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Letters of John Newton

By Josiah Bull
October 2007 | Review by Neville F. Rees

Synopsis

It is the 200th anniversary of Newton's death – converted slave-trader, preacher, hymn-writer; one with an incredible grasp of Scripture and a deep experience of God's grace! This title also includes several letters never before published.

  • Publisher: Banner of Truth
  • ISBN: 978-0851519517
  • Pages: 432
  • Price: £3.00
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Book Review

The art of letter writing is becoming lost even in Christian circles. This volume reminds us of the power of the written page and the extent of John Newton’s care and concern for people. It seems he never forgot or neglected contacts made through his preaching beyond Olney and London.
Newton’s letters were first published in 1869. Now Banner have produced a fine stylish volume, different from the 1960 paperback in both content and presentation. The letters are written to various people – some notable, some obscure. However, there is a helpful pen portrait of each recipient.
The letters are full of concern and compassion with clear explanations of a range of spiritual and practical matters. They reveal the kind of man God used during the eighteenth century in addition to Whitefield and the Wesleys.
The subjects dealt with are many and varied. They include: ‘prayer in perilous times’; ‘the blessing of God’s presence’; ‘sympathy with all true Christians’; ‘a right spirit to those who differ from us’; ‘how to overcome the snares of the world’; ‘Satan’s temptations’; ‘Calvinism and Arminianism’; ‘simple faith’; ‘the theatre’; and, of course, ‘death’.
Newton’s statements are full of reality and power. Here are a few tasters:
‘I know that nothing is too hard for the Almighty. The same power that humbled me can undoubtedly bring down the most haughty infidel upon earth.’
On the vanity of religious disputes he writes: ‘But the misfortune both in churches and private Christians is that we are too prone rather to compare ourselves with others, than to judge by the Scriptures, and while each can see that they give not into the errors and mistakes of the opposite party, both are ready to conclude they are right … There is nothing required but a teachable, humble spirit.’
The letters are not in any particular order, but there is a full list of contents. However, I did feel that if the ‘Hannah More Collection’ had been put at the end it would have left the reader with a better sense of this remarkable man.
The last paragraph of the final letter (1801) reads: ‘The old man of 76 is still favoured with perfect health, and can preach as loud, as long and as often as formerly … “Oh to grace how great a debtor” is this poor African blasphemer and profligate.’
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