I was reading the letters of John Newton last night and came across one concerning the relationship between candour and the Gospel in the Christian life (Letter XXXII, On Candour.).
Newton’s letter was an instructive, balanced, helpful and challenging reminder.
Newton writes that a truly candid person will seek to “keep in view the distinction between those things which are fundamental and essential to the Christian life, and those concerning which a difference of sentiment may and often has obtained among true believers,” (pp. 357-358).
Newton points out the difference between true and false candour. The most important doctrines of the Gospel must be held central, without compromise or hypocrisy lest we be guilty of false candour.
Such false candour Newton writes,
…springs from an indifference to the truth, and is governed by the fear of men and the love of praise. This pretended candour depreciates the most important doctrines of the Gospel, and treats them as points of speculation and opinion. It is a temporizing expedient to stand fair with the world, and to avoid that odium which is the unavoidable consequence of a stedfast, open, and hearty adherence to the truth as it is in Jesus.
It aims to establish an intercommunity between light and darkness, Christ and Belial; and, under a pretence of avoiding harsh and uncharitable judgments, it introduces a mutual connivance in principles and practices which are already expressly condemned by clear decisions of Scripture…such a lukewarm temper, in those who would be thought friends of the Gospel, is treason against God, and treachery to the souls of men,” (pp. 358-359).
Yet, at the same time, Newton writes that we are to exercise gospel candour in those areas of doctrine in which “a difference of sentiment may and often has obtained among true believers.”
One can list numerous examples here: Calvinists vs. Arminians, Cessationists vs. Non-Cessationists, Worship wars, Credo vs. Paedobaptism, Young Earth vs. Old Earth, Eschatological views, Classical, Presuppositional or Evidential method of apologetics, and the list could go on.
Here is a portion of Newton’s letter,
I am, with you, an admirer of candour; but let us beware of counterfeits. True candour is a Christian grace, and will grow in no soil but a believing heart. It is an eminent and amiable property of that love which beareth, believeth, hopeth, and endureth all things. It forms the most favourable judgment of persons and characters, and puts the kindest construction upon the conduct of others that it possibly can, consistent with the love of truth.
It makes due allowances for the infirmities of human nature, will not listen with pleasure to what is said to the disadvantage of any, nor repeat it without a justifiable cause. It will not be confined within the walls of a party, nor restrain the actings of benevolence to those whom it fully approves; but prompts the mind to an imitation of Him who is kind to the unthankful and the evil, and has taught us to consider every person we see as our neighbour.
Such is the candour which I wish to derive from the Gospel; and I am persuaded they who have imbibed most of this spirit, will acknowledge that they are still defective in it. There is an unhappy propensity, even in good men, to a selfish, narrow, censorious turn of mind; and the best are more under the power of prejudice than they are aware.
A want of candour among the professors of the same Gospel, is too visible in the present day…Were there more candour among those who profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, the emotions of anger or scorn would not be so often felt or excited by pronouncing or hearing the words Churchman, or Dissenter, or Calvinist, or even Arminian.
Let us my friend, be candid: let us remember how totally ignorant we ourselves once were; how often we have changed our sentiments in one particular or other, since we first engaged in the search of truth; how often we have been imposed upon by appearances; and to how many different persons and occurrences we have been indebted, under God, for the knowledge which we have already attained.
Let us likewise consider what treatment we like to meet with from others; and do unto them as we would they should do unto us. These considerations will make the exercise of candour habitual and easy… (The Works of the Rev. John Newton, vol. 1, pp. 357-358).