Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jonathan Aitken - John Newton

They say one of the tips for how to do successful revision in an arts subject is to read lots of things you haven't read before... I don't think this counts, as it doesn't really touch directly on any of the topics I'm being examined on. But then again, I don't need an excuse to read good spiritual biographies like this one.

John Newton had a somewhat unusual life story, including privileged childhood, being a slave of black slave traders in Africa, running his own slave ship, a long time as minister of a church, political campaigner, key figure in English Christian history, and important figure in English social history, writer of the most famous hymn of all time - Amazing Grace.

Aitken's biography reads a little oddly for the genre of Christian biography, quite possibly because he knows a fair proportion of the British readership could well come from non-Christians interested in historical biography written by a former government minister. And actually, this might well be a good present for people like that...

For me, as a Christian, it helped to draw important connections in my head between great Christians of the 1700s like George Whitfield with great Christians of the 1800s like Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce, all of whom were friends with Newton at different stages of his life.

As a Christian biography, it isn't as mind-blowingly challenging as Steer on Hudson Taylor or Elisabeth on Jim Eliot. But it also manages to cut it as a good historical biography for non-Christians, which neither of those others really do. It can be read with significant profit by just about anyone. Recommended.

1 comment:

Otepoti said...

John Newton, 1779, from Olney Hymns, vol. 1, hymn 119

'Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought;
Do I love the Lord, or no?
Am I his, or am I not?

2. If I love, why am I thus?
Why this dull and lifeless frame?
Hardly, sure, can they be worse,
Who have never heard his name!

3. Could my heart so hard remain,
Prayer a task and burden prove;
Every trifle give me pain,
If I knew a Saviour's love?

4. When I turn my eyes within,
All is dark, and vain, and wild;
Filled with unbelief and sin,
Can I deem myself a child?

5. If I pray, or hear, or read,
Sin is mixed with all I do;
You that love the Lord indeed,
Tell me, Is it thus with you?

6. Yet I mourn my stubborn will,
Find my sin, a grief, and thrall;
Should I grieve for what I feel,
If I did not love at all?

7. Could I joy his saints to meet,
Choose the ways I once abhorred,
Find, at times, the promise sweet,
If I did not love the Lord?

8. Lord decide the doubtful case!
Thou who art thy people's sun;
Shine upon thy work of grace,
If it be indeed begun.

9. Let me love thee more and more,
If I love at all, I pray;
If I have not loved before,
Help me to begin today.