He was once an infidel, whose godly mother had died when he was only seven years of age. At the age of eleven, he left school and joined his father’s ship to begin life as a seaman.
Plunging into debauchery, he became exceedingly rebellious. After serving on several ships, and working on the islands and mainland of the West African coast, collecting slaves for sale to visiting traders, wicked John Newton became captain of his own slave ship. Such was his vicious way of life that he captured, sold and transported black slaves to the West Indies and America.
On March 10, 1748, while he was sailing to England from Africa, a tremendous storm arose and it appeared that all would be lost. Newton was so terrified that he began to read a book entitled “Imitation of Christ”. Through this book, God sowed the seeds of conviction in John’s wicked heart, causing repentance and bringing about his eventual acceptance of Christ as his personal Saviour.
Shortly thereafter, Newton ceased his role as a slave ship captain and became an effective crusader against slavery. He also commenced a preaching ministry and for fifteen years he told of the saving grace of God in his own life.
Finally the day came when the old “Sea Captain” left the shores of earth to set foot on the celestial shores of heaven, to be with Christ. In a small cemetery in Olney, England, stands a tombstone with the following inscription:
“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers 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.”
John Newton wrote a beautiful hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Perhaps you have sung it, but can you sing it truthfully? Read the following original stanzas and may God help you to see that “by grace are you saved through faith; and not that of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” (Eph. 2:8)
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found,
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas 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,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me 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.
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.
Some versions of the hymn include an additional verse:
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.
This verse is not by Newton. It was added to a version of “Amazing Grace” by Harriet Beecher Stowe, as it appears in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Uncle Tom has pieced the lyrics of several hymns together; those who learned the lyrics from the novel have assumed that it belongs.