The Works of John Newton, New Edition. By John Newton. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015. 3032 pages in 4 volumes. Hardcover, $150.00.
John Newton (1725–1807) was reared by a devout mother who taught him the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the responses to Isaac Watts’ A Short View of the Whole of Scripture History before his sixth birthday. She was overwhelmed by tuberculosis, and Newton joined his father (a ship’s captain) on the sea at the early age of ten. Newton’s life upon the sea culminated in his becoming a captain of his own slave-trading vessel. His experiences as a first mate and as a ship captain on these ships, eventually became his testimony before Parliament in the abolition effort. Early in his sea-faring career, Newton was known to be a vociferous atheist and blasphemer, however his spiritual trajectory had been altered during a storm that threatened his life. Though he did not view this as his moment of conversion, Newton often reflected on his deliverance from death and the marvelous grace of God on the anniversary of the storm. He applied for ordination in the Church of England, but was rejected for six years due to his relationship with George Whitefield and his “enthusiasm.” Eventually, he pastored in Olney for fifteen years where he befriended the tortured William Cowper who became an unofficial assistant helping Newton in his pastoral duties. One of the areas of Newton’s ministry that was most helped by Cowper was in the writing of hymns in order to help illustrate Newton’s sermons and to cement their lessons into the lives of his parishioners. One of those hymns, written by Newton, has become the most recognized and recorded song in history: Amazing Grace. Newton would go on to influence William Wilberforce and assist him in bringing an end to the slave-trade in England. He would pastor in London for thirty years before entering into his eternal reward.
In The Works of John Newton, New Edition, the Banner of Truth Trust has published Newton’s works in a new typeset with an increased size making it easier to read, and also condensing what was six volumes in the previous release into four. In doing so, the publisher has made Newton’s complete works more affordable. Apart from the type, the publisher notes, “A small number of words, which have radically altered their meaning over the years since Newton wrote, have been changed to avoid misunderstanding” (1:ix). Each of these changes were made in such a way as to make Newton’s writings more accessible than ever before.
Whereas in previous editions of Newton’s Works, the author’s autobiography, An Authentic Narrative, was incorporated into Richard Cecil’s introductory life of Newton, it is printed in whole in the new edition. This autobiography was published at the time of his appointment to Olney and drew congregants from as far as London to hear the famed Newton preach. As such, it is fitting that it be included in his works.
Interest in John Newton’s experience of God’s grace and the pastoral insight in his application of that grace to those in his charge has been revived in light of Tony Reinke’s Newton on the Christian Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015). In light of this renewed interest, and the great contribution of Newton’s personal testimony, this new edition of his Works provides a complete resource for those interested in studying him further, and will serve them well whether it be for academic, pastoral, or devotional purposes.
John Newton, The Works of John Newton
This review appears in the Southwestern Journal of Theology 59.2 (Spring 2017): 252-53.