Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Longing Season

I wasn't in the mood for a romance novel, not at all. I had no intention of reading this book. But before I put it in the go-back-to-the-library pile I thought I'd just thumb through it. Next thing you know, I was hooked!

The Longing Season by Christine Schaub is set in the mid-1700s. It tells an intricately woven tale of 20-year-old John Newton and the woman he loved, Mary Catlett.  Having just watched the film Amazing Grace, in which we meet and old and blind John Newton, I was curious to get a glimpse into his earlier life.

The story of John and Mary was beautifully told. They met when John was 17 and Mary 13, but they were separated by John's life at sea. The Longing Season focuses on the years in which John was both a seaman and a slave, from 1746 to 1748. With well developed characters and comfortable familiarity with such varied topics as 18th century England, herbal medicines, British military and the perils of life on the sea, the author draws you into John and Mary's love and the separation they must endure.

Not only was John far from Mary during these years; he was also far from God. A dissipated infidel, it was a storm at sea and the story of the prodigal son that drew him to God on March 21, 1748. Ever after he would mark that date as a day of humiliation and thanksgiving for his great deliverance.

I had often heard that John Newton was the captain of a slave ship, but that was not a part of this story. Could he, indeed, have participated in the slave trade after trusting in Christ? Schaub's story answered -- and raised -- enough questions to make me want to know more.

I discovered a sermon about John Newton that John Piper preached at a pastors' conference in 2001, in which he said:
"For six years after [Newton's conversion], he said he had no 'Christian friend or faithful minister to advise me.'[20] He became the captain of a slave-trading ship and went to sea again until December, 1749. In his mature years he came to feel intense remorse for his participation in the slave trade and joined William Wilberforce in opposing it. Thirty years after leaving the sea he wrote an essay, Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade, which closed with a reference to 'a commerce so iniquitous, so cruel, so oppressive, so destructive, as the African Slave Trade!'"

It is a great sadness to me that Newton should have participated in the sale of human beings even after his conversion, yet it is also a testimony to God's willingness to take us where we are, bring us to Himself, and, for the rest of our lives, complete His work in us. Conversion makes us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), but that's just the beginning. By God's grace, mercy and power, we are "being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:15). And there will be many areas of our lives that God will put His finger on, saying, "I want this part of your life too." 

This is why John Newton could sing -- and we can join him:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see! 

1 comment:

barefootmommy said...

This is an excellent story of redemption of even the most wayward of sins.
I appreciate your sharing that part of John Newton that we didn't know. I am glad God did get that part of him and redeemed it.