Beyond amazing grace
J. Todd Murray
282 pages; £9.95
This book arrived for review on my birthday – and it certainly makes an excellent present for a Christian! The front cover says it contains ‘timeless pastoral wisdom from the letters, hymns and sermons of John Newton’.
This is true, but it overlooks the valuable introductions and comments of Todd Murray who has selected and compiled these extracts from Newton’s writings. This has obviously been a labour of love for him and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his enthusiastic service in making this book possible.
After an introductory biographical sketch of Newton there are 57 brief chapters of some three to four pages each. These typically consist of an introduction; a quotation from Newton’s writings; suggested Scripture readings; and a verse of Scripture relevant to the subject being treated. This makes the book ideal for reading a chapter a day as a devotional help.
The chapters are grouped into five main sections – ‘So great salvation’; ‘Growing in holiness’; ‘Spiritual disciplines’; ‘Pastoral ministry’; and ‘Hope beyond the grave’. Under these main headings are further sub-headings like ‘Assurance of salvation’ and ‘Battling remaining sin’. This makes it very easy to refer to particular themes.
Here is experiential theology at its simplest and best. Newton excels in applying Scripture principles and teaching to the aspirations, struggles, disappointments and blessings of the Christian life.
Humility and honesty shine out as Newton refers to his own experience. His character is transparent and his sober, wise and down-to-earth advice is a breath of fresh air. His language and modes of expression are, of course, dated but Murray supplies an up-to-date equivalent in brackets where words have changed their meaning.
Many of Newton’s hymns are more suited to devotional reading than singing and I found them enchanting. They are not great poetry, but it takes considerable skill to express truth so accurately and simply in verse as Newton does.
I was glad to find in their proper context verses I had heard quoted in the past – the balance of truth is in a whole hymn rather than individual verses. I wish the book was a hard-back because it deserves to be used again and again.
If in this two-hundredth anniversary year of Newton’s death you can only afford one book, this is the one to get!
Paul E. Brown