Beyond Amazing Grace: Timeless pastoral wisdom from the letters, hymns and sermons of John Newton. Compiled and edited by J. Todd Murray. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2007, 282 pp., $17.99, paperback.
In historical study, it is always highly recommended that students turn to primary source material instead of relying solely on secondary material. Reading things in the author’s own words is incredibly important when attempting to understand their thinking. Therefore J. Todd Murray (Worship and Music Pastor, The Bible Church of Little Rock) has done the church an every helpful service by collecting and editing some of the works of the famous John Newton. The Evangelical leader in the 18th century is still as an important figure today as he was then. The man who brought us the hymn, Amazing Grace, and mentor to the great abolitionist William Wilberforce, has much to teach us as he served as a pastor for so many years. This collection of his “pastoral wisdom” then from his letters, hymns, and sermons is incredibly important today.
The book is divided into five main sections, each focusing on a different area. Part 1 is “So great salvation” where Murray compiles material devoted to Newton’s own conversion, the love of God, sovereign grace, and the assurance of salvation. Part 2 is “Growing in holiness” and focuses on progressive sanctification, battling remaining sin, and God’s purposes in trials. Part 3 is “Spiritual disciplines” and here Newton expounds on reading and meditation, prayer, personal worship, family worship, evangelism, and knowing the will of God. Part 4 is “Pastoral ministry” and is where Newton focuses on the pastor and his work and nuggets of wisdom from the great pastor to those in the ministry. Finally, Part 5 is “Hope beyond the grave” where Murray compiles information on the loss of a loved one and Newton’s last days.
The strength of this book is Murray’s careful attention to editing and compilation. While many could simply turn to the multi-volume set of Newton’s works or various editions of his letters or the Olney Hymnal, it is a great service to have these fine selections of Newton’s works compiled here in a thematic order. To study out Newton’s thoughts on areas like prayer or the work of the ministry is something that every believer will be blessed. Murray’s notes too are very helpful as he allows some of his personal feelings about Newton’s writings to come out and help to personalize our own reading of this Evangelical leader. Finally, this book could easily be used as a personal devotional as Murray includes suggested Scripture readings for each section. Each section is not overly long which makes it perfect for some careful meditation as readers learn from this godly man.
We live in an era of historical anemia. More Christians know about modern day celebrities than they do of heroes of the past. My prayer is that more people will turn to books like Beyond Amazing Grace and learn and grow from those who went before us. May Newton become accessible and life changing for a whole new generation!