In the first half of the 18th Century, England was in a state of religious and moral decay. The National Church was not faring well and only added to the national corruption. If the church was to survive it would need revived.
Born in London on August 4, 1725, John Newton’s mother, who was a God-fearing woman, died before John was seven-years-old. John had no choice than to go with his father, a sea-captain, to sea, where he was forced to grow up without a motherly influence.
Later, he became an English sailor for the Royal Navy and traveled across the Atlantic where he almost died on the Coast of Guinea before a friend of his father found him.
In 1743, on his way to become a slave master on a Jamaica Plantation, he became pressed-ganged and later tried to desert. He ended up on the coast of Sierra Leone where he endured the abuse of a slave trader.
But my post isn’t really about the slave trade in the 1700’s, or the high seas, but about a boy who grew up in the worst of conditions, who had experienced many storms in his life. What else could a young lad do except rebel? And rebel he did. But he would’ve surely ended his life had it not been for his loving wife, Mary Catless, who kept him from committing suicide.
Though John was too young to remember most of the things his mother taught him, he remembered someone telling him how his mother had prayed many nights on bended knee for his salvation.
One night, he faced the worst storm of his life on one of his voyages. A fierce storm ravaged the ship. Fear wrapped its ugly tentacles around John. I imagine those tentacles tried to strangle John of hope. He didn’t think he’d survive the night. And that night, John Newton did something that probably surprised even him: he cried out to God.
We now know the effect that night had on John Newton, as it comes to us in the words of one of the most famous, inspiring songs of our time, “Amazing Grace.”
John Newton had a major role in the survival of the National Church of England and preached throughout England. Many came to hear him, and to seek his counsel. Those who couldn’t travel to him wrote him letters. John Newton will not only be remembered for his song, but also for calling out to God after reaching the end of hope and discovering God’s mighty grace.
The original words as written my Newton:
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 has 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 vail,
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 for ever mine.
The above verse was removed before the hymn became really popular and replaced with the verse below:
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’ve first begun.