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.
’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 hath 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.
Yea, 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 called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
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.
Words: John Newton (1779)
The story of 'Amazing Grace' is found in the Bible, heard in the hymn and
demonstrated in the lives of countless followers of Christ. The hymn, first
titled 'Faith's Review and Expectation' was written by John Newton whose story
is as amazing as the Grace that was his salvation. He began life as the
priviliged son of a sea captain, became a slave and a slave ship captain before
becoming a servant of Christ.
John's mother, a fragile but determined woman, dedicated herself to his
education. She taught him to read and write and fervently prayed that he become
a minister of the Gospel. By the time John was four she had taught him to read
the Scriptures and recite hymns from 'Divine and
Moral Songs for Children' by Isaac Watts. When John was only six years old his
mother died. His father remarried and John was sent on to boarding school. He
was a good student who, by age ten, could read Latin and showed a keen interest
When John was eleven his father took him to sea. He spent six years with his
father on several voyages. John's father was a well respected man and captain
who sought and secured several positions of opportunity for his son. But John,
who was becoming increasingly rebellious, methodically squandered them all.
Through his fathers influence he began several voyages in positions of authority
only to be demoted to common seaman. He strayed so far from his mothers
spiritual teaching that he began influencing others away from deeply held
beliefs. His life had so degenerated that he was often disliked and distrusted
by officers and crew alike. He ran from his fathers support, ignored his
superior officers authority and fell so far from his mothers dreams that he
became known among sailors as "The Great Blasphemer."
During one of these voyages, at John's request and to his new captains relief,
he was allowed to accompany, and became a partner with, a slave trader from West
Africa. His partner was married to an African princess who took an instant
disliking to John. During one of his partners absences he fell gravely ill and
his partners wife took advantage of the situation. John found himself enslaved,
brutalized and begging for food. Ironically, the other slaves were his only
source of mercy. He was eventually rescued, at his fathers urging, and began a
return journey to England. On this journey John once again earned the disdain of
captain and crew. This was the voyage, however, that was to change John's life
in ways that he could not imagine. He began to wrestle with his conscience
during a violent storm in March of 1748. After seeing a shipmate washed
overboard, feeling a resignation to death among the crew and discussing their
situation with his captain, a plea rose from within him: "If this will not do,
the Lord have mercy on us!" As he shouted he wondered; could there be any mercy
for one who profaned the Lord's name as effectively and deliberately as he?
In seeking an answer to his question John Newton was led back to the Bible. On
March 21st, lashed to the helm of a foundering ship, he considered many verses
which he began to see in the Light of Truth. He was especially struck by the
story of the prodigal son in Luke, chapter 15. He marveled at the father who
raced to meet his wayward son and he felt hope for his own soul. When the badly
damaged ship finally dropped anchor, a transformed John Newton went safely
ashore. Two years later, with his fathers blessing, he married his childhood
sweetheart, Mary Catlett.
The slave trade, at the time, was a respectable profession and John continued in
it for some time before illness forced him to leave the sea. (Years later his
testimony before Parliament and his 'Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade'
published in 1787 helped influence law makers to abolish slave trade within
British colonies in 1807 and emancipate ,in 1833. British colonial slaves.)
In 1755, in need of employment, he was offered and accepted the position of
Surveyor of the Tides in Liverpool England. While at sea he began a disciplined
study of the Bible which he continued ashore. He also became friend to George
Whitfield, deacon of the Church of England and John Wesley, the founder of
At the age of 39, on his second attempt at ordination, his mothers prayers were
answered and John Newton was appointed Curate of Olney in Buckinghamshire where,
three years later he met the poet William Cowper. In 1779 the first edition of
the 'Olney Hymns' was published containing 348 pieces, 67 by Cowper and 281 by
Newton, including what would later be known to the world as 'Amazing Grace'.
Shortly after it's first publication John left Olney to become pastor of St.
Mary Woolnoth Church in London. He remained in that position until his death
December 21,1807. The epitaph he wrote for his tombstone reads: "John Newton,
Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the
rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, restored, pardoned, and
appointed to preach the gospel he had long labored to destroy