John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace
by Jonathan Aitken
Brilliantly told, Jonathan Aitken’s magnificent biography of John Newton has all the pace of a novel and unfolds the substantial drama of a man rescued from all kinds of excesses, including being the captain of a slave ship with all its associated evils. Indeed, at one point Newton himself was a slave in West Africa.
I was fascinated to find not only a man rescued from gross depravity but one who became a very great influence on the evangelical world. Though he became an Anglican minister, he had warm friendships with Independents and was in that sense truly an evangelical whose loyalty lay more with his evangelical brothers across the denominational spectrum than within Anglicanism itself.
He had an extraordinary influence on a number of key men of his generation, such as William Cowper with whom he joined in writing a series of magnificent hymns. He also helped to strengthen that very vulnerable man and stand with him in his repeated seasons of depression.
In addition, he fortified the resolve of William Wilberforce in his prolonged battle with the slave trade.
Jonathan Aitken gives two chapters to tell the story of Newton’s most famous hymn, Amazing Grace, and shows the very great impact of Newton’s hymn writing. He also includes the beautiful love story of how Newton, aged 18, fell in love with Polly, aged 13, and subsequently enjoyed a 40-year marriage.
I found myself totally engrossed in this very enjoyable and satisfying book. Jonathan Aitken has great skill as a biographer and serves his readers superbly.