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Who Am I?
John Newton (1725-1807) I was born in 1725, and I died 1807. The only godly influence in my life, as far back as I can remember, was my mother, whom I had for only seven years. When she left my life through death, I was virtually an orphan.  

My father remarried and sent me to a strict military school, where the severity of discipline almost broke my back. I couldn't stand it any longer, and left in rebellion at the age of ten.

One year later, deciding that I would never enter formal education again, I became a seaman apprentice, hoping somehow to step into my father's trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully navigate a ship.  By and by, through a process of time, I slowly gave myself over to the devil. And I determined that I would sin to my fill without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of my life had gone out. 

I did that until my days in the military service, where again discipline worked hard against me, but I further rebelled.  My spirit would not break, and I became increasingly more and more a rebel. Because of a number of things that I disagreed with in the military, I finally deserted, only to be captured like a common criminal and beaten publicly several times.

After enduring the punishment, I again fled. I entertained thoughts of suicide on my way to Africa, deciding that would be the place I could get farthest from anyone that knew me. And again I made a pact with the devil to live for him.

Somehow, through a process of events, I got in touch with a Portuguese slave trader, and I lived in his home. His wife, who was brimming with hostility, took a lot out on me. She beat me, and I ate like a dog on the floor of the home.  If I refused to do that, she would whip me with a lash.

I fled penniless, owning only the clothes on my back, to the shoreline of Africa where I built a fire, hoping to attract a ship that was passing by.  it did and the skipper thought that I had gold or slaves or ivory to sell and was surprised because I was a skilled navigator.  It was on that ship that I virtually lived for a long period of time. It was a slave ship.  I went through all sorts of narrow escapes with death only a hairbreadth away on a number of occasions. 

One time I opened some crates of rum and got everybody on the crew drunk. The skipper, incensed with my actions, beat me, threw me down below, and I lived on stale bread and sour vegetables for an unendurable amount of time. He brought me above only to beat me again, and I fell overboard. Because I couldn't swim, he harpooned me to get me back on the ship. 

I lived with the scar in my side, big enough for me to put my fist into, until the day of my death.  back on board, I was inflamed with fever and  enraged with the humiliation.  

THE GREYHOUND had been thrashing about in the north Atlantic storm for over a week. Its canvas sails were ripped, and the wood on one side of the ship had been torn away and splintered. I wound up again in the hold of the ship, down among the pumps. To keep the ship afloat, I worked along as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused, bleeding, diseased, I was the epitome of the degenerate man. 

The sailors had little hope of survival, but they mechanically worked the pumps, trying to keep the vessel afloat. On the eleventh day of the storm I was too exhausted to pump, so I  was tied to the helm and tried to hold the ship to its course. From one o'clock until midnight I was at the helm.

With the storm raging fiercely, I had time to think. My life was ruined and wrecked as the battered ship I was trying to steer through the storm. Since the age of eleven I had lived a life at sea. Sailors were not noted for the refinement of their manners, but I had a reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery which even shocked many a sailor.

I was known as "The Great Blasphemer." I sank so low at one point that I was even a servant to slaves in Africa for a brief period. My mother had prayed I would become a minister and had early taught me the Scriptures and Isaac Watts' Divine Songs for Children. Some of those early childhood teachings came to mind. I remembered Proverbs 1:24-31, and in the midst of that storm, those verses seemed to confirm my despair:

Because I have called, and ye refused . . . ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also laughed at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh: when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer.

I cried out to God, the only way I knew, calling upon His grace and His mercy to deliver me, and upon His son to save me. 

The only glimmer of light I could find was in a crack in the ship in the floor above me, and I looked up to it and screamed for help. 

God heard me.

Though I continued in my profession of sailing and slave-trading for a time, my life was transformed. I began a disciplined schedule of Bible study, prayer, and Christian reading and tried to be a Christian example to the sailors under my command. Philip Doddridge's The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul provided much spiritual comfort, and a fellow-Christian captain I met off the coast of Africa guided me further in my Christian faith.

I left slave-trading and took the job of tide surveyor at Liverpool, but began to think I had been called to the ministry. My mother's prayers for her son were answered, and in 1764, at the age of thirty-nine, I began forty-three years of preaching the Gospel of Christ.

In every place that I served, rooms had to be added to the building to handle the crowds that came to hear the gospel that was presented and the story of God's grace in my life.

The tombstone above my head reads, "Born 1725, died 1807. A clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he once long labored to destroy."

I often composed hymns which developed the lessons and Scripture for the evening services. In 1779, two hundred and eighty of these hymns were collected and combined with sixty-eight hymns by my friend and parishioner, William Cowper, and published as the Olney Hymns. The most famous of all the Olney Hymns, "Faith's Review and Expectation," grew out of David's exclamation in I Chronicles 17:16-17.

My name?

John Newton.

The hymn?

You know it today as "Amazing Grace."

Footnote: A chance reading of Thomas Kempis sowed the seed of his conversion. It was accelerated by a night spent steering a water­logged ship in the face of apparent death. In 1779 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London. His ministry included not only the London poor and the merchant class but also the wealthy and influential. William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament and a prime mover in the abolition of slavery, was strongly influenced by John Newton's life and preaching. Newton's Thoughts on the African Slave Trade, based on his own experiences as a slave trader, was very important in securing British abolition of slavery. Missionaries William Carey and Henry Martyn also gained strength from Newton's counsel.

Newton lived to be eighty-two years old and continued to preach and have an active ministry until beset by fading health in the last two or three years of his life. Even then, Newton never ceased to be amazed by God's grace and told his friends, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."
 

AMAZING GRACE
        
John Newton                           

"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 here a thousand years...
bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise...
then when we've first begun.

"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.