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The Works of John Newton (4 Volume Set) Newton, John cover imageI was on vacation for most of July, so as a result I got a late start on volume 3 of the Works of John Newton. I tried to read more than my normal 10 pages a day (50/week) but still ended about 3 weeks late.

Volume 3 begins with a series of 50 sermons on Handel’s Messiah. He preached on the texts of Scripture that Handel used in his famous piece of music. The Messiah has recently been released and was being performed to great crowds throughout London.

Newton was not happy about this development. He saw this as something of a trivialization of the Scripture by using it as entertainment. His point was that many unbelievers, mesmerized by the music, would cheer though they had no interest in the words. This critical aspect pops up in many of the sermons from those texts.

I’George Frideric Handel by Balthasar Denner.jpgm reminded of the sermons and books that we critical of Harry Potter or the Da Vinci Code. These sermons should not be thought of like those misled sermons we may have heard. He actually does interpret and apply the text rather than grind his ax in eisigetical mish-mosh. They are edifying despite the occasional annoying (to me) criticism of The Messiah.

More annoying to me was the many typographical errors in this section of the volume. For instance, on page 281 I found 3 errors. No editor is perfect. As a wannabe author it is hard to find all my mistakes. There just seemed to be more than usual, and I found it distracting.

“…determined in. and laughed…

… who did ail things well?

… name it retains .the same spirit …”

After 437 pages of sermons on the texts used in The Messiah, there is a shift to some tracts. The first is a series of 4 letters to the pastor of an independent church. Newton is defending his decision to serve in the established church. This is interesting to see how the issues shifted over time and how Newton thought through it issues. I found it interesting since at times there are pastors quite dissatisfied with our denomination. He addresses issues of liturgy and worship. For instance, he notes that many independent churches used pre-written prayers and hymns in their worship. They also plan their worship ahead of time. The Book of Common Prayer is not as far off as the Independents may have argued. In terms of doctrine he notes that there was a diversity of doctrinal views among the Independents, like on baptism. They also differed on who may be admitted to the Table. Similar diversity in doctrine among Church of England pastors should not have been as big an issue as they made it.

JohnNewtonColour.jpgThis reminds me that we often see other people’s sins more readily than ours. We see other people’s inconsistencies more readily than our own. We see other people’s typos more readily than our own. People magnify differences and minimize agreement as they argue their way of (worship, methods of ministry, theology etc.) is far superior to justify splitting.

Next he proposes A Plan of Academical Preparation for the Ministry in a Letter to a Friend. There is some interesting material in there. It would be difficult to practice at this point. He wanted to move ministerial preparation out of the colleges and into the churches. He wants to see that tutors are “gospel men” not simply academics. While he preferred Calvinists, he didn’t want men with a party spirit. They are to major in the Scriptures and theology, and minor in the classics.

Pupils are to live with the tutor. They must “have an awakened experimental sense of the truth and goodness of the gospel.” They must have a capacity for ministry; gifts as well as grace.

It is nearly like a monastery. They would limit their acquaintances outside their studies and service. They were to avoid “love and courtship” while being pupils.

Next is a treatise upon the death of his niece Eliza upon her death. The Newtons took her in after the death of her parents and siblings. He much sings her praises in how she approached death in faith.

The volume closes with a series of occasional sermons. This section begins with The Subject and Temper of the Gospel Ministry, his first sermon at the parish of Saint Mary Woolnoth in 1779. The next was from Jeremiah on an appointed fast day during the American Revolution called The Guilt and Danger of Such a Nation as This. He explores the national sins, made greater in light of the gospel blessings they have experienced. Many of these sins may sound familiar to us in the United States.

This is followed by a funeral sermon for Rector Richard Conyers in 1786. He focused on the gospel hope that Conyers preached to them and which he now enjoyed. Then a sermon on the best wisdom, the winning of souls, delivered to the meeting of the Society for the Promoting Religious Knowledge Among the Poor.

IFull-length portrait in oils of a clean-shaven young George in eighteenth century dress: gold jacket and breeches, ermine cloak, powdered wig, white stockings, and buckled shoes.n 1789 there was a day of national thanksgiving for the restoration of King George III’s (mental) health. Newton preaches on the second advent of Christ from 1 Thessalonians 4. The joy of the people seeing their apparently beloved King (who was hated on the other side of the ocean) pales in comparison to Jesus’ people beholding their eternal King.

Then there is another national fast day sermon from 1794 as France has been waging war throughout Europe after its revolution. He explores the possibility of God relenting if the people repented in Jonah. In this sermon he explores the sins of the slave trade as a stain upon England. He encourages repentance that God may relent and restrain France’s aggression.

The final sermon is from a day of thanksgiving in 1797 due to a series of naval victories. He preaches on motivations to humiliation and praise from Hosea 11.

This final section is highly interesting to me due to the historical aspects of many of these sermons. Unfortunately, as times he speaks as if Britain was a new Israel and particularly favored. This is a sentiment that, sadly, has been adopted by many American pastors as well. Yet, here we also see the grace-oriented Newton hammering home the sins of his audience and home country. I wish we would have national days of fasting or thanksgiving- times when our nation seeks to humble itself in times of emergency.

This rather diverse volume is well-worth reading as have been the others so far. Now I try to finish volume 4, and the set, prior to the end of this year.

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