Introduction to Miscellanous Thoughts
Miscellaneous Thoughts are the private notes of John Newton, "the totally honest and humble outpourings of a heart that is being drawn towards the ministry of God's Word, but desires only to do God's will" [Tony Baker, Introduction to Ministry on my mind]
Entitled Ministry on my mind,
Newton's notes were published for the first time in 2008
by The John Newton Project
reprinted in 2010
from our shop.
Newton's calling into ministry may be traced through his circumstances well before the thought entered his diary as a specific possibility. Additionally, his talents and inclination began to show perhaps before his own conscious awareness of them surfaced.
A mother's prayers
In his Narrative, Newton writes of his home-schooling between the ages of 3 and 6: "My mother observed my early progress with peculiar pleasure, and intended from the first to bring me up with a view to the ministry, if the Lord should so incline my heart."
He explained further in his introduction written for Richard Cecil's Life of Newton:
"...and that, had she lived till I was of a proper age, I was to have been sent to St Andrew's in Scotland to be educated."
Early signs following conversion:
'Modernising' the Liturgy for sailors
As a very new Christian on board ship, Newton restored the neglected practice of holding services on Sundays for his crew. But he was frustrated by the lack of spiritual provision for sailors in the Prayer Book, complaining to David Jennings:
"...the few Collects designedly for the sea, being only applicable to particular cases which seldom happen. To remedy this I venture to compose a short prayer of my own, relating entirely to our own wants and views, which I write down and deliver amongst the rest always in the same words, that the service may be of a piece. I likewise take the liberty of leaving out or changing, to make the whole to the best of my judgement as suitable as possible, and after all there are many things that I wish altered, yet it has pleased God so far to bless the sincerity of my intention, that there are few moments of my life afford me a more real pleasure, than when I am thus attempting the part of the Minister to about twenty-five people who have all one design to bespeak a blessing upon, and numberless mercies to acknowledge in common."
Acknowledging that Jennings might be too busy to write anything himself, he begged that he would at least "devolve the business to some person who you shall judge fit", adding, "I hope you will bear with my taking the liberty of giving a few hints with regard to the execution, as being a party concerned and so far a judge of what is most wanted."
He then outlined his suggestions for a 'modernised' Prayer Book for sailors: "The Devotional part should be the largest as being hitherto in a manner untouched: it would be very convenient to have the prayers for Lord's day service so divided in three parts as to give opportunity for reading a chapter in the Old or New Testament between each, there being many poor creatures amongst us who perhaps never hear the word of God at any other time."
(Newton to David Jennings, 29 August 1752, ALS, Dr Williams's Library)
The perception of others
His developing ability struck the inhabitants of St Kitts on his visit there, perhaps linked to the great change in his understanding of the Gospel after meeting Captain Alexander Clunie in St Kitts in 1754. He informed Lord Dartmouth many years later:
"...they somehow conceived so favourable an opinion of me, that I had an offer if I would take orders and return to them they would take charge of my maintenance till the living of Sandy Point should be vacant, and then use their interest that it should be given to me."
[Historical Manuscript Commission, The Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, Vol 3, 1896, letter from Newton to Lord Dartmouth, 11 November 1772]
Praying for more labourers
On his visits to London in 1755, having tasted Gospel preaching and teaching for the first time, it became his prayer that the Lord would supply more Gospel ministers:
"O may God increase the number of faithful labourers where they are so much wanted, and give an abundant success to their ministry."
[Diary, 21 March 1755]
Reading letters from Samuel Walker of Truro, to Samuel Hayward, prompted Newton to pray:
"It is my duty to pray that the Lord may own him more and more, and especially as a member of the established church I ought to pray that the number of such faithful labourers may be increased amongst us, and that it would please God to revive that spirit which has been so long greatly departed from us. It is melancholy to consider in how many, very many, parishes in this land Gospel light people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."
[Diary 28 March 1755]
A heart for Gospel ministry
"I found some enlarging in making intercession for the increase of Gospel knowledge at home and abroad, for a blessing on ministers and means of grace, my friends, the afflicted, etc."
[Diary 17 May 1755]
Especially he wished to see a Gospel minister come to Chatham, where he then lived:
"I have some hopes that God will favour this place with a Gospel minister, and in some measure perhaps honour me as an instrument towards bringing it about."
[Diary 15 June 1755]
"In the evening poured out my prayers for direction and success in a design I have in some measure given rise to, for introducing a gospel ministry into these towns.
[Diary 17 June 1755]
Beginning to feel a personal call
In the Narrative, a gradual awareness of possibly being called to the ministry:
"The first desires of this sort in my own mind arose many years ago, from a reflection on Galatians 1:23-24, But they had heard only, that he which persecuted us in times past, now preached the faith which once he destroyed. And they glorified God in me. I could not but wish for such a public opportunity to testify the riches of divine grace. I thought I was, above most living, a fit person to proclaim that faithful saying, That Jesus Christ came, into the world to save the chief of sinners; and as my life had been full of remarkable turns, and I seemed selected to show what the Lord could do, I was in some hopes, that perhaps, sooner or later, he might call me into this service.
"I believe it was a distant hope of this that determined me to study the original Scriptures; but it remained an imperfect desire in my own breast, till it was recommended to me by some Christian friends. I started at the thought when first seriously proposed to me; but afterwards set apart some weeks to consider the case, to consult my friends, and to entreat the Lord's direction. The judgment of my friends, and many things that occurred, tended to engage me."
"O the power of Almighty grace, that has sustained so weak a heart, against such potent armies of enemies. Let this teach me... compassion to the cases of others; this is the word of the Lord: When thou art converted strengthen thy brethren... I am sometimes wishing for ministerial gifts and opportunities."
[Diary 22 March 1756]
A deepening sense of a call
His thoughts were crystallising on this by 1757:
"Of late I have received several hints with respect to the Ministry, but think nothing made so much impression upon my mind as what occurred while I was here. I would give myself up to the Lord’s guidance. Let Him call and here I am. Let Him show my way and I hope I shall be made willing to forsake all for His sake."
[Diary 20 November 1757]
and by the end of the year the longing to be called had increased:
"My converse and thoughts have turned more upon the M-Y[ministry] since I have been abroad than ever before, but I have come to no resolution only to wait upon the Lord for direction, let me have His light and presence and I am ready for anything.
[Diary 30 December 1757]
"I have been induced to open my mind more than ever about the Ministry. The Lord do as seemeth Him good in this matter."
[Diary 8 March 1758]
A willingness to be available
"I desire likewise upon this occasion to repeat and confirm the surrender of myself to the Lord’s will if He shall be pleased to confirm the desire of my heart and the advice of some of my friends to engage in the service of the ministry, by opening a door in the course of His providence and increasing my gifts, graces and readiness, so that I may see my way clear before me. I hope I am not led to this view, either by worldly or ambitious motives. I hope I see something of the importance and difficulty of the work and of my own unfitness for it and that my only dependence in such an undertaking would be on the promised supply of His free Spirit which can affect a suitable change in me in a moment and fill my earthen vessel with His heavenly treasure with a word. All I can say is, here am I if Thy wilt please to send me, in the meantime I desire to wait patiently upon Him. I long to follow but I dread going before His will. I dread acting from my own spirit, yet am so exceeding liable to it."
[Diary 21 March 1758]
Following a trip into Yorkshire, he recorded in his diary on his return:
"I communicated my case and views to Mr E_d [John Edwards of Leeds] and Mr G_w [William Grimshaw of Howarth] and they rather encouraged me to go on. Lord do Thou give the issue which Thou seest most fitting. I desire to be anything, to be nothing at Thy word.
Entered upon a course of enquiry by prayer etc for 6 weeks to terminate on my birthday (August 4). Appointed a book on which to record the result of my meditations which will in a great measure prevent my writing in this for so long."
[Diary 23 June 1758]
This is the book which he entitled:
& enquiries on an important subject
A fixed resolution
On completing his 6 week task of prayer and Bible study, Newton returned to his diary, recording:
"I now purpose to resume my diary and would charge it upon myself to make no more such long interval. Yesterday terminated the six weeks enquiry etc., through the greatest part of which I was enabled to keep my main point in view; and had many favourables opportunities in my waiting upon the Lord in prayer. Rose yesterday morning before 6. Went to my house at Edmond Street and stayed there till towards 6 in the evening in retirement. In those hours by reading, writing, prayer etc.; with fasting, I endeavoured to impress my mind with the importance of the matter I had in hand to set faith and love in my dear Redeemer, to give myself up wholly and unreservedly to His will for the gospel service. I came away with a good hope that the Lord had accepted both me and my desires. I now look upon the matter as determined. My choice is fixed, my resolution taken and by the Grace of God having put my hand to the plough, I will not look back. I have nothing now to do but to wait and to pray till the Lord shall in His providence make a way plain for me to set out and perhaps this is not far off."
[Diary 5 August 1758]
Having put my hand to the plough,
I will not look back
The way ahead was, in fact, quite far off. It took another six years for him to find the Lord's guidance into the ministry, during which time he matured in spiritual experience, discernment and faith, developed the use of his gifts in writing, preaching, teaching, pastoral ministry, publishing, corresponding and hymn-writing.
Images courtsey of Lambeth Palace Library
the late Ken Curtis, founder of Vision Video