The first volume of Newton’s Works contains Richard Cecil’s 129-page memoir of Newton. First published as a stand-alone monograph in 1809—two years after Newton’s death—Cecil’s biography of Newton was included with the publication of Newton’s Works in 1820. The biography includes factual information on Newton’s life, along with reflections on his legacy and influence—which began to emerge only a few short years after his death.
In addition to Cecil’s biography, this volume also contains more than one hundred letters and pieces of correspondence written by John Newton, including letters to students, family members, members of Newton’s church, and numerous others. This correspondence reveals personal and spiritual matters, thoughts and opinions on prayer, temptation, and other topics, as well as comments on numerous texts of Scripture. Taken together, these letters offer a rare glimpse into the mind and heart of John Newton.
In few writers are Christian doctrine, experience, and practice more happily balanced than in the author of these letters, and few write with more simplicity, piety, and force.
Grace, like water, always flows downward, to the lowest place. I know no one who embodies this principle better than John Newton . . .
—Philip Yancey, author, Grace Notes
I keep John Newton on my selectest shelf of spiritual books . . .
—Alexander Whyte, Professor of New Testament, New College, 1909
He moved in the lowest and vilest circles and sank to the depths of vice, and yet there emerges from this stormy story a man who not only commands the affection of any humane soul, but who showed himself then and afterwards capable of the highest Christian graces.
—Erik Routley, pastor and hymn writer
John Newton was born on July 24, 1725, and attended a boarding school in Stratford in Essex, during his childhood years. In 1736, Newton joined the merchant marine, and in March 1744, he set out on the HMS Harwich. His attempted desertion from the royal navy in 1745 led to a severe punishment. Newton was stripped of his rank, and transferred to a slave trading ship in 1748. In 1748, Newton was nearly shipwrecked. The storm initiated a crisis of faith in Newton’s life, and marked the first point of Newton’s conversion. He continued in the slave trade, however, until 1754.
In 1755, Newton returned to England permanently, and began studying the Bible and learning the ancient languages. He became a lay preacher, and was eventually ordained in the Church of England in 1764. He served for many years at the church in Olney in Buckinghamshire, where he became a well-known and much-respected preacher. In 1779, Newton became the rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, and in the 1780s and 1790s, a prominent leader in the evangelical movement in England. He was also influential in the lives of William Wilberforce and other leaders of the abolitionist movement. Newton died in 1807.