JOHN NEWTON: FROM DISGRACE TO AMAZING GRACE
Viewers across America have been moved by the portrayal of parliamentarian William Wilberforce’s pivotal role in the crusade against slavery in the recently released film Amazing Grace. The film is named for the famous hymn penned by John Newton, whose character plays a supporting role in the movie. But who was this man? How did he live and what motivated him to write this hymn?
These questions would scarcely have needed answers two hundred years ago. During his lifetime, Newton’s story, in all its infamous detail, was renowned as the most sensational, sinful, spiritual, romantic, influential and historically important saga of the 18th century. Noted author Jonathan Aitken offers a fresh look at Newton’s transformation from slave trader to abolitionist and minister in the new biography JOHN NEWTON: FROM DISGRACE TO AMAZING GRACE (published by Crossway Books, June 2007).
FROM DISGRACE TO AMAZING GRACE is the first biography to draw from Newton’s unpublished diaries and correspondence, providing new insight into the life of this complex and memorable man. The result is a fascinating, colorful and historically significant portrait of John Newton, a self-described “great sinner” redeemed through amazing grace. During the darkest and cruelest days of trans-Atlantic slavery, Newton served on a slave ship, finally working his way to captain. A dramatic conversion at sea set him on the path to grace, but the process through which Newton left the slave trade behind took several years, at which time he began studying theology. He applied for ordination and was rejected by several different denominations before he was finally accepted by the Church of England.
Because of his shameful background, many of Newton’s contemporaries viewed his conversion with suspicion, and some scoffed at his abolitionist crusade as an attempt to assuage the guilt of his past. Still, the grace “that saved a wretch like me” worked its way thoroughly in his life. “Amazing Grace,” the most famous of his many hymns, has become an iconic song in American culture, sung at civil rights rallies and in prisons, and is beloved by Christians regardless of denominational affiliation.
FROM DISGRACE TO AMAZING GRACE author Jonathan Aitken may be unfamiliar to many Americans, but he needs no introduction in the United Kingdom. The former member of Parliament and Chief Secretary to the Treasury was embroiled in a public scandal when he was accused of criminal behavior, fought the accusations fiercely, then admitted to perjury and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, after which his marriage ended and he was forced to file for bankruptcy. Like John Newton, Jonathan Aitken found in abysmal depths the first steps toward redemption. He used the time in prison to study the Bible and learn Greek. Upon his release, he studied theology at Oxford. His own great need for grace ignited his interest in the incredible life of John Newton.
“For all his seminal contributions to political and spiritual history, most people today are woefully ignorant about John Newton,” Aitken laments. “In his own lifetime, millions identified with the account of a “great sinner” as Newton described himself. His love story, slave-ship story, conversion story and his surprising turn toward the ministry are just as inspiring today as they were two hundred years ago.”
JOHN NEWTON: FROM DISGRACE TO AMAZING GRACE © Copyright 2017 by Jonathan Aitken. Reprinted with permission by Crossway Books. All rights reserved.
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