John Newton, author of the Christian hymn is one of Chris Armstrong’s “patron saints for postmoderns” (Patron Saints for Postmoderns: Ten from the Past Who Speak to Our Future), and while one could trot any number of reasons to emulate John Newton, Armstrong focuses on his peace-making or grace-spreading life.
Grace came to Newton in the form of godly parents and solid connections, but he spurned them all — a sailor with a reputation for sin, a cursing man who blasphemed his God, and a man whose practices were anything but moral. And then, on a sea trip, on the verge of death in a storm, he realized his sin and, over time, his life was completely transformed by grace.
And his mission was to spread that grace. He was a Calvinist, he admitted just before taking a parish in London, but I take my Calvinism the way I take my sugar in tea — not straight and mixed. He formed the Eclectic Society, designed to get pastors to talk to one another about theology and Bible and life. His gracious spreading of tolerance made it famous.
He spread grace to children by forming special societies for them. He taught them hymns. And he spread grace by composing hymns, not the least of which was his famous Amazing Grace.
Armstrong tells Newton’s story with such clarity and grace that I have to say it’s the best summary I’ve seen of Newton’s life. Better than some biographies.
Newton, a saint of grace.