William Jay profited by reading the letters of John Newton, the converted slave-trader turned preacher of the gospel. In his autobiography, Jay quotes Newton as having said, “I rather reckoned upon doing more good by some of my other works than by my ‘Letters,’ which I wrote without study, or any public design; but the Lord said, ‘You shall be most useful by them,’ and I learned to say, ‘Thy will be done! Use me as Thou pleasest, only make me useful.’”
William Jay then shared how useful Newton’s letters had been, not just to others, but to himself. “What thousands have derived repeated profit and pleasure from the perusal of these utterances of the heart! Nor ever will they cease to be found means of grace, whilst God has a church on earth. With regard to myself, I commonly had one of these letters read to me on every Sabbath evening, after the labours of the day; and what refreshment and profit have I derived from them” (The Autobiography of William Jay, first published in 1854 and reprinted by The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974, p. 280).
Quite a commendation indeed! And Jay followed this with a few samples of letters written by Mr. Newton. I certainly add my hearty amen to the comments of William Jay about Newton’s letters. They are “utterances of the heart” that are full of Christ and the free salvation that is ours through Him. The letters of Samuel Rutherford are generally regarded as the nearest thing to inspired literature there is, or at least Spurgeon thought that so, but the letters of John Newton rank highly with them.
The Banner of Truth Trust recently published a collection of Newton’s letters entitled, Letters of John Newton. It was first published in 1869 and contains biographical sketches and notes by Josiah Bull. I cannot commend this book too highly. It is a goldmine of spiritual thought. I commend his letters to the reader for the blessing they will be to your own soul, but also, as a model for writing letters to others.