The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘John Newton

“I am not what I ought to be”

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I am not what I ought to be. Ah! how imperfect and deficient. Not what I might be, considering my privileges and opportunities. Not what I wish to be. God, who knows my heart, knows I wish to be like him. I am not what I hope to be; ere long to drop this clay tabernacle, to be like him and see him as He is. Not what I once was, a child of sin, and slave of the devil. Thought not all these, not what I ought to be, not what I might be, not what I wish or hope to be, and not what once was, I think I can truly say with the apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

John Newton (1725-1807), cited in Letters of John Newton, 400.

via Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 5 May 2012 at 07:51

Posted in Christian living

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Concerning controversy

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Dear Sir,

As you are likely to be engaged in controversy, and your love of truth is joined with a natural warmth of temper, my friendship makes me solicitous on your behalf. You are of the strongest side; for truth is great, and must prevail; so that a person of abilities inferior to yours might take the field with a confidence of victory. I am not therefore anxious for the event of the battle; but I would have you more than a conqueror, and to triumph, not only over your adversary, but over yourself. If you cannot be vanquished, you may be wounded. To preserve you from such wounds as might give you cause of weeping over your conquests, I would present you with some considerations, which, if duly attended to, will do you the service of a great coat of mail; such armor, that you need not complain, as David did of Saul’s, that it will be more cumbersome than useful; for you will easily perceive it is taken from that great magazine provided for the Christian soldier, the Word of God. I take it for granted that you will not expect any apology for my freedom, and therefore I shall not offer one. For method’s sake, I may reduce my advice to three heads, respecting your opponent, the public, and yourself.

So begins John Newton’s advice to a young controversialist, worth reading for anyone who feels obliged to contend for the truth in a public forum.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 2 March 2012 at 13:26

Posted in While wandering . . .

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The inexhaustible theme of redeeming love

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John Newton, writing in the delightful day when to waste an empty space on your paper would be a crying shame, and fortunately having plenty to write about to fill up the gap:

And now, how shall I fill up the rest of my paper? It is a shame for a Christian and a minister to say he has no subject at hand, when the inexhaustible theme of redeeming love is ever pressing upon our attention. I will tell you then, though you know it, that the Lord reigns.

He who once bore our sins, and carried our sorrows, is seated upon a throne of glory, and exercises all power in heaven and on earth. Thrones, principalities, and powers, bow before him. Every event in the kingdoms of providence and of grace is under his rule. His providence pervades and manages the whole, and is as minutely attentive to every part, as if there were only that single object in his view. From the tallest archangel to the meanest ant or fly, all depend on him for their being, their preservation, and their powers. He directs the sparrows where to build their nests, and to find their food. He overrules the rise and fall of nations, and bends, with an invincible energy and unerring wisdom, all events; so that, while many intend nothing less, in the issue, their designs all concur and coincide in the accomplishment of his holy will. He restrains with a mighty hand the still more formidable efforts of the powers of darkness; and Satan, with all his hosts, cannot exert their malice a hair’s breadth beyond the limits of his permission.

This is He who is the head and husband of his believing people. How happy are they who it is his good pleasure to bless! How safe are they whom He has engaged to protect! How honoured and privileged are they to whom He is pleased to manifest himself, and whom He enables and warrants to claim him as their friend and their portion! Having redeemed them by his own blood, He sets a high value upon them; He esteems them his treasure, his jewels, and keeps them as the pupil of his eye. They shall not want; they need not fear; his eye is upon them in every situation, his ear is open to their prayers, and his everlasting arms are under them for their sure support. On earth He guides their steps, controls their enemies, and directs all his dispensations for their good; while, in heaven, He is pleading their cause, preparing them a place, and communicating down to them reviving foretastes of the glory that shall be shortly revealed.

Oh how is this mystery hidden from an unbelieving world! Who can believe it, till it is made known by experience, what an intercouse is maintained in this land of shadows between the Lord of glory and sinful worms? How should we praise him that He has visited us! for we were once blind to his beauty, and insensible to his love, and should have remained so to the last, had He not prevented us with his goodness, and been found of us when we sought him not.

The Letters of John Newton, “To Mrs. Place,” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2007), 237-239.

via The Old Guys.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 26 October 2011 at 17:27

More books for shepherds

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Brief reviews of pastoral theology texts can be found below, taking us from O though to P. The full list to date can be found here or from the sidebar under “Pastoral theology.” Comments and further recommendations are appreciated , and if you could put them on the full page, I will be able to keep track of them more readily. I presume that commenters are simply waiting until I have finished the list until they can gloatingly point out classics that I have missed and newer works that are considered indispensable. I wait with bated breath . . .

Olyott, Stuart. Ministering Like the Master: Three Messages for Today’s Preachers. Stuart’s gift for clarity and ability to make a point serve him well in this little jewel. In terse, tight prose, we are informed that our Lord was not a boring preacher (with instruction on how to emulate him), that he was an evangelistic preacher (with counsel on how to follow him), and that he was more than just a preacher (with his example held before us). Sweet, practical, stimulating. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Olyott, Stuart. Preaching Pure and Simple. Once he has defined what preaching is, Stuart tells us what it needs to make it good: exegetical accuracy, doctrinal substance, clear structure, vivid illustration, pointed application, helpful delivery, and supernatural authority. Whether as a primer for a preacher finding his feet, or a refresher course for a man who needs to strip down his work to the essentials for an evaluation of his labours, this is superb. Highly recommended. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Newton, John. Ministry on my Mind. This booklet is simply a record of what were intended to be the private thoughts of John Newton as he pondered whether or not he was being called to the ministry. Valuable largely because it is so personal – and, it should be noted, potentially tricky for the same reasons, because Newton was not self-consciously establishing a general model for others – this is a wonderful help to a man wrestling with the same issue, and a sobering reminder that many of us do not take what we are already doing with sufficient seriousness. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Piper, John. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry. Full of familiar Piper themes and phrases (the reader must judge of their usefulness) the substance of this work is genuinely helpful. Brief chapters make it excellent for occasional or sequential meditation as a way of considering whether our pastoral compass is set true, and the range of topics allows Piper to take on a variety of aspects that will either liberate or cripple pastoral ministry. A good refresher. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Piper, John. The Supremacy of God in Preaching. Trinitarian and Edwardsean – that will tick plenty of boxes! The first comes out in a more general review of the goal, ground and gift of preaching, and then the latter begins to advance as we turn more to learn lessons from Edwards as theologian and preacher. A profitable call to the main things, with plenty of practical helps. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Prime, Derek and Begg, Alistair. On Being A Pastor: Understanding Our Calling and Work. Covers familiar ground but with a contemporary feel, surveying the various aspects of pastoral work with a sort of meditative tone at points. My edition, in which Prime and Begg almost engage in a conversation based on a revision of Prime’s own earlier work, provides lots of personal insights – listening in, as it were, while these men chat – but can disrupt the flow a little. Profitable, insightful, although with a bitty feel at points. (Westminster / Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com / Monergism)

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 6 September 2011 at 08:49

Review: “Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 1741-1845″

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Baptist Autographs in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 1741-1845

Transcribed and ed. Timothy D. Whelan

Mercer University Press, 2010, 522pp., cloth, $55 / £48.95

ISBN 978-0881461442

The ‘accidental’ discovery of a few letters by the editor of this volume led to further burrowing into the archives of the John Rylands University Library, eventually bringing to light some 300 letters sent within the Baptist community from 1741 to 1845, the vast majority previously unpublished. Diving in, we enter worlds at once strange and familiar, displaying a whole range of theological, ecclesiastical, and domestic concerns across a fascinating and seminal one hundred years of denominational history. In this, the volume transcends the merely academic sphere, and sheds light on a swathe of issues of principle and practice, both seemingly prosaic and indisputably significant. Although many letters involve luminaries such as John Sutcliff (prominently), Andrew Fuller, John Gill, the senior and junior Rylands, William Carey, William Knibb, Joseph Ivimey and John Rippon, there are hosts of less well-known men and women represented, plus non-Baptists such as George Whitefield and John Newton. The biographical footnotes and the magnificent 126 pages of biographical index, giving sketches of some 300 individuals, are probably worth the price of the book in themselves, not to mention a variety of helpful indeces. We owe Dr Whelan a great debt of gratitude for his painstaking labours, which have made available an invaluable resource for Baptist historians, and one which individuals as well as colleges and seminaries will crave.

PS I know it’s a Ronseal title, and not the most thrilling (this may not be a field where imagination is in great demand), but at least you’ll not forget what’s inside.

Pastoral poetry

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A Minister’s Burden

What contradictions meet
In ministers’ employ!
It is a bitter sweet,
A sorrow full of joy:
No other post affords a place
For equal honor or disgrace.

Who can describe the pain
Which faithful preachers feel,
Constrained to speak in vain,
To hearts as hard as steel?
Or who can tell the pleasures felt,
When stubborn hearts begin to melt?

The Savior’s dying love,
The soul’s amazing worth,
Their utmost efforts move,
And draw their bowels forth;
They pray and strive, the rest departs,
Till Christ be formed in sinners’ hearts.

If some small hope appears,
They still are not content,
But with a jealous fear,
They watch for the event:
Too oft they find their hopes deceived.
Then how their inmost souls are grieved!

But when their pains succeed,
And from the tender blade
The ripening ears proceed,
Their toils are overpaid:
No harvest-joy can equal theirs,
To find the fruit of all their cares.

On what has now been sown,
Thy blessing, Lord, bestow;
The power is Thine alone,
To make it spring and grow:
Do Thou the gracious harvest raise,
And Thou alone shalt have the praise.

John Newton

via Founders Ministries.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 9 December 2010 at 21:25

Posted in Pastoral theology

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“Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr.”

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Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr. edited by Grant Gordon

Banner of Truth, 2009 (428pp, hbk)

Almost every young minister of the gospel could do with a Newton. They may not always realise that they need a Newton, but they probably do. To be blunt, they may not always want a Newton; those are the times when they need one most.

In Wise Counsel: John Newton’s Letters to John Ryland Jr., edited by Grant Gordon, young preachers and pastors at least get the benefit of peering over the shoulders of a Newton as he writes to his young friend, John Ryland Jr.. Thanks to the editorial comments, we also get at least a brief glimpse over the shoulder of Ryland as he reads and ponders those letters.

The friendship between Newton and Ryland spanned four decades and crossed the twenty-five years that divided them in age. They first met in 1768 when Ryland was only fifteen and Newton was forty-three. The first letter in this volume was written in 1771 and the last in 1803. Both the length of correspondence and the increasing range of topics indicate a genuine, deepening and developing friendship, without any ingratiating sycophancy from the younger man nor any pompous pontificating from the elder. Instead, there is honesty, sincerity, tenderness, directness, and sympathy, which we see flowing mainly in the direction of Newton to Ryland (the younger man’s contributions to this flow of reason and feast of soul are currently lost to us).

The arrangement of the volume is obvious, but little embellishments make the reading experience a delight. A few pages of introductory material, including a foreword by Michael Haykin, set the scene and sketch the characters, giving us a little grounding to appreciate the letters themselves. There are eighty-three of these altogether, each followed by a brief editorial contribution that ties up loose ends, explains particular details, and prepares us for the next epistle in the sequence. At the end of the book, together with a brief but helpful index of persons and topics, a few pages bring the stories of Newton and Ryland to a close. Scattered very occasionally through the volume, and bringing snatches of historical colour, are copies of a page from a diary or letter. Footnotes (we are mercifully spared exposure to the quite reprehensible endnote) provide helpful cross-references within the volume, as well as an unobtrusive wealth of historical and scholarly detail for those wishing to follow up particular elements. The text is clear and spacious, and the whole volume well bound.

However, and rightly so, the letters themselves are the undoubted and worthy centrepiece of the feast, and here we must recognise Newton’s singular gifts as a correspondent. Of all those mercies of God that marked the man as a minister, it is perhaps his warmth and understanding as a correspondent that set him apart. The collected letters demonstrate that talent (and, indeed, contain some written to Ryland but published with the preservation of anonymity), but here we are allowed to see the sustained investment, tender concern, and pastoral insight that made his correspondents treasure his letters as genuine marks of Christian love. When one reads the letters, one wishes one might have known the man (and received a few notes oneself), and looks forward even more to meeting him in glory. There is a delightful turn of dry humour, a refreshing if sometimes blunt earthiness, a sturdy and sanctified common sense, in what he writes. So, when writing of marriage and money, after a few friendly jibes, he tells Ryland

I see this will not do; I must get into my own grave way about this grave business. I take it for granted that my friend is free from the love of filthy lucre and that money will never be the turning point with you in the choice of a wife. Methinks I hear you think, ‘If I wanted money, I would either dig or beg for it; but to preach or marry for money, that be far from me.’ I commend you.  However, though the love of money be a great evil, money itself, obtained in a fair and honourable way, is desirable, upon many accounts, though not for its own sake.  Meat, clothes, fire, and books, cannot easily be had without it.  Therefore, if these be necessary, money which procures them must be necessary likewise. (73-74)

He can be at once humble and powerful, searingly honest about his own sins and struggles and therefore both deeply sympathetic and pointedly searching when dealing with the sins and struggles of others. His concern for peace and unity, his fixation on the avoidance of controversy at every available opportunity, also come to the fore repeatedly. One develops the sense of a hearty and full-orbed humanity alive with love to God and his fellow men pouring out through his pen as he counsels, encourages, rebukes and exhorts.

And what wise counsels they truly are! Again, the advantage of watching the relationship and the correspondence develop is that we can see the ebb and flow of the lives being lived, and the issues that Ryland and Newton faced over time. We are therefore able to range over the life of a man and a minister, from the gracious reigning in and redirecting of youthful zeal to the heavy deliberations of elder statesmen in the church of Christ. Along the way, Newton and Ryland wrestle together with the desire for marriage and the challenges of courtship, with the death of wives and children, with the difficulties of esteemed but awkward parents and gifted or sensitive offspring, with controversy at home and abroad, with learning and academia, with calls to remove from one sphere of service and influence to another of different and perhaps wider opportunity, with the writing of books and poems, with suffering and sorrow and sanctification and death itself, with theological truth and error and with the use of the imagination, with the issues of Conformity and Dissent and the relationship between church and state. This last is especially curious. Newton was an Anglican, but seemingly without much conviction about ecclesiology except that it did not matter half as much as some believed it did. Among those with stronger feelings on the matter was Ryland himself, a Particular Baptist, and – while appreciating Newton’s irenic pleas – some today may find that they differ with him about the importance of these matters, while they will continue to find Newton’s observations piquant:

Indeed the Congregationalists and Baptists, who are both equally satisfied that they possess the perfect model of the tabernacle to a single loop or pin, need a double portion of grace to prevent their over admiring the supposed excellency of their forms. There are a few of them however who know that the best forms are but forms still and remember that the Lord abhorred his most express and positive institutions, when the worshippers rested in them. (128)

In such a context, insights into the times in which these men lived, and particularly some of the challenges that stirred and vexed the church in matters of faith and life, seem like almost incidental benefits, though they are certainly there. Consider that these men were movers and shakers in circles alive with missionary zeal, wrestling with the challenges of bringing the good news of Christ to the wider world, and you will immediately become alive to the subtext of some of the later letters as they swap news and encouragements and discouragements, and seek favours of each other in advancing the kingdom of God.

Apart from some of this historical grounding, it is worth noting just how relevant so much of Newton’s advice remains.  To be sure, time has passed and circumstances have changed, but the enduring principles and Biblical sense upon which Newton built his counsel has not shifted, and so the reader can readily transpose the guidance and warnings that Newton issued across three hundred years and still find much that will strike and stick at the most appropriate points.  It is here that modern men and ministers can derive so much benefit from the wise counsel that God enabled Newton to issue.  The dress may be different, but the demands have changed little.  Here is the benefit of the younger (or, indeed, older) minister taking the opportunity to peer over the shoulders of the original correspondents as they read and write these heartfelt letters as true companions in Christ.

In a world of texts and tweets, in which Facebook updates can be the only link between alleged friends, and longer emails are copied to lengthy and sometimes indiscriminate lists of more-or-less distant associates, the craft of the personal correspondent is in danger of being lost. Newton and Ryland remind us of its enduring value. What may be lost in immediacy is more than compensated for by depth of thought, balance of phrase and individuality of touch.  To be sure, you can accomplish the same ends electronically, but it does require something of a shift in attitude and expectation.  After reading this book – and I hope you will – you might not be moved to break out the parchment and quill, or even the sheet and fountain pen.  But perhaps you should.  You may simply sit again in front of the keyboard and screen, but ponder a different approach and purpose.  Whatever the medium, the richness and clear value then and now of such a friendship maintained by such means ought to call older men of God to consider whether or not there are people – perhaps especially younger pastor-preachers – in whom they might invest in this way, and to give younger men an appetite for the cultivation of a relationship with the wise old owls whose experience has given them a fund of insight and understanding to transmit to those who come after them.  In the absence of such relationships, or until they develop, we would do well to enjoy the privilege of leaning over Newton’s shoulder as he writes, and Ryland’s as he reads, and soaking in and sucking up this wise counsel.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 28 July 2010 at 15:38

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