeswax and dyer's wood. For almost a year the ship sailed south, stopping at various ports to pick up merchandise. Rather than making himself useful, however, he returned to his old ways of laziness and bad attitudes. He mocked those who declared themselves to be Christians, and would frequently be heard blaspheming God. It is said that he was so good at coming up with filthy talk that even the "old salts" of the sea were shocked by what they heard. He spent much of his time on the ship so drunk he could hardly function (almost falling overboard once; rescued only at the last moment by one of the crew). Strangely, John could not even swim; quite dangerous for a sailor! His behavior was only tolerated at all because the captain was a personal friend of John's father, and he had promised to get this lad back closer to his family.

When the "Greyhound" finally had completed its trading, and had its holds filled with merchandise, it set sail across the Atlantic for home. This was early January of 1748. There was little to read on this ship, but Newton, ironically, came across a book by Stanhope titled "The Christian's Pattern" [which was largely based upon the classic work "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas Kempis]. Newton occupied his time, when not irritating the crew, by reading this religious work, and he soon began to do some reflecting on his life. In early March a fierce storm descended upon the ship. It became so severe that the vessel began taking on water and was in danger of sinking. Some of the crew were even swept overboard right in front of Newton. He later described the storm in these words, "The sea had torn away the upper timbers on one side, and made the ship a mere wreck in a few minutes ... Taking all the circumstances, it was astonishing, and almost miraculous that any of us survived to relate the story. We had recourse to the pumps; but the water increased against our efforts." Newton manned the pumps all night and until noon of the next day. After resting for an hour he was assigned the task of steering the vessel, which he did until midnight. While at the helm of the ship, John Newton continued reflecting upon, in his words, "the extraordinary turns in my life; the calls, the warnings, and deliverances I had met with. About six in the evening I heard that the ship was freed from water, and there rose a gleam of hope. I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour; I began to pray."

The "Greyhound" managed to survive the storm, but when they assessed the damage it was worse than they thought. Holes in the ship were plugged with the bedding of the crew. However, their provisions were virtually gone. The livestock had been washed overboard, the casks of their food were smashed and destroyed by the sea water. Newton later reported they had just enough dry, salted cod fish to last a week, if they rationed it carefully. It would be four weeks, though, before the ship finally reached land. During this time they had to endure yet another storm at sea, and the captain was beginning to regard Newton as a "Jonah," thinking God was angry with Newton and thus was punishing the entire ship [see Jonah 1]. There was actually talk of throwing him overboard. Finally, they spotted land (it was northwest Ireland). Newton later wrote, "When we came into this port our very last victuals were boiling in the pot: and before we had been there two hours, the wind, which seemed to have been providentially restrained till we were in a place of safety, began to blow with great violence, so that if we had continued at sea that night in our shattered, enfeebled condition, we must have gone to the bottom. About this time I began to know that there is a God that hears and answers prayer." The date of the storm was March 10, 1748. The date of their arrival safely in port was April 8, 1748. John Newton was still a youth, not quite 23 years old, but had experienced more than some men had in a lifetime.

Over half a century later, at the age of seventy-seven, Newton wrote these words as he reflected back upon this event in his life, an event that forever transformed him -- "My Gracious Lord, Thou hast preserved me to see another anniversary of that great, awful and merciful day, when I was upon the point of sinking with all my sins and blasphemies upon my head into the pit which has no bottom, and must have sunk, had not Thine eye pitied me, and preserved me in a manner which appears to me little less miraculous than all the wonders Thou didst perform for Israel in Egypt and at the Red Sea. O, I have now cause to praise Thee for that terrible storm, which first shook my infidelity. ... I thank Thee, likewise, for the subsequent month, when we expected to be starved, or reduced to feed upon one another. Had it not been for this protected season of distress, my first impressions might have worn off, but Thou fixed and increased them, so that by the time we arrived in Ireland, I was no longer an infidel. Not one of my fellow sufferers was affected as I was. Well I might say with wonder and gratitude, Why me, O Lord, why me?!"

The answer, of course, is that God had a plan for the life of John Newton. One can't help but think of several such dramatic transformations in human history. Saul of Tarsus, for example, comes to mind, who, in 72 hours, went from breathing threats and murder against Christians to being a devoted disciple of Jesus. Some people seem to need that "2x4 between the eyes" experience before they awaken to the call of God. "Why me, Lord? Why was I spared? What did You see in me?!" I'm sure many of us have pondered these very questions. I know I have!! Like Newton, there was a period of several years in my life (while I was in the Navy) where I completely turned my back on God and lived a wretched life. I mocked God, drank heavily, and there were several occasions in foreign ports where I awoke on the floor of a hotel room, not even remembering how I got there. There were times while serving in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam that I should have died, but for some reason was spared. I particularly remember one occasion when several of us were just about to leave the base for a perimeter patrol, and the Executive Officer grabbed me at the last second and said he had another assignment for me. That patrol was ambushed and all were killed. Like Newton, I asked, "Why me, Lord? Why was I spared?" And yet, like Newton, years later I praise God that He intervened. Amazing Grace ... that saved a wretch like me!! Thank God for His mercy!!

While in Ireland, John wrote to his father three times. Sadly, he would never see his father again. Captain Newton drowned in a swimming accident before John returned. When John got back to England he paid a visit to the family of Mary "Polly" Catlett. He had been in love with her for years, and always hoped some day to return and find her waiting for him. He soon learned she was not as "head-over-heels" as he was. It took him some time to convince her, and after three proposals she agreed to marry him. The wedding occurred in February, 1750. In the meantime, John had also accepted an offer to become Captain of his own slave trading ship, working for the same merchant who had been owner of the "Greyhound." His new ship, the "Duke of Argyll," made its first voyage with him as Captain in August, 1750. He had a crew of 30 men (for whom he would hold church services each Sunday). In July, 1752 he became the Captain of his second slave trading ship, which was called "The African." Although Newton had dramatically changed in some ways, he still did not regard slave trading as inconsistent with his newly found faith. That enlightenment would not come for many years. It is said, however, that he did treat his "cargo" more humanely than many of the ship's captains of that day.

It was while sailing as Captain of "The African" that another great turning point in the life of John Newton occurred. He met another ship's Captain (who was not in the slave trading business) by the name of Alexander Clunie, who was Scottish and very religious. They became very close friends, and Clunie spent a great deal of time teaching Newton more about God's Word. John Newton would later write, "I was all ears and what was better, he not only informed my understanding, but his discourses inflamed my heart." Under Clunie's guidance and encouragement, John Newton became more and more active in his faith, studying everything he could get his hands on, and began a correspondence with Dr. David Jennings, who had years before been his own mother's pastor. These years as a captain would be transitional for Newton, as he did much study while away from home. Finally, "The African" docked back home in August, 1754. It would be Newton's last voyage. He would never go to sea again.

Newton, not liking being separated from his wife and new daughter in England, decided to stay closer to home. He took a job in Liverpool as a "Tides Surveyor" -- a type of Customs Officer whose main job it was to search for contraband on incoming vessels. He would keep this job for the next several years. However, during this time his interest in theology grew, and he spent much time in study of Hebrew and Greek, and mingled with such men as John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, and George Whitefield, a leader in the Church of England. He had a difficult time choosing whether to affiliate himself with the Methodists or the Anglicans, but ultimately chose the latter. Newton soon decided he wanted to become a minister of the gospel, and so he applied for ordination. He was turned down several times, but finally, in 1764, his dear mother's prayers were answered, and John Newton was ordained and given the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire, England. His sermons were so popular, and the crowds so large, that the facilities soon had to be enlarged. He also began preaching in other parts of the country, as his fame spread.

In the year 1767 a poet by the name of William Cowper moved to Olney. He and Newton soon became good friends. They also worked together in holding weekly "prayer meetings" at which they would present hymns they had written. Both men were quite good at this (Newton actually wrote a great many Christian hymns), and they decided to try and have a new hymn at each weekly prayer meeting. Most historians feel that it was during this period of time that John Newton probably produced his most famous hymn, although no one knows for sure exactly when it was written. The most frequently given date is 1772. In 1779 a collection of their hymns was produced under the title "Olney Hymns," which contained 348 selections (67 by Cowper, 281 by Newton). It was in this first edition of "Olney Hymns" that "Amazing Grace" first appeared, although it was not originally known by this title, but rather: "Faith's Review and Expectation." No one really knows where the tune came from, although several possibilities have been suggested. Some feel it was a melody, ironically, used by the African slaves. Others say it was an early American folk tune. It is maintained by some that it was an early Protestant tune called "New Britain." The reality is: we just don't know for sure.

That same year, 1779, John Newton was invited to become Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, on Lombard Street, in London. He accepted the position and remained there until his death almost three decades later. In the year 1790, Mary, the devoted wife of John Newton for 40 years, died of cancer. He would remain unmarried the remaining seventeen years of his life. Until the day of his death, John Newton never ceased to marvel at the marvelous grace of God which was evidenced in his own transformed life. Near the end of his life, Newton became increasingly ill, had lost most of his sight, and his memory was failing. One of the church leaders suggested he retire, to which Newton responded, "What?! Shall the old Africa blasphemer stop while he can still speak?!" During one of his last messages he stated, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!"

John Newton, after preaching the Gospel of God's Grace for 43 years, died in London, England on December 21, 1807. He was 82 years old. In 1893, the remains of both John and Mary were re-interred in the old Olney church graveyard, where their graves may still be visited today by those who come daily to pay their respects. Engraved upon the massive granite monument appears the epitaph that Newton himself wrote prior to his death: "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy." "Through many dangers, toils and snares," wrote Newton in his hymn, "I have already come. 'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." By God's matchless grace, not by our own merit, we shall all, through faith in His Son, stand before Him redeemed! Praise God for the life of His devoted servant John Newton. What an encouragement and inspiration to us all!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

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Reflections on CD
www.zianet.com/maxey/offercd.htm
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Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

by Al Maxey
Order Your Copy Today
www.zianet.com/maxey/mdrbook.htm
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Al, Thank you so much for your book Down, But Not Out. Your book, filled with teaching from God's Word, continues to heal my broken heart, give me hope, give me forgiveness for a failed marriage, and give me ever so much deeper empathy for those who have failed to achieve God's Ideal. I am starting a class here in Searcy (open to the community; it will be non-denominational), which will meet weekly, to teach God's design for the husband/wife relationship. This will be announced in the local newspaper. I intend to use your book -- Down, But Not Out -- as the guide for this community outreach. By the way, I also sent my daughters a copy of your book, and they are now also starting to heal. May God bless you, Al. Again, thank you!

From a Fellow Elder in New Mexico:

Al, I am willing to bet my life on the existence of, and the Grace offered by, our Savior's Death, Burial, and Resurrection. I will not bet my life on anything else. Paul stated -- God's Grace is sufficient for me. I pray that I may be a "foot washer" in the way I serve my God and His Son Jesus. Keep up the good writings! May God bless you daily!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Al, We continue to be blessed by your Reflections ministry, and we appreciate the gift God has given you. Thank you!

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Al, Your article titled "You Bet Your Life" is a masterpiece! I enjoy all your articles, but every now and then you write one that leaves me breathless. This is one of them! What is truly amazing, of course, is that these "perfect patternists" don't even keep the pattern themselves! What hypocrites! Keep up the good work!

From a Minister in California:

Al, "You Bet Your Life" is, indeed, an encouraging article! I was raised in the very conservative Churches of Christ, but am now preaching for one of the more progressive churches in our fellowship. Although you were not the one who brought me out of legalism and into grace, it was people such as yourself, who have a spirit of grace, that led me out. For them, and for you, I am very grateful to the Father! I hope that to some extent I am now being that person to others.

From a Minister in Arkansas:

Blessings, Al, on your courage and conviction to challenge the status quo. I too am sensing a trend to move away from those rigid, legalistic patterns that have held the minds of church members captive for too long, and that have kept them from honest inquiry. It is my prayer that the ground-swell of grace-oriented believers can lovingly convict the hearts of those in our communities who need Jesus. Al, I appreciate your heart and your willingness to take the heat from those who think they have cornered the market on Truth. I heartily agree with the one brother's comment to you -- Soldier On!!

From a Minister in California:

Bro. Al, "You Bet Your Life" is brilliantly conceived and expertly delivered. While your primary target audience is the legalistic patternists among Churches of Christ, you also successfully challenged this Christian Church preacher to question the traditional standards I have used to pigeonhole those who disagree with me on doctrinal issues. Thanks for exposing my own legalistic patternism, which cannot stand before the grace of Jesus. When we strip away all the encrusted religious crud we have accumulated through the centuries, it becomes apparent that our salvation is not at all based on what we know, but wholly on Who we know. This is a mighty article, Al. It cuts to the quick. It exposes the patternistic paradigm as a sham that out-Pharisees the Pharisees! How exciting it is that several MarsList members have found the courage to express their new-found, grace-based faith within the very lair of patternism. Is that neat, or what?! The Spirit is at work, and cold hearts are warming to the power of His liberating grace.

I confess, Al, I have a hard time imagining the opposition that you must have to endure on an almost daily basis!! But, that vituperative spirit is endemic in the legalistic paradigm -- as you already know so well. Nevertheless, in the face of this opposition, the "Al Maxey" spirit, by way of contrast, is always so gracious! It's just amazing how God supplies you with the grace to endure! Thank you for courageously piercing the darkness of legalism, and for helping release a whole generation of believers unwittingly held in its death grip. Al, you are making a huge difference, and it is a new day dawning in our Stone-Campbell Movement due in some measure to your Reflections ministry. Keep writing! Keep challenging! Keep exposing! Keep loving! Keep extending God's grace!

From a Reader in Oregon:

Hey Al, "You Bet Your Life" was a fantastic article! Your work constantly encourages many of us to keep thinking and growing, and not to give up. Again, great job, Al.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Bro. Maxey, As always, I really enjoyed your article, but this week's study especially gets to the meat of the question: "Could I be wrong?!" Through the years it has alternately amused and irked me when anyone makes the statement that we are more "right" than they (whoever "we" and "they" are). As for the depths to which some will sink in order to suppress Truth and those who proclaim it (such as yourself) -- think: Taliban!!

From a Reader in North Carolina:

Al, Thank you for such a wonderful and insightful study! I completely agree with the brother from Oregon who came up with that question for those on MarsList. I've thought about these things often, but have never been able to articulate my position as eloquently as you two have done. I can think of two people in the NT who felt that they also "had it all together" -- the rich young ruler [Matt. 19:16-22] and the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. Of course, there are many others. In my study I can't find anyone who took this position being praised by Jesus. Al, please continue the great work that you do! You must be doing something right, after all Jesus wasn't liked by the religious leaders of His day either!!

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, The disciple from Oregon (who asked the question on MarsList) truly got down to brass tacks! This exchange reminded me of a couple of truths: (1) Our willingness to realize our own inadequacy of understanding opens the door to God's grace. Paul, perhaps the greatest human theologian of all time, stated that he kept his message simple -- it was: Jesus Christ and Him crucified. When we stray beyond this simple fact, we get into all kinds of trouble. I feel pity for those who are perpetually straining gnats and swallowing camels. What a miserable way to live! It must be horrible to be constantly wondering if God's grace is sufficient to save! Shudder!!! (2) Over the years I've come to realize that my forgiveness of others must be unconditional. I cannot harbor grudges or ill will toward others, because when I do I open myself up to God's judgment. Finally, as always, Bro. Al, I appreciate your willingness to take on such entrenched positions. It is no wonder that God has appointed a soldier such as yourself to bombard with the truth of His Word those who would distort His grace! Don't grow weary, brother! Victory is at hand!

From a Reader in Indiana:

Dear Al, I have read and been pondering your latest Reflections -- "You Bet Your Life." It was a wonderful summation of what is essential to salvation and for growth in grace and Truth. Also, what a blessing that the brother from Oregon was bold enough to ask the questions that he did. Some people do think! I loved the part where one member of MarsList expressed the following -- "Our salvation is totally Jesus. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by our 'superior' theology or knowledge. Our salvation is from the blood of Jesus, not our 'perfect' worship services."

From a New Reader in Arizona:

Dear Al, Please add me to your mailing list. I have never met you, but I recognize your name since one of my former elders lived in Hawaii for many years, and was a member of the same congregation for which you preached in Honolulu. I used to receive your bulletins from Hawaii, so have enjoyed your writings from even before Reflections. A friend who grew up with me recently gave me a copy of one of your recent articles, and so I followed the links to your page. I have today read some of your earlier Reflections on your web site. Keep up the good work, brother!

From a Reader in Ohio:

Al, Needless to say, I haven't responded for a long while. Nevertheless, I wanted to let you know that this current issue of Reflections -- "You Bet Your Life" -- is a masterpiece!! Well, I just thought I ought to tell you that!

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Bro. Al, You know, if a fellow doesn't get the point after this one ("You Bet Your Life"), I don't think he ever will. Did I read somewhere that somebody had said you made "ignorant" arguments? Well, I'm sure you have at one time or another. Most of us have. But not here. Dead on, brother! If a fellow wants to bet his life (or his salvation) on something, he'd better make it Jesus, and never his level of performance.

From a Doctor in Kentucky:

Al, I'm one of your biggest fans, trust me. If it weren't for folks like you, I would probably still be stuck in the mud of legalism. God put you in your position for a reason, so keep on keeping on! I'm with ya, brother!

From a Reader in Florida:

Al, I just wanted to thank you soooooo very much for your Reflections. I also want to thank you for having the courage to write what you do and to challenge us all to actually think. You see, for 21 years I have been in a very legalistic faction of the Church of Christ. They hold their particular views as doctrine. We were taught that if we used more than one sheet of unleavened bread in the Lord's Supper, or if we watched TV, or went to movies, or listened to music, or visited other congregations, or used the Internet, then we would go to hell. We women must wear stockings and blouses with sleeves. Well, I am a rebel, so I went online and I soon came across your web site, and I started reading your Reflections. I studied what you taught, and I finally left this group one month ago, and, believe me, it scared me to death! I almost had panic attacks over the thought of leaving, because it had been so pounded into us that there is NO salvation outside of this little group. Not even within other Churches of Christ. Al, please keep writing your Reflections. Most legalists won't listen, but there are some of us out here who are listening, and we are very thankful for you, that you are brave enough to try and make us think. It is frightening for us, but very necessary that we come out of our little boxes and face reality. Bless you for this, Al.

From a Minister in Missouri:

Al, I can really appreciate your Reflections article: "You Bet Your Life." As you know, I am a minister within the One-Cup Churches of Christ. Throughout my life, I have met many of these "doctrinal kamikazes" who would bet their very salvation on their accuracy of interpretation. I know of one legalistic brother who, when discussing the issue of one cup vs. multiple cups, stated loudly and proudly, "I am willing to die for the cup!" Wow!! I was once entangled in such legalism. What brought me out of that and into grace was my realization of exactly what you talked about in your article. I finally had to ask myself, "Could it be possible, even with all of my 'wisdom' and 'knowledge' and 'holiness' and 'perfection,' that I just might actually be wrong?" Boy, was I ever in for a big dose of humility. Not only was I, along with all the other "doctrinal martyrs" with whom I was "in fellowship," wrong, but we were actually making others twice as much sons of hell as we were. I'm so glad that God delivered me from the chains of legalism, and that He shined the light of His amazing grace upon my heart. Al, please continue to pray for and reach out to the enslaved.

From a Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, I was raised in a Non-Institutional Church of Christ, and am now a member of a mainstream congregation that worships with instruments. It has been an interesting evolution over the last 40 years. It began with a visitor who challenged me to a study of the question: Is it a SIN for a congregation to own property (which included a church building, communion and collection plates, etc.)? This person worshipped only in people's homes and insisted that worshipping in a church building was a SIN. His argument was, "It is not found in the Bible, so it is sinful!" I studied with him and found his argument silly, but then I realized that I used similar reasoning myself to condemn youth group functions, instrumental music, helping non-Christians with "church money," etc. It was actually taught that if an orphan was dropped off at the door of our church building, and no one at the meeting had brought any money with them, it would be a SIN for us to take money out of the collection plate to buy him some food. All of these many legalistic, patternistic requirements started me to really thinking. I have now long since grown out of this whole concept of "salvation by doctrinal perfection." My salvation is NOT based on my own perfection, but on Christ's. Hey, its going to be great in Heaven, isn't it?! Since I probably will not make it to New Mexico, I'll see you there!

From a Reader in California:

Dear Al, I really look forward to your Reflections. When I start reading them I just can't stop until I finish! The Lord has blessed you with a wonderful insight and a great love for the brotherhood. Keep up the great work! Al, you are a great servant for the Master! Please give Shelly my love!

From a Reader in Oregon:

Dear Brother Al, I just finished reading the remarks from "A Reader In Texas" about the inconsistency of those who will allow a restroom in a church building, but who then cry about having a kitchen. Why can't these people get it into their heads that it is not the church building that is sacred, but rather the people. The building is nothing but a place. The "logic" of some people would be laughable if it wasn't so sad and if such "logic" wasn't being used to split congregations of the Lord's church. Jesus said it best when He spoke of blind guides who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel [Matt. 23:24].

From a Minister in California:

Brother Al, I just finished reading the article on foot washing [Issue #263]. What a moving act our Lord and Savior performed! I can see why there is much confusion regarding this practice, however, because even Peter, who was there, didn't understand what Christ was doing. I was thinking about the various ways we can "wash feet" today. Certainly hospitality is high up on that list. Also, we have a sister in our congregation who voluntarily watches the children during our Chemical Recovery meetings. She saw there was a need, and she offered to help out, seeking no recognition whatsoever. Since distance forbids me from washing your feet, I will endeavor to remain a refreshing support from afar. Al, whenever you are tempted to give in to despair, just remember that you are providing tremendous encouragement to at least one person in southern California!! Al, you have helped many people indirectly just through your encouragement of me. Do not grow weary in doing good, my brother!!

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