Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland, Jr. Gordon, Grant; Newton, John cover image
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  • Cover Type:
  • 428 Pages
  • Publisher: Banner of Truth
  • Publication Date: November 2009
  • ISBN: SGORDOGRWISECOUNSELJOHNNEWTO9781848710535

Wise Counsel: John Newton's Letters to John Ryland, Jr.

Gordon, Grant; Newton, John

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John Newton (1725-1807) has rightly been called ‘the letter-writer par excellence of the Evangelical Revival’. Newton himself seems to have come to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that letter-writing was his greatest gift. In a letter to a friend he confessed, ‘I rather reckoned upon doing more good by some of my other works than by my ‘Letters’, which I wrote without study, or any public design; but the Lord said, ‘You shall be most useful by them,’ and I learned to say, ‘Thy will be done! Use me as Thou pleasest, only make me useful.’ Indeed, he wrote to his close friend William Bull that if the letters were ‘owned to comfort the afflicted, to quicken the careless, to confirm the wavering, I may rejoice in the honour He has done me’, and not envy the greatest writers of the age.

All but ten of the letters in the present volume have been brought out of undeserved obscurity by Dr Grant Gordon, whose researches in libraries and archives, as well as in little-known nineteenth-century periodicals, have uncovered much material which is certainly calculated to comfort, quicken, and confirm. Of those already in print, one letter is in volume 1 of the Trust’s six-volume edition of Newton’s Works, and nine more are in volume 2. Three of the nine are also in the Trust’s Letters of John Newton, edited by Josiah Bull. The rest should be new to almost all readers.

The particular recipient of Newton’s ‘wise counsel’ in this book was John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825), Baptist pastor and educator, and close friend of Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and all the pioneers of the modern missionary movement. But in the background stand all the major figures of the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival. A list of Newton’s friends and correspondents would, in fact, read like a ‘who’s who’ of the Revival. And forming the wider background is a very eventful period of history, from the American Revolution to the French Revolutionary Wars, by way of the colonization of Australia, the first missions to India, and the abolition of the slave trade. Dr Gordon has helpfully set the letters in the context of these events and provided useful background detail.

The reader will discover afresh in these letters, not only mature and wise counsel, but a wholesome emphasis on true Christian experience, a great breadth of Christian sympathy, and a strong confidence in the power of the grace of God, for, as Newton said, ‘Grace has long and strong arms!’

About the Editor

Grant Gordon earned his MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Seminary and ThM and DMin degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. His wife Margaret is a hospital chaplain in a large hospital. They live near Toronto and are active with their three married children and five grandchildren.

About the Author

Born in London in 1725, deprived of the godly influence of his mother before he was seven years old, John Newton was but two years at school before he went, at the age of eleven, on his first voyage with his father, a sea captain. From that time till the age of thirty, when his health was broken by a stroke, Newton endured the wild rigours of a life before the mast, including being press-ganged aboard a naval vessel and flogged when captured after desertion. Only his love for the youthful Mary Catlett preserved him from suicide. He was released from the navy only to join in the slave traffic across the Atlantic, and was reduced almost to death on the Guinea coast before being delivered by a friend of his father’s.

Throughout these sad events there ran a divine purpose; and while Newton forgot the Saviour whom his mother had so often commended to him in childhood, and while he became, like one of old, a ‘blasphemer and injurious,’ it was all leading to a day – in the midst of a tremendous storm at sea – when he was brought to say: ‘I stood in need of an Almighty Saviour, and such a one I found described in the New Testament. The Lord had wrought a marvellous thing.’

After Newton ended his seafaring days he became tide-surveyor in Liverpool, a thriving slave port with a population of 22,000. It was here that Newton first heard the great evangelist, George Whitefield, and soon he came to know other leaders of the Evangelical Revival such as William Grimshaw and Henry Venn. His own thoughts were now turned to the ministry, and after several disappointments he was at length settled in 1764 in the Buckinghamshire parish of Olney – a name immortalized by the hymns which he and the poet William Cowper wrote for their mid-week meetings.

In his sixteen years at Olney, Newton found a good field for exercising his gift as ‘the letter writer par excellence of the Evangelical Revival’. The dreadful condition from which he had been saved, the long struggle he went through before he came to a clear understanding of the gospel, and the years of patient waiting for an opening in the Church, all served to prepare Newton for this work. He was given a thorough knowledge of the workings of the human heart and of the Lord’s dealings with his people.

Newton became minister of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, in 1779, where he continued to preach until almost the end of his life in 1807. Being advised by Richard Cecil in 1806 to discontinue preaching, he gave the memorable reply. ‘I cannot stop. What! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?’

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John Newton (1725-1807) has rightly been called ‘the letter-writer par excellence of the Evangelical Revival’. Newton himself seems to have come to the conclusion, albeit reluctantly, that letter-writing was his greatest gift. In a letter to a friend he confessed, ‘I rather reckoned upon doing more good by some of my other works than by my ‘Letters’, which I wrote without study, or any public design; but the Lord said, ‘You shall be most useful by them,’ and I learned to say, ‘Thy will be done! Use me as Thou pleasest, only make me useful.’ Indeed, he wrote to his close friend William Bull that if the letters were ‘owned to comfort the afflicted, to quicken the careless, to confirm the wavering, I may rejoice in the honour He has done me’, and not envy the greatest writers of the age.

All but ten of the letters in the present volume have been brought out of undeserved obscurity by Dr Grant Gordon, whose researches in libraries and archives, as well as in little-known nineteenth-century periodicals, have uncovered much material which is certainly calculated to comfort, quicken, and confirm. Of those already in print, one letter is in volume 1 of the Trust’s six-volume edition of Newton’s Works, and nine more are in volume 2. Three of the nine are also in the Trust’s Letters of John Newton, edited by Josiah Bull. The rest should be new to almost all readers.

The particular recipient of Newton’s ‘wise counsel’ in this book was John Ryland, Jr. (1753-1825), Baptist pastor and educator, and close friend of Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and all the pioneers of the modern missionary movement. But in the background stand all the major figures of the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival. A list of Newton’s friends and correspondents would, in fact, read like a ‘who’s who’ of the Revival. And forming the wider background is a very eventful period of history, from the American Revolution to the French Revolutionary Wars, by way of the colonization of Australia, the first missions to India, and the abolition of the slave trade. Dr Gordon has helpfully set the letters in the context of these events and provided useful background detail.

The reader will discover afresh in these letters, not only mature and wise counsel, but a wholesome emphasis on true Christian experience, a great breadth of Christian sympathy, and a strong confidence in the power of the grace of God, for, as Newton said, ‘Grace has long and strong arms!’

About the Editor

Grant Gordon earned his MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Seminary and ThM and DMin degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary. His wife Margaret is a hospital chaplain in a large hospital. They live near Toronto and are active with their three married children and five grandchildren.

About the Author

Born in London in 1725, deprived of the godly influence of his mother before he was seven years old, John Newton was but two years at school before he went, at the age of eleven, on his first voyage with his father, a sea captain. From that time till the age of thirty, when his health was broken by a stroke, Newton endured the wild rigours of a life before the mast, including being press-ganged aboard a naval vessel and flogged when captured after desertion. Only his love for the youthful Mary Catlett preserved him from suicide. He was released from the navy only to join in the slave traffic across the Atlantic, and was reduced almost to death on the Guinea coast before being delivered by a friend of his father’s.

Throughout these sad events there ran a divine purpose; and while Newton forgot the Saviour whom his mother had so often commended to him in childhood, and while he became, like one of old, a ‘blasphemer and injurious,’ it was all leading to a day – in the midst of a tremendous storm at sea – when he was brought to say: ‘I stood in need of an Almighty Saviour, and such a one I found described in the New Testament. The Lord had wrought a marvellous thing.’

After Newton ended his seafaring days he became tide-surveyor in Liverpool, a thriving slave port with a population of 22,000. It was here that Newton first heard the great evangelist, George Whitefield, and soon he came to know other leaders of the Evangelical Revival such as William Grimshaw and Henry Venn. His own thoughts were now turned to the ministry, and after several disappointments he was at length settled in 1764 in the Buckinghamshire parish of Olney – a name immortalized by the hymns which he and the poet William Cowper wrote for their mid-week meetings.

In his sixteen years at Olney, Newton found a good field for exercising his gift as ‘the letter writer par excellence of the Evangelical Revival’. The dreadful condition from which he had been saved, the long struggle he went through before he came to a clear understanding of the gospel, and the years of patient waiting for an opening in the Church, all served to prepare Newton for this work. He was given a thorough knowledge of the workings of the human heart and of the Lord’s dealings with his people.

Newton became minister of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, in 1779, where he continued to preach until almost the end of his life in 1807. Being advised by Richard Cecil in 1806 to discontinue preaching, he gave the memorable reply. ‘I cannot stop. What! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?’

  • Cover Type:
  • 428 Pages
  • Publisher: Banner of Truth
  • Publication Date: November 2009
  • ISBN: SGORDOGRWISECOUNSELJOHNNEWTO9781848710535