I’d like to thank Christian Focus Publications for giving me a copy of John Newton: A Slave Set Free by Irene Howat in return for my honest review.
Have I mentioned yet that I love, love, love Christian Focus Publications’ Trailblazers Series? How great is it that kids can read about the lives of Christians of yesteryear and learn all about history, character, and perseverance of the saints? It’s really exciting to me. I also love that these are narrative biographies, so while there’s some fictionalization to make them an exciting read, they’re still very true-to-history.
This week I read John Newton: A Slave Set Free by Irene Howat (Christian Focus, 2003)…..
I’m betting you’re familiar with John Newton. The author of that inspiring hymn Amazing Grace, Newton (1725-1807) was a slave trader and all-around-rough-and-crude sailor. Here’s what you may not be aware of: Newton was saved right before he started slave trading. I was a little appalled, really. I assumed Newton was called to Christ, responded, was justified, and immediately gave up the slave trade.
Nope. Newton responded to God’s call on his life in the midst of a storm on board a ship, and then became captain of his very own slave ship. I was a tiny bit upset with him.In fact, the man continued to captain slave ships for years until he had a seizure just before his newly built ship was to leave port for Africa. (Can we talk about the sovereign providence of God?)
John Newton didn’t really recognize the horrific nature of his sin for years afterward. By the end of his life, though, he had become an important figure in Britain’s abolitionist movement, working with William Wilberforce and sharing his personal testimony in writing so that people could understand the depths of depravity involved in the slave trade. Irene Howat does a good job of describing the brutal nature of the journey slaves took without overexposing young readers to terrible details. It would be difficult to read this book and walk away with a romanticized view of slavery.
Although I kept waiting for a moment of great repentance in Newton’s life, I didn’t see one described. What I did see was a terrific opportunity to speak to children about progressive sanctification. GotQuestions.org defines progressive sanctification this way: “Progressive sanctification is what gradually separates the people of God from the world and makes them more and more like Jesus Christ.” Progressive sanctification begins upon our justification and proceeds throughout our earthly lives until our glorification. And it’s the only way to explain the way we believers can move from habitual sin toward holier lives during our walk with Christ. It’s how John Newton could go from slave trader to abolitionist and still claim Christ the entire time.
As I read John Newton, I had to wonder what terrible sin in my life people would be shaking their heads over if someone wrote a biography on me. That won’t happen, but I can hazard a few guesses at my pet sins. And how arrogant it would be if I was to regard the sin of slavery as greater than the sin in my own life. These are all discussions we can have with our children. Right after we that, we can feel free to discuss how slavery is abhorrent and disgusting. It’s amazing that a man with a conscience so hardened that he could participate in the brutal harm of innocents would one day contend for their freedom. That, my friends, is grace.
Amazing grace. How sweet the sound. For what a wretch was I, and what a wretch was the sailor John Newton.
John Newton: A Slave Set Free would coordinate well with studies involving:
- William Wilberforce
- The 18th Century
- Progressive Sanctification
You can find John Newton: A Slave Set Free and the other biographies in the Trailblazers biography series for 8-12 year olds at:
Other Christian Focus Trail Blazer & Torchbearer books reviewed on Thinking Kids:
- Robert Moffat: Africa’s Brave Heart
- Augustine: The Truth Seeker
- Brother Andrew: Behind Enemy Lines
- Fanny Crosby: The Blind Girl’s Song
- Nate Saint: Operation Auca
- John Knox: The Sharpened Sword
- Michael Faraday: Spiritual Dynamo
- Mary of Orange: At the Mercy of Kings
- John Stott: The Humble Leader
- Titanic The Ship of Dreams: John Harper
More Books for 8-12 Year Olds Reviewed at Thinking Kids
- History Lives Christian History Series by Brandon & Mindy Withrow
- Guarding the Treasure: How God’s People Preserve God’s Word by Linda Finlayson
- Tough Questions About the Bible by Joel R. Beeke
- The New Astronomy Book by Danny R. Faulkner
- God’s Special Tent: The Story of the Tabernacle and What Came After by Jean Stapleton
Thinking Kids Book Review Indexes
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- Christian Books for Preschoolers
- Christian Books for 4-7 Year Olds
- Christian Books for the Middle Grades
- Christian Books for Middle School
- Christian Books for High School
- Christian Books for Kids’ Devotions
- Christian Books about Parenting
~ Danika Cooley
Danika Cooley is the author of When Lightning Struck! The Story of Martin Luther (Fortress Press, 2015), Wonderfully Made (CF4K, 2016), and Bible Road Trip. Her work has been featured in internationally-recognized children's magazines over 150 times.