“That sav’d a wretch like me!” These are words from the second line of America’s favorite hymn, a hymn written by John Newton and a central chapter in Jonathan Aitken’s fine, uplifting, and well-written biography called John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace.
If the story of Tyndale is the story of a martyred Bible translator, the story of John Newton is the story of a man’s life dramatically changed. Newton told this story himself in his own day, at someone’s encouragement, in a book called The Life and Spirituality of John Newton.
400 pages of Newton seemed too much at first, but Aitken’s got the gift of writing, maintaining a good pace and keeping the chapters focused. This is a good read about a singularly influential and pious English pastor.
But Newton’s young adult life began with him as a rebel and vulgar seafarer; then he became a slave trader and an abuser of people and women slaves on his boats; when he says “wretch” he is referring to himself. Newton’s own story became an instant bestseller and did two things — it led folks to see the power of conversion and it galvanized efforts against slavery. (Newton was Wilberforce’s pastoral counselor.)
The story of “Amazing Grace,” a hymn that only became what it is today over time for it was originally little more than another hymn in the hymnbook, gets special attention in this book, as does Newton’s wonderful relationship with his wife and the poet Cowper. His life was one little miracle of survival after another … and I hope you consider reading this book.