Since I mentioned it yesterday, I thought it fitting to do a brief review of this book: Wise Counsel by John Newton (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2011). Wise Counsel contains the letters that John Newton wrote to a fellow pastor and friend, John Ryland Jr., who was 25 years younger than Newton. These 83 letters were written between 1771 and 1803. Though Ryland’s letters are not included (most of them are lost), the editor, Grant Gordon, introduced and followed many of Newton’s letters with pertinent information about Ryland’s life. This makes Newton’s letters easier to read and understand. Reading these letters and the editor’s notes will definitely get readers into the ethos of the relationship between these two men. It is also a great study of history, since these men discussed the political happenings of the day, mission works, and the burdens of the pastoral ministry in 18th century England.
Here’s the layout: in the introductions, Gordon introduces the men (Newton and Ryland) and gives an overview of the letters. There is also a brief conclusion that gives the main details of the end of the lives of these two men. The bulk of the book consists of the letters. Each letter has a sort of title that summarizes the contents – this is helpful for future referencing. The editor also helpfully footnoted and defined difficult English words/phrases as well as persons, events, and places of note. There is also an index at the end of the book that contains important persons and topics. I commend Gordon and the publishers for making this book a pleasure to read and understand. The layout of the book is superb; the hardcover binding will no doubt last many years. The only thing missing is a Scripture index.
Newton’s letters are full of biblical wisdom – the title of the book is accurate. The contents of these letters are amazing. Newton wrestles with guilt, sin, pride, death, affliction, and church conflict. He constantly talks about grace, forgiveness, Christ’s blood, and God’s love for his people. As a pastor, these letters have helped me in many ways (some of which I’ve shared on the blog here – and I’ll do again in the future). I’m sure I’ll refer to these letters time and again in my pastoral ministry.
As you can tell, I highly recommend Wise Counsel. I especially recommend it to pastors who face trials and affliction in the ministry. Newton will not make you think better of yourself, but he will bring you to God’s grace in Christ over and over again. To be sure, that is what we pastors need to do in the pulpit as well. But those of you who are not pastors will also be encouraged, challenged, and edified by these letters. Newton knew well the beauty of God’s grace towards sinners. Reading these letters will help readers magnify the Lord for his amazing grace. I’ll conclude with these words from a letter Newton wrote in 1803 near the end of his life. These words in a real way summarize Newton’s Christian preaching, advice, and teaching.
“Blessed be the Lord, I can see that my acceptance, and perseverance, do not depend upon my frames or feelings, but upon the power, compassion, care, and faithfulness of Him, who in the midst of all the changes to which we are exposed in this wilderness state, is unchangeably the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).”
John Newton, Wise Counsel, p. 396.