John Newton on why things in this world aren’t enough

I think we sometimes have a sense in which we have discovered things that our forefathers never experienced. As we read the latest Tim Keller we are thrilled by the way he incisively undermines the idols of our day. But as we dig into some of the great writers of the past we find the same truths – albeit in a different language.

Wise Counsel I am currently thoroughly enjoying reading through Wise Counsel, John Newton’s letters to John Ryland Jr – a young minister he took under his wing. They are wonderful examples of encouraging, Biblical, pastorally sensitive writing – how I wish there were more letter (or even email) writers of this ilk today.

Here is a wonderful section from Letter 26 (1 July 1779) where he explains (in a warning especially useful for those of us who are pastors) why a book will never satisfy completely – and then he broadens the principal out.

The hymn books will be with you soon, how soon I know not. Your hungry curiosity will not be long in appeasing. When you have read the preface, twirled over the pages, run your eye down the tables of contents, and have the book by you, you will feel much as you do about any other book that has been lying by you seven years. At least I have often found it so (but perhaps your heart is not just like mine). I have longed for a book, counted the hours till it came, anticipated a thousand things about it, flew to it at first sight with eagerness as a hawk at its prey; and in a little time it has been as quiet, as if placed upon the upper shelf in a bookseller’s shop.

Whatever we can see with our eyes, and touch with our hands, shrinks upon trial, and will not fully answer the expectations which the prospect raised. It quickly ceases to be new, and then we secretly say to ourselves, Is this all?

Only look at a door newly painted, how bright and glossy it appears! But the gloss soon fades, and in a little time it needs painting over again. This may serve for an emblem of all that is within the house, of all that is in the world… It is not so with things that are unseen, and which faith alone can perceive. These grow upon our view, and their excellence heightens, the more we are acquainted with them.”

I thoroughly commend the book which seems to be most readily available from the Banner of Truth.

There is a good review of the whole book written by a friend of mine here.

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