Saturday, 7 March 2020

Amazing Grace

March 2020

Like Jonah before him, John Newton “had previously run away from the Lord and it had taken a tremendous storm at sea in 1748 to humble him, convict him of his defiance and stir him to cry out to God for mercy.”

From a young age Newton’s life had been marked by tragedy and a self-centred rebelliousness.  His mother died when he was six, he went to sea at a young age, was press-ganged into the navy, transferred to a slave ship and was himself enslaved in Africa.  Freed again, he became an officer and eventually a captain on slave ships and was known for his drinking, gambling and swearing.

But after that storm the message of God’s amazing grace, his undeserved kindness in Christ, slowly took root in Newton’s heart and mind.  His life became characterised by a deep gratitude to God:  “What am I – that thou hast brought me hitherto?  Brought me from Africa, from the house of bondage, saved me from sinking in the ocean and from a thousand deaths – raised me from a state of contempt and misery beyond the common lot of mortals – to admit me among thy children, thy servants, to know and to preach thy gospel … I am surrounded with mercies and comforts.” (Written in his diary on 1st January 1780)

Retiring from his seafaring days, Newton became Surveyor of Tides in Liverpool Docks before eventually being accepted as a Church of England minister with a simple desire to “honestly and plainly declare the truths of the gospel … undoubtedly the most pleasant set of topics”.  With his friend, William Wilberforce, Newton became committed to the abolition of slavery; the ‘Act for the Abolition of Slavery’ was passed in Parliament in 1807, the year of Newton’s death.

Today John Newton is best known as the author of the hymn that was first sung by his congregation in the little village of Olney in Bucks on New Year’s Day 1773:

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.

(All quotes are found in the excellent book ‘365 Days with John Newton’ from DayOne Publications.)


Graham Burrows

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