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Once Blind: The Life of John Newton by Kay…
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Once Blind: The Life of John Newton

by Kay Marshall Strom

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John Newton's life makes a very strong testimony. Reading this biography of his life is a great addition to my library and knowledge base. Since I was a child, I can remember knowing that he was the man who was a captain on a slave ship until he found peace with Christ and wrote the lyrics to the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace". I did not however realize what all that he had endured in his life and just how "bad" he really had been. I guess I only received the child edited version of his life before. This book is told from practically a diary fashion and really takes the reader through the days and years of John's life, the good, and the very bad. In comparison to me, John is extremely strong and I would have given up early on. Comparing him to Job (Biblical Job), he still had not lost everything, but to him I'm sure it seemed he had. Reading through John Newton's life was really a personal and eye awakening experience, not just for the purpose of slave-trade, but for the purpose of being a Prodigal Child of Christ and how many times you can run, but never hide. Our God is an amazing God, and so many times we just do not see. We have all been and most of the time are just blind. I do give this book my full recommendation. I also suggest the film "Amazing Grace". This would be perfect would a group or individual study as well as a wonderful homeschooling piece. ( )
  cherryblossommj | Dec 14, 2009 |
John Newton's life makes a very strong testimony. Reading this biography of his life is a great addition to my library and knowledge base. Since I was a child, I can remember knowing that he was the man who was a captain on a slave ship until he found peace with Christ and wrote the lyrics to the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace". I did not however realize what all that he had endured in his life and just how "bad" he really had been. I guess I only received the child edited version of his life before. This book is told from practically a diary fashion and really takes the reader through the days and years of John's life, the good, and the very bad. In comparison to me, John is extremely strong and I would have given up early on. Comparing him to Job (Biblical Job), he still had not lost everything, but to him I'm sure it seemed he had. Reading through John Newton's life was really a personal and eye awakening experience, not just for the purpose of slave-trade, but for the purpose of being a Prodigal Child of Christ and how many times you can run, but never hide. Our God is an amazing God, and so many times we just do not see. We have all been and most of the time are just blind. I do give this book my full recommendation. I also suggest the film "Amazing Grace". This would be perfect would a group or individual study as well as a wonderful homeschooling piece. ( )
  cherryblossommj | Dec 14, 2009 |
In a new addition to the body of works dealing with the abolitionist movement in 18th century Britain, Once Blind: The Life of John Newton is marked with gritty sin, slavery, God’s grace, redemption, and abolition. Following the film Amazing Grace and print biographies covering the life of William Wilberforce, Once Blind reveals the life of another key character in the movement to end slavery, John Newton. Famous for penning the hymn “Amazing Grace”, we are now introduced to his life as a sinner, conversion to a saint, and his subsequent efforts to abolish slavery. Kay Marshall Strom draws on Newton’s own letters and her own previous work exploring his life — John Newton: The Angry Sailor, a biography written for pre-teens — to present us with a cohesive, highly readable and moving story of this man’s life.

Strom introduces us to Newton as a young boy, already serving on the deck of his father’s ship. A sensitive boy, unable to earn his father’s approval, he quickly slides down into a life of sullenness, disobedience, rebellion, and rowdy behaviour. Strom fully develops the character of Newton as a young man - surly, blasphemous, an enemy of God, and of nearly everyone else who knows him. Strom is able to portray Newton’s indulgence in swearing and blasphemy by utilizing asterisks, dollar signs and other symbols throughout his conversations, without actually inserting the curse words. She is able to thoroughly depict the extent of Newton’s sin without divulging needlessly graphic details.

Due to his difficult nature and unhidden disdain for authority, Newton is transferred from ship to ship throughout his career. He serves for a time on a navy ship through enforced service during wartime (kidnapped at the docks). Readers of naval fiction will enjoy the authentic descriptions of life aboard a navy vessel, both from the lowly position of common seaman, and privileged position of midshipman. As we watch Newton descend into the darkest depths of his sin, some of the scenes we encounter are nightmarish, and nearly unbelievable, particularly after he leaves the navy. Some seem so far from our day-to-day experiences that they seem almost hallucinatory in nature.

When a disastrous storm strikes the ship that Newton is aboard he finally surrenders to God, and the transformation is abrupt and amazing. Like all conversions it is almost impossible to recognize the new man that Newton has become, though some traces are still present. Oddly enough, Newton enters into slave trading only after his conversion, and we are able to watch God’s grace continue to work in his life, transforming him and eventually moving him out of the slave trade and into the ministry with his loyal wife beside him. He eventually pens his well-known hymn, and many others — a fairly new form of worship in his day — and comes to speak out publicly against slavery, while making known his own testimony and involvement in the trade.

Unlike other Newton biographies, Strom ties the history of the British abolitionist movement together with current day human rights issues – effectively, modern day slavery, that she outlines in the epilogue. She briefly explains some of the primary ways we find slavery enacted today. Also provided is a list of human rights organizations that we can partner with to learn more about these injustices, and work together with to eliminate them.

Written in an easy-to-read, narrative style, Once Blind is a rapid, yet comprehensive assay into the life, conversion and work of John Newton. Readers will stand in awe at the transformative power of God’s grace in the work of all sinners who throw themselves on His mercy. The redemptive power of God is clearly shown, and I for one, love a good testimony! Highly accessible and recommended to both those seeking to learn more about this period in history, and those longing to know John Newton better as a man.

Reviewed for http://quiverfullfamily.com/blog ( )
  jenniferbogart | Jul 31, 2008 |
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