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How John Newton Came to Know Amazing Grace

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Published on: December 21, 2014

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.”

These were the words of John Newton, a former slave ship captain, who died DECEMBER 21, 1807.

At age 11, his mother died and he went to sea with his father.

Young John Newton fell in love with Mary Catlett while on shore leave, but overstaying his visit, he missed his ship’s departure.

He was caught and ‘pressed’ by a gang onto the ship HMS Harwich.

Newton tried to desert but was caught, stripped to the waist and flogged with 8 dozen lashes.

John Newton later wrote in a letter:

“Like an unwary sailor who quits his port just before a rising storm, I renounced the hopes and comforts of the Gospel at the very time when every other comfort was about to fail me.”

His reckless behavior caused him to be traded to a slave ship.

Being a continual problem, he was intentionally left on a West African plantation. 

There the African slave dealer, Amos Clowe, made Newton one of the slaves of his wife, Princess Peye, an African duchess, where he suffered abuse and mistreatment.

John Newton was finally rescued, but continued his immoral life, deriding Christians with blasphemy that shocked even sailors.

John Newton wrote in 1778:

“How industrious is Satan served. I was formerly one of his active undertemptors and had my influence been equal to my wishes I would have carried all the human race with me. A common drunkard or profligate is a petty sinner to what I was.”

Caught in a storm that nearly sank their ship, he first prayed.

John Newton read Thomas a Kempis‘Imitation of Christ‘ and the Bible.

He eventually left the slave-trade and studied to become a minister.

Ordained in 1764, he was assigned to the village of Olney, Buckinghamshire.

John Newton preached the rest of his life against slavery.

He encouraged William Wilberforce to end slavery in the British Parliament.

Engraved on his tomb and on a church plaque is,

“John Newton, Clerk,
once an infidel and libertine,
a servant of slaves in Africa,
was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
preserved, restored, pardoned,
and appointed to preach the faith
he had long labored to destroy.”

Amazing Grace” was published in the Olney Hymns, 1779:

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 hath 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.

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