New Edition – The Works of John Newton: Volume 3. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2015. 679 pp. 4-Volume set – $150.00 Purchase the entire set from The Banner of Truth Trust for much less.
From the dust jacket:
When John Newton, ex-sea captain and, as yet, unsuccessful candidate for the Church of England ministry, finished his first book (an autobiography) in 1762 there was no ready publisher. Any thought that he was destined to become one of the best known authors of his age would have been as fantastic as the last 37 years of his life. But in both cases the improbable came about. Becoming curate of Olney, a small village in the south of England, in 1764, Newton there laid his reputation as an evangelical writer, pre-eminently by his published letters and by the Olney Hymns (including ‘How Great the Name of Jesus Sounds, ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ and ‘Amazing grace’). Before the end of his subsequent pastorate at St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807), his writings were prized around the world from America to Australia.
Newton has a firm place in the classics of Christian literature. While his style is strong and clear, it is the spiritual attractiveness and importance of his main themes which secure the permanent value of his writings. Most of his books came, unpremeditated, out of a need to help his congregation or individual hearers, and it is in practical helpfulness towards Christian living that he excels. If he is loved rather than admired, it is for this reason. Conformity to Christ is the one subject upon which his themes finally focus (‘It will not be a burden to me at the hour of death that I have thought too highly of Jesus, expected too much from Him myself, or laboured too much in commending and setting Him forth to others’). Not surprisingly, Alexander Whyte could write, ‘For myself, I keep John Newton on my selectest shelf of spiritual books: by far the best kind of books in the whole world of books.’
The text of this new four-volume edition of The Works of John Newton has been entirely reformatted, producing a clear and easily navigable set of documents for today’s reader.
This volume consists of Newton’s history of Christianity which was published in two books. Also included in this volume is the Olney Hymns. The first book of ecclesiastical history looks at the birth of Christ to His ascension. The second book looks at the time of the church from Christ’s Ascension to the end of the life of the apostle John.
The final book, which comprises the hymns sung by Newton’s congregation in Olney.
The history is fascinating as it looks only at a 100-year history of the early church. His source material is primarily Scripture though he draws from historians of his day as well as those of the Patristics (just after the end of the Apostolic Age). Newton’s perspective is fascinating as he offers a similar testimony to that of Paul insofar as a his radical salvation. Just as Paul went from a persecutor of the church to its greatest apologist, so, too, Newton went from a legalistic hell raiser to a man known for teaching and living the amazing grace God offers through Jesus Christ to wretched sinners.
The hymns of Olney go to show how far we have fallen in terms of the content of our worship hymns. Fortunately, this is being rectified by the likes of Stuart Townend and Matt Redman and the Getty’s as well as others. Regardless, Newton’s hymns are a gold mine for the church to sift through today. Lord willing, we may begin to find more of these being sung on Sunday mornings.
This volume may be viewed by many as the weakest of the four volumes given its particular content. That is until you realize that a solid grasp on the history of the church and solid foundation of singing hymns helps to not only inform a pastor and congregation, but also helps to reinforce a proper understanding of the Christian faith. Do not allow the historical aspect of this third volume deter you from reading it. It remains an excellent addition to your library and will prove to be a wonderful resource that leads you to worship the sovereign God of history (and the present and the future). I recommend this to all Christians although those who are interested in history will probably enjoy it more than those who are not as interested.