John Newton's letters to William Wilberforce


“The previously unpublished letters between William Wilberforce and John Newton shed fascinating new light on the deepening relationship between them.”

Jonathan  Aitken


The John Newton Project is putting transcripts of these letters online. The correspondence is rich in spiritual content, containing some intriguing insights into the events of their day. We hope that many may, like Wilberforce, benefit from Newton’s godly and Biblical thinking, his warm friendship and wise and faithful mentoring.


From his experience as a former Member of Parliament and cabinet minister in the British Government, Jonathan Aitken writes in his latest biography John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace:

“humanity will forever be in Newton’s debt for mentoring Wilberforce through one of the most delicate and vulnerable phases of his life’s journey.

“…The Wilberforce-Newton relationship was of pivotal importance for both historical and spiritual reasons. Yet John Newton's contribution to the life of William Wilberforce as a mentor, confidant, co-campaigner and close friend has often been underestimated. It deserves reassessment in the light of previously unpublished letters and diary entries.”

The letters commence in 1785 after Wilberforce approached his childhood father-figure for confidential advice, when the young MP was struggling towards a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.


Wilberforce immediately found in John Newton a ready ear, an understanding heart and wise counsel that would guide him through many years of disappointment, during which Wilberforce’s twin aims of the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of morals seemed a very distant dream.

“John Newton’s legacy has never been needed more than at the beginning of the 21st Century … we owe it to our generation!”

John Langlois, Chairman, The John Newton Project

Notes on editing

NB many more letters to come over the next few weeks!

Our thanks to the Bodleian Library for permission to put our transcripts online and to Simon Manchester for an additional letter.


To keep the letters more easily readable we have adjusted punctuation and abbreviations, with omissions in [square brackets]. But we have kept completely faithful to Newton’s text. No words have been changed.


The manuscripts are readily available for consultation at the Bodleian Library (detailed manuscript references are given at the end of each letter.) or on microfilm by Adam Matthew Publications.


A few draft editions of the JNP’s transcripts have been in private circulation since 2002.


Further Resources


Books on John Newton:

365 days with Newton, Marylynn Rouse, Day One Publications, 2006

1807-2007: John Newton and the Twenty First Century, Tony Baker, The Latimer Trust, 2007

Beyond Amazing Grace, Todd Murray, Evangelical Press, 2007

But Now I See: The Life of John Newton, Josiah Bull, reprinted by Banner of Truth, 2007

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Aitken, Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, 2007

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Aitken, Crossway Books, 2007

The English Evangelical Tradition, Bruce Hindmarsh, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000

Through Many Dangers, Brian Edwards, Evangelical Press, revised edition 2001


Books on William Wilberforce:

A Practical View of Christianity, William Wilberforce, ed Kevin Belmonte, Hendrickson Publishers, 2006

Abolition, John Pollock, Day One Publications, 2007

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, John Piper, Crossway Books, 2007

Travel with William Wilberforce, Kevin Belmonte, Day One Publications, 2007

Wilberforce, John Pollock, revised edition Kingsway Publications, 2007

William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity, Kevin Belmonte, Zondervan Publishing House, 2007

William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-slave Trade Campaigner, William Hague, HarperPress, 2007



Amazing Grace, narrated by James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool, The John Newton Project (7 minute PowerPoint)

Beyond Amazing Grace, Todd Murray (the lesser known hymns of Newton’s set to new tunes)

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Jonathan Aitken, Crossway Books (audiobook)



The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce, Shop PBS


When quoting from these transcripts, please acknowledge:

“Copyright The John Newton Project,”.

If quoting online please link to

Extracts may be used for non-profit purposes.

In all other cases please contact:

The John Newton Project at