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THE FRIENDSHIP OF JOHN NEWTON


While John Newton is best-known as the author of the famous hymn, "Amazing Grace," his life teemed with spiritual fruit. A new biography on his life by Jonathan Aitken gives us a peek into the legacy of the man who described himself with one simple sentence: "I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior."


Though Newton was an author, preacher, and hymn-writer, perhaps his most profound legacy is the fruit of his friendships. In his lifetime, many referred to Newton as the friend of William Cowper. Cowper suffered throughout his life from terrible depression. But the window of his most productive years opened when his friendship with Newton began. During this time he produced such works as, "There is a Fountain Filled with Blood." As one biographer noted, "Cowper, throughout [his] life, lacked personal initiative." The encouragement from Newton, however, was enough to spur Cowper to produce some 60 hymns. And when Cowper later sunk into such a depression that he nearly took his own life, it was his friendship with Newton stopped him.


Newton also played a vital role as friend and mentor in the life of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce led the charge to abolish the British slave trade and ultimately slavery itself in England. When Wilberforce came to faith, he turned to Newton for advice. It was Newton who encouraged him not to abandon politics but to use his political skills for good. It was Newton who encouraged him to take up the cause of abolishing the slave-trade. And it was Newton who encouraged him to persevere when Wilberforce considered giving up the fight in 1796.


Well into his later years, Newton continued to bear fruit in his friendships. He helped bring a young writer by the name of Hannah More to faith. She went on to start the modern Sunday School movement. And he met for breakfast frequently with a young man by the name of William Carey, who would become a missionary to India and a pioneer for the modern mission's movement. Newton would not have considered himself a great saint, but a great sinner used by God. His life reminds us all of the profound impact that deep spiritual friendships can have. And it encourages us.


(From Chuck Colson)

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