Amazing Grace

Words: John Newton 1725-1807
Music: Early American Folk Melody

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:6-9

Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
Restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach
The Gospel, which he had long laboured to destroy.

Epitaph written by John Newton, himself.

For many years now, the testimony poem of John Newton has been the most requested hymn in the English-speaking world. To us it may seem strange that in 1779 the original title assigned by Newton was “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” (See First Chronicles 17:16-17 for the Bible passages that was most impressive to Newton as he read the words of King David and composed his own verses.)

Now be it known that John Newton had a great example and teacher in his mother as she took him to church and had him memorize Scripture at home. His father made plenty of money by running a slave ship for buying, transporting, and selling people. John Newton went to sea with his father after his mother died when he was only 7. As a young teen and until he was 23, Newton was on the high seas in the business he learned from his dad. During wartime, Newton was drafted into the British navy – only to go AWOL which led to his sad, starving condition in Africa as a slave himself for more than a year.

Once tough and aggressive, Newton started reading the Bible again and Imitations

Of Christ, a classic by Thomas A. Kempis. He found a renewed interest in spiritual matters. Also, there was a severe storm at sea, and in desperation, he vowed to God that if he survived he would sell his ship and do something worthwhile with his life. He had assumed that he was such a wretch as to be hopeless; however, he discovered that the New Testament verse found in Luke 11:13 held out possibilities even for an infidel. So he memorized that verse.

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?” KJV.

Newton kept his promise, and for 16 years worked as a tide surveyor at Liverpool while reading everyday and attending night school with the result that at age 39, he was ordained by the Church of England and began a 43 year preaching career. He served 16 years in Olney Village in Bucks, England, and then 28 years at St. Mary Woolnut in London. While at Olney, Newton and his writing companion, William Cowper, published the highly respected Olney Hymns, with a total of 348 hymns.

“Amazing Grace” was included.

From 1780 until his death, Newton drew huge crowds to hear him preach. His large London congregation had many powerful and influential members. One of the outstanding leaders in the campaign to abolish slavery was a church member named William Wilberforce, who frequently read articles and heard speeches by Newton on the evils of slavery. Newton and Wilberforce were successful along with others to bring reason and pressure on the Parliament to make slavery illegal.

Only two months before his death, Newton wrote in his diary, “Not well able to write; but I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer and praise. Only God’s amazing grace could and would take a rude, profane slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of God.”

Prayer Focus: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior!” This is the response of John Newton to his friends at age 82 when they begged him to retire because of failing health and poor memory. Let us pray for a greater appreciation of God’s amazing, yes amazing grace.