The Amazing Story of 'Amazing Grace' and John Newton
The story of 'Amazing Grace' is found in the Bible, heard in the hymn and demonstrated in the lives of countless followers of Christ. The hymn, first titled 'Faith's Review and Expectation' was written by John Newton whose story is as amazing as the Grace that was his salvation. He began life as the privileged son of a sea captain, became a slave and a slave ship captain before becoming a servant of Christ.
John's mother, a fragile but determined woman, dedicated herself to his education. She taught him to read and write and fervently prayed that he become a minister of the Gospel. By the time John was four she had taught him to read the Scriptures and recite hymns from 'Divine and
Moral Songs for Children' by Isaac Watts. When John was only six years old his mother died. His father remarried and John was sent on to boarding school. He was a good student who, by age ten, could read Latin and showed a keen interest in mathematics.
When John was eleven his father took him to sea. He spent six years with his father on several voyages. John's father was a well respected man and captain who sought and secured several positions of opportunity for his son. But John, who was becoming increasingly rebellious, methodically squandered them all. Through his fathers influence he began several voyages in positions of authority only to be demoted to common seaman. He strayed so far from his mothers spiritual teaching that he began influencing others away from deeply held beliefs. His life had so degenerated that he was often disliked and distrusted by officers and crew alike. He ran from his fathers support, ignored his superior officers authority and fell so far from his mothers dreams that he became known among sailors as "The Great Blasphemer."
During one of these voyages, at John's request and to his new captains relief, he was allowed to accompany, and became a partner with, a slave trader from West Africa. His partner was married to an African princess who took an instant disliking to John. During one of his partners absences he fell gravely ill and his partners wife took advantage of the situation. John found himself enslaved, brutalized and begging for food. Ironically, the other slaves were his only source of mercy. He was eventually rescued, at his fathers urging, and began a return journey to England. On this journey John once again earned the disdain of captain and crew. This was the voyage, however, that was to change John's life in ways that he could not imagine. He began to wrestle with his conscience during a violent storm in March of 1748. After seeing a shipmate washed overboard, feeling a resignation to death among the crew and discussing their situation with his captain, a plea rose from within him: "If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us!" As he shouted he wondered; could there be any mercy for one who profaned the Lord's name as effectively and deliberately as he?
In seeking an answer to his question John Newton was led back to the Bible. On March 21st, lashed to the helm of a foundering ship, he considered many verses which he began to see in the Light of Truth. He was especially struck by the story of the prodigal son in Luke, chapter 15. He marveled at the father who raced to meet his wayward son and he felt hope for his own soul. When the badly damaged ship finally dropped anchor, a transformed John Newton went safely ashore. Two years later, with his fathers blessing, he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Catlett.
The slave trade, at the time, was a respectable profession and John continued in it for some time before illness forced him to leave the sea. (Years later his testimony before Parliament and his 'Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade' published in 1787 helped influence law makers to abolish slave trade within British colonies in 1807 and emancipate ,in 1833. British colonial slaves.)
In 1755, in need of employment, he was offered and accepted the position of Surveyor of the Tides in Liverpool England. While at sea he began a disciplined study of the Bible which he continued ashore. He also became friend to George Whitfield, deacon of the Church of England and John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.
At the age of 39, on his second attempt at ordination, his mothers prayers were answered and John Newton was appointed Curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire where, three years later he met the poet William Cowper. In 1779 the first edition of the 'Olney Hymns' was published containing 348 pieces, 67 by Cowper and 281 by Newton, including what would later be known to the world as 'Amazing Grace'. Shortly after it's first publication John left Olney to become pastor of St. Mary Woolnoth Church in London. He remained in that position until his death December 21,1807. The epitaph he wrote for his tombstone reads: "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the gospel he had long labored to destroy."
The following is, I believe, his most suitable epitaph. The hymn that has continued John Newton's ministry. 'Amazing Grace' as it was first published in 1779 and reprinted with permission from the Classic Christian Ethereal Library.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!
Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.
E. Phil Haley is the author of Over the Roadand proprietor of theCyberTruckStop.com. For more information about ways current technology, including, but not limited to, laptops, Wi-Fi, and VoIP, can be used to enhance your life and livelihood visit theCyberTruckStop.com and consider purchasing Over the Road Wireless For Dummies (Please?).
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