John Newton is well-known and well-loved in many sectors of evangelicalism, for his famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” What is not typically known about Newton is that he and his friend William Wilberforce took a bold stance against slavery, and became acquainted with the right and wrong ways of dealing with difficult people, criticism and controversy. In 1771, he was asked to write an article for the British periodical Gospel Magazine in order to provide pastoral counsel regarding the ongoing controversy between Calvinists and Arminians. Since its publication under the title “On Controversy,” Newton’s article has become one of the church’s most well-known and well-loved writings on engaging controversy.
A new biography has come out on Newton by John Crotts, one that examines not just the popular parts of his life and ministry but also his influence on others. While Newton is well-known for his hymn Amazing Grace and his pastoral ministry, what is often missed is his training of future leaders. Crotts’ speaking of Newton’s investment into William Wilberforce notes the following, “Of all the relationships John invested in for the gospel’s sake, perhaps his interaction with William Wilberforce resulted in the greatest earthly change for the most people” (87).
The example of Newton is instructive in two powerful ways for Christians. First, Newton was a man who was deeply affected by the Gospel. All of life for Newton was to revolve around and be transformed by the Gospel of Christ. Church history has much to teach us, but if anything, it demonstrates that God uses broken sinners with the Gospel in a myriad of ways to advance His Kingdom. You may not have the intellectual or natural ability of Newton or one of the giants of church history, but no matter what is done for God, whether that is washing people’s feet, handing out the bulletin, writing blog posts, etc., all of your works are to be done for Him, which means, they must be grounded in the finished work of Jesus, and all for His glory. In other words, don’t just sing Amazing Grace, but let the declaration of God’s amazing grace permeate all of your life.
Finally, Newton’s example is instructive for ministry leaders who have been called to equip the people of God for the work of ministry. Newton invested significant time in Wilberforce and in many others whose ministries in turn bore fruit for the Gospel. Every ministry has an aim and that aim is to deposit the Gospel of Jesus into the life of people and watch as the Holy Spirit does His sanctifying work in their lives.
More than ever, I believe our churches and our nation is suffering from a lack of godly leaders. The Gospel calls Christians to make disciples who in turn reproduce other disciples by the grace of God. The Gospel confronts us by calling us to put off the flesh, put on Christ, take up His Cross, and follow Jesus in all of life. Whether you are a Pastor or you work in an office building, counsel people for a living, or some other vocation, make much of Jesus! Christians, follow in a long line of godly saints, such as Newton who have gone before us, which means they ought to consider their pattern of life and doctrine by continuing to grow deep and wide in the Gospel, as they did. And, since our great need is for godly leaders, I believe this biography on Newton will help Christians to understand what a godly leader looks like.
This introduction looks not just at the well-known aspects of Newton’s life such as his conversion, and exemplary pastoral ministry, but also at his role, as the leader of the Evangelical movement in the eighteenth century. Reading this book will help you to not only understand Newton the man, and the leader, but also what drove his life and thought—the gospel of the grace of God.
Author: John Crotts
Publisher: EP Books (2013)
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