Even if you have not heard of John Newton you will have heard of his famous hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’. His story and his life is one that shows the incredible power of God, His abounding love and His Amazing Grace.
John Newton was born to a godly Mother and an irreligious Father. His Mother died when he was six, leading him to the debauched and depraved profession of his father, seafaring. He went on his first trip when he was eleven and when he was eighteen he was pressed into the Royal Navy. As he wrote of himself at this time, ‘I was capable of anything; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor the least sensibility of conscience…’ Aged twenty, Newton was put off his ship in Sierre Leone and for a year and a half was made to live as a virtual slave in destitute circumstances. He was treated so poorly that the African Slaves used to slip him food and water out of their own rations. But God was not done with John Newton.
In February 1747 John Newton was rescued from bondage when a friend of his father’s, who was captain of a ship, anchored near where Newton was living. He was rescued and after a little over a year working on board the ship, disaster struck in the form of a furious storm. Newton was called on deck to serve, but just as he was about to emerge, the Captain sent him back below deck on an errand. The man who took Newton’s place on deck was hit by a wave and thrown overboard. As a result Newton survived the storm but was so shaken, he resolved to find God reasoning based on Luke 11:13 that God had promised his Spirit to those who ask, therefore he must pray for it confident that ‘he will make good on his word’.
After months of prayer and reflection on passages like these, Newton committed his life to the Lord. Although he had become a Christian, for six years, Newton had no ‘Christian friend or faithful minister to advise me,’ so he continued to live apart from God, including captaining a slave ship. It was only after an epileptic seizure that he ceased this trade, putting his sea-faring days behind him.
Newton later became a Minister of the Word at Olney and Woolnoth in London, faithfully explaining scripture and loving those in need. Among those he mentored and discipled were William Wilberforce (the Anti-Slavery campaigner), Charles Simeon (Pioneer of Uni mission, CMS and Bible Society) and William Cowper (Famous poet and hymn writer). Perhaps the greatest legacy Newton left was his clear explanation of the amazing nature of grace in his glorious and well-known hymn, Amazing Grace.
Although much of Newton’s suffering occurred before his conversion, God continued to use his memories of this time to throughout his Christian life to draw Newton back to Himself; so often suffering is used to bring us to our knees, stripping us bare so that we can acknowledge our dire need to receive the greatest gift of all – the gift of life in Jesus.