John Newton (Bitesize Biographies). By John Crotts. Faverdale North, Darlington, England: Evangelical Press. pp. 128. 2013. (List Price $11.99 Paperback)
|4 out of 5 stars|
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” John Newton’s hymn is so well known in the English world that believers and unbelievers alike could quote at least the first few lines, if not the whole song, from memory. Yet the song represents the extent of most people’s knowledge of the man. His life and testimony deserve wider recognition. Thanks to the Bitesize Biographies series of books, more people will have access to a readable, and hopefully memorable, account of how a man who rejected God’s grace for most of his young adult life could become a preacher of that same grace to others.
Crotts’ biography of John Newton is very accessible and a quick read. He dedicates five chapters to his life and influence, and one apiece to his hymns and letter-writing. All seven are a joy to read. It was perhaps the section on William Cowper, a friend of Newton, that I found most moving. Cowper had struggled for a long time with depression and mental illness such that he had attempted suicide multiple times and had been admitted to an insane asylum. Still struggling with depression, he moved in with John and his family for a brief period of time, which was followed by a deep and enduring friendship. Cowper was a poet, and together with Newton they wrote hymns for the church where Newton preached. Unfortunately, Cowper had a mental relapse that he never quite recovered from. Still, their friendship endured up until Cowper’s death in 1800. Newton would remark that, though Cowper had not been able to find comfort for his mental anguish, he has certainly given it to others.
Newton’s life is worth learning about. His faith is our faith, his gospel ours. Crotts’ biography was a refreshing and encouraging introduction to the life of a man I’d much like to learn more about. Fortunately, Crotts even includes a “further reading” section at the end of his book to help the curious wade deeper into the life of John Newton.