Can you remember the last time you actually wrote a letter? Not an e-mail or an instant message; not a postcard or a funny greeting card on which you merely signed your name. Recently I was looking through our filing cabinet for something, and found a file marked “Letters.” Inside were dozens of letters (and cards) that my husband had written to his parents over the years, sent back to us when they moved from the large family home to a small apartment. There was even the letter he had written the day he became a Christian to tell his brother the news of his conversion! It was a treat to spend part of an afternoon looking into past events and emotions, and to think about the implications of those things in my life today. In the same way, Letters and Reflections to My Adopted Daughters, compiled by Jody Moreen, was an interesting glimpse at the lives of John Newton, his wife Polly, and their two adopted nieces, Elizabeth and Eliza.
Newton, author of the lyrics to Amazing Grace, was a pastor for forty-three years. He and his wife had no children of their own, but adopted Elizabeth Catlett, and later his sister’s daughter, Eliza Cunningham. The first section of the book contains letters written to Elizabeth, beginning in 1779 when she is about eleven years old and away at boarding school. The tone of the letters is not only more formal than one would use today with a child of that age, but the themes are more serious. Over the years, he repeatedly urged her to consider the state of her soul, sometimes against the backdrop of the death of an acquaintance. He writes to gently warn her about a bad attitude and her shyness in public speaking. He offers help with her schoolwork, discusses vacation schedules, and the mundane things of family life one would expect. He is occasionally amusing and lavishly affectionate. In the last few letters, Newton tells Elizabeth of her aunt’s passing, mentions her cousin’s health, and sends Eliza’s greetings. The letters end in 1783 when Elizabeth was about fifteen, two years before Eliza died at the age of fourteen.
The second section of the book is a short narrative Newton wrote about his niece, Eliza. He tells how his sister died, leaving Eliza to his care, and the progression of her illness over the two years she lived with him. His stated purpose in writing was “to put a testimony of the Lord’s goodness into the hands of my dear friends.” Throughout the narrative, as in the letters, Newton extols the sovereignty of God in trials as well as in blessings. There is no hint of Pollyanna, but a deep and abiding sense of the Lord’s hand in all things. Letters and Reflections is not a theology book, but a book that gives a glimpse into how theological truth shapes real life. Example is a powerful teacher. – Pam Glass, Christian Book Previews.com
Amazing Grace transformed John Newton from a wretched sea captain of slave ships to a passionate pastor and hymn writer. Grace further equipped Newton, who was childless, to become a tender, loving, and compassionate father. He adopted his 2 orphaned nieces Elizabeth and Eliza. Newton took no courses in parenting, nor did he have the opportunity to read the countless volumes of self help books on child rearing that grace bookstore shelves today. He wholly relied on the guidance of his heavenly Father. Through prayer and the reading of the Bible, he discipled his daughters in the love and counsel of the Lord. It is clearly evident in the compilation of these letters and memoirs to his daughters that he embraced the words of 3 John:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Newton’s godly mother faithfully instructed him in the truth through prayer and the reading of the Scriptures. She died when he was only six years of age and left him to be raised by his irreligious father. What joy and thanksgiving would fill her heart to know that the seeds of truth that she sowed in the life of her young son grew and blossomed. Newton accepted God’s gift of salvation as an adult and further shared this gift with his own children.