Most of us have heard the familiar words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” The author of the hymn, by his own admission, was once a “wretch” and as far from grace as anyone could ever be.
Born in London in 1725, he was the only child of a sea captain and a churchgoing mother who taught him to read the Bible and attend church services. At the young age of seven, Newton’s mother died. At age eleven, he went to sea with his father. After only six voyages, his father retired and Newton signed on with a merchant ship sailing to the Mediterranean Sea. At age nineteen he fell victim to a “press gang”. The press gang forced Newton to join the Royal Navy where discipline was harsh, and the food scarce. With his spirit nearly broken, he tried to desert the ship only to be rescued and punished in front of the crew of 350. Stripped to the waist and tied to the grating, he received a brutal flogging. Later, he transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa. He didn't get along with his crewmates so they left him ashore in Africa.
In 1745, he himself became a slave. Eventually he was rescued but returned to the sea and back to the very trade he had escaped. He became captain of several slave ships.
In 1748, during his return voyage to England aboard his slaving ship, Greyhound,
he awoke to find the ship caught in a severe storm. Surrounded by crashing waves, cutting winds, and the cries of onboard slaves, John feared his ship would sink, and all lives, including his own, would be lost.
At last, Newton recalled what his mother had taught him from the Bible: God loves to show mercy even to people who feel they are beyond redemption. Newton, then fell to his knees, prayed to the God he had abandoned, and pled for mercy, and grace.
The ship survived the storm.
Newton eventually abandoned the slave trade and ended his sailing career. In his later years, he became the pastor of a larger church in London, where he helped lead many people to the God he had once mocked. He was also active in the movement to abolish the British slave trade.
Newton wrote: “I sinned with a high hand, and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others.”
In 1779 he wrote the song, Amazing Grace.
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
T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear
And Grace, my fears relieved
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far
And Grace will lead us home
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
Today, the lyrics of this hymn still inspire, encourage, and instruct people about the reality of God’s Amazing Grace.
Have you experienced God's amazing grace?