Review of John Newton’s Diary, 1766, edited by Marylynn Rouse for the John Newton Project, 2021.
This is Newton’s diary for 1766, under the theme of ‘developing a pastoral ministry’. There are interesting reminders of how dark nights were before electric lights became common, and the effect that had on evening congregations. Also, when travelling to nearby villages, the men would do the chivalric thing and walk while women would often ride in a carriage. Oddly, to modern ears, he made use of the pseudonym ‘Omicron’ to set out an academic plan to prepare a candidate for the ministry.
We learn much about Newton as a parish minister. The great man had trouble with a number of rude and unruly boys. At the Thursday night meetings he preached 72 discourses on Romans 8, from 19 July 1764 to 27 March 1766. Later, he comments on Thursday 15 May that he gave his fifth lecture on Psalm 51, and managed to finish the first verse. One man in the parish was full of enmity against the gospel and against Newton. Newton’s gracious response was: ‘I hope I am enabled from my heart to pit and pray for him. Surely I have been worse than he. Grace has made the difference. O that grace may make the difference to cease.’
Here we find an insight into the heart and soul of Newton himself. He was a man who rejoiced in grace, and sought to grow in it. He lamented: ‘Coldness in prayer and darkness and formality in reading the Word are almost my continual burdens.’ Indeed: ‘how unlike am I to myself at different times’. The internal and external man did not always harmonise. On Thursday 20 February, he recorded: ‘I have been much depressed and discomposed in my mind (I know not for any particular reason) during the afternoon. But I was favoured with a happy liberty in preaching.’ Many a preacher could identify with his struggles.
Near the end of the year, on Saturday 27 December, he summarised what he desired to see in himself as a Christian and as a minister. He wrote:
I want more liberty at a throne of grace, more knowledge of the Scripture, more zeal for God, more love to souls. I want larger measures of humility, thankfulness, spirituality and faith. I want wisdom, courage, patience, tenderness in my work, and I want to see my poor labours attended with a more abundant and extensive blessing. I want a single eye and a simple heart, to follow, trust and obey the Lord, like a little child.
Here we find why Newton is a man for us to imitate.
– Peter Barnes