John Newton: Bitesize Biographies by John Crotts
This little biography of John Newton written by Pastor John Crotts is a delightful read that ploughs the landscape of Newton’s life on many a ship, his marriage, and his faith that resounds out through his writings. As Crotts mentions in the opening chapter, many people know two things about Newton; that he was the author of the hymn Amazing Grace and that he was a slave captain of a ship (10). Yet, there is much more to his story than a hymn and a ship. Crotts goes on to give us the main outline of Newton’s life, focusing on the trials at sea, his propensity for wildness, and the way God grabbed a hold of his life when things seem so bleak.
Remarkable Early Life Details
Crotts points out some remarkable details of Newton’s early life that are worth mentioning. First, Newton’s mother, Elizabeth, was a devout and godly woman, and she sought to prepare her young son for the ministry at an early age. Even more, she had John memorize Scripture, poetry and even the ‘brand-new hymns recently published by Isaac Watts’ (13). Just as Augustine’s mother Monica prayed diligently for her son, so Elizabeth prayed for John regularly. This kind of close relationship John had with his mother was not seen in the relationship with his father, a devoted sea captain. John’s father was an exacting man who demanded of John the utmost effort while he was on the ship.
After getting into a partnership with a man named Amos Clow who worked the slave trade in Africa, John felt good enough to build a house with Amos and settle in for some hard work (25). Yet, as time passed and Clow left, Newton was alone with the black woman who Clow married to. John made an accusation against Clow’s wife and Amos took his wife’s side. The consequence of this brutal engagement was a place on the ship’s deck, being chained to the deck just as a slave, eating only a pint of rice a day and being forced to catch fish. Yet, not only was slavery the lot of John Newton, but being a slave trader was part of his story as well.
What was most remarkable was the fact that John’s conversion to the Christian faith happened over a course of six years. From reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis to crying out for mercy in a great storm, John’s heart began to turn to the living God, but it was not without times of turning to those old ways of sin (38). Learning Latin, reading the Latin Bible, going to services when he was off the boat, John grew a greater fervency for the things of God. Yet, it was not until his meeting with Captain Alexander Clunie that he heart was turned fully to Christ. Crotts writes, “At last, six years after the storm at sea when he first cried out to the Lord for mercy, John Newton was a solidly established evangelical Christian (45). The amazing fellowship of others to guide us in the faith, to speak of the promises of God are a balm to the weary soul. Not only this, but Clunie challenged Newton to go public with his faith , renounce wickedness and cling to the cross.
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the book is filled with the story of how Newton met his wife, Polly and how their love blossomed. Also, we get a glimpse of his ministry, his writings of hymns, and a chapter on his letter writing. Of his writing of letters, Crotts comments, “The best of Newton’s spiritual letters were filled with biblical experiential content. But at the same time, they were warm and personal” (114). Newton was always careful to proclaim the truths of the gospel while proposing applications for the benefit of all believers. Newton was also a man devoted to the reformation of England, and in turn greatly influenced William Wilberforce. If you’re looking for a short biography of John Newton that opens up some important details of his life and ministry, this is the book for you.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and EP books for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.