life of John Newton, wretched sinner that he was, clearly
demonstrates that no matter how deep in sin you have gone
so far, God’s grace is still so far greater. God’s
Amazing Grace is all sufficient regardless of whosoever you
are in this world and whatsoever you’ve done with your
Newton, an only child of John Snr. and Elizabeth Newton, was
born on 24th July, 1725, in London, England. Thirteen days
before his seventh birthday, his devout mother died of tuberculosis.
His father, a commander in the Mediterranean trade, remarried
the following year. At the age of 11, the young boy was taken
on his maiden sea voyage. Over the next seven years he made
several more trips.
"Conservative and reformed
he was, but conventional and rigid he was not! Being
a man of innovation and initiative, he searched for
different means to reach his community and sought
dynamic methods to teach his congregation."
the age of 18, Newton - a confused adolescent - was press-ganged
on board HMS “Harwich”, a man-of-war. Unable to
hold up under its rigid discipline and unwilling to handle
its daily routine, the defiant sailor deserted ship. He was
sought and found, stripped and flogged. Filled with bitter
rage and full of black despair, the demoted midshipman was
eventually discharged from the British Royal Navy and dispatched
onto a slave trading ship.
After he enjoyed six months of freedom on the open sea, the
20-year-old then endured a long year of captivity in West
Africa. There his dream of work and wealth turned into a nightmare
of sickness and starvation while he served a cold-hearted
English master and suffered at the cruel hands of his African
mistress. Soon after his release, the man of the sea became
a master of slaves.
At the age of 22, Newton - a wretched sinner - was converted
from a daring blasphemer of God into a devout believer in
Christ. His "great deliverance" took place on 21st
March, 1748, while sailing back to England from Africa. He
and the crew of the Greyhound - a cargo ship - were caught
in a violent storm. Battered by monstrous winds and beaten
by mountainous waves, the tired sailors, like their torn sails,
were helpless as they battled against the raging seas, trying
desperately to save their badly leaking boat and rapidly sinking
For the young seaman, however, the day of salvation was here;
the hour of decision had arrived; the moment of truth was
at hand. In the midst of the chaos and the confusion, the
frenzy and the fear, Newton called on the Lord Jesus Christ
in sincerity and truth, crying out in genuine repentance for
the Redeemer's tender mercies. And God saved him.
Seven years later Newton, a growing disciple, turned his back
on the sea and “the business at which his heart shuddered”.
Over the next four years, he searched the Scriptures daily
and studied its truths diligently. On 16th December, 1758,
he surrendered his life to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
After some religious opposition, John was eventually ordained
as a curate at the age of 40. He was appointed to the parish
church of Olney, near Cambridge. This working class village,
in the county of Buckinghamshire, was known for its bobbin
lace manufacturing and Shrove Tuesday pancake race.
Five years later Newton, a singing preacher, was enjoying
a harmonious life at home and exercising a holy leadership
at church. Conservative and reformed he was, but conventional
and rigid he was not! Being a man of innovation and initiative,
he searched for different means to reach his community and
sought dynamic methods to teach his congregation. In the midweek
service, for example, he introduced his evangelical “low
Anglican” parish to new hymns and spiritual songs, some
he wrote himself and others he co-wrote with his friend William
Amazing Grace was one of those fresh compositions
that God inspired his dedicated heart and instructed his disciplined
mind to complete in late December of 1772.
Originally entitled Faith’s Review and Expectation,
the prayerfully chosen lyrics were carefully written for a
New Year’s Day service. After reading the Biblical passage
of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 and reviewing his own life in the
light of David’s response, Newton reflected on how far
he had come since his seafaring days of sinful lifestyle,
self-indulgence and slave trading.
The Vicar of Olney, like the King of Israel, was overwhelmed
by God's amazing goodness and awesome greatness. It was right
at this point, what would eventually become his best-known
work was born. Here is how it appeared in Olney Hymns, 1779
(but in today's text):
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) that sav'd a wretch
I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.
‘T was 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
‘T is grace hath 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
I shall possess, within the vail, a life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to
But God, who call'd me here below, will be for ever mine.
In 1835, Faith’s Review and Expectation found
its soul mate in New Britain and was born again as
Amazing Grace. The seed was conceived and a song
was delivered after the spiritual message from England's central
east met and married a simple melody from America's deep south.
CHURCH: John Newton served at the parish church of
Olney for 16 years - it was while there that he wrote
Amazing Grace. PICTURE: Roslyn and David Phillips.
1900, American composer and successful publisher, Edwin Othello
Excell (1851-1921) added the finishing touches with his musical
arrangement. He also removed the final verse from the original
poem and replaced it with the following stanza from Jerusalem,
My Happy Home:
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 first
At the age of 57, Newton - an accomplished author, found himself
standing at a ministry crossroad and staring at a major dilemma.
The Newtons were forced to make a decision to leave the "Olney
community" that they had come to love and serve for nearly
16 years. The veteran childless couple moved their home from
the small village of Olney to the big city of London. On 19th
December, 1779, John preached his first sermon as Rector of
the St Mary Woolnoth Church.
God blessed Newton's ministry and enlarged his coast from
England's banking district to Australia's Botany Bay. As leader
of "the Eclectic Society" (a practical group of
evangelical clergy and Christian laymen), John approached
Rev. Richard Johnson on 23rd September, 1786, to consider
the chaplaincy on the first fleet to the land Downunder. Rev.
Johnson accepted, and the rest is Australian history.
The earlier work of Newton's excellent writings, Authentic
Narrative - a personal testimony, continued to challenge
more hearts for God and change many lives for good. So did
also his newly published and necessarily controversial Thoughts
on the African Slave Trade. The latter equipped and empowered
his newfound disciple, William Wilberforce MP, who after 20
years of faithful campaigning to abolish slavery, finally
succeeded in 1807 in passing an act of parliament in all British
in his last will and testament dated 13th June, 1803, Newton
wrote: “I commit my soul to my gracious God and Saviour…I
rely with humble confidence upon the atonement, and mediation
of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and Man, which I have often
proposed to others, as the only foundation whereupon a sinner
can build his hope, trusting that he will guard and guide
me through the uncertain remainder of my life, and that He
will admit me into His presence in His heavenly kingdom...”
Newton died on December 21st, 1807.
Like John Newton, you too can commit your precious soul and
confidently trust your eternal life to Jesus Christ today.
He paid for your sins in full, provided your salvation for
free, and promised your security forever. He now personally
invites you to be saved in time for eternity.
Here is a suggested prayer:
Dear Lord God
I am sorry that I have sinned against you and broken your
I turn away from my sins.
Please forgive me, and be merciful to me a sinner.
I believe Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose from the
I now receive You, Lord Jesus, into my heart as my Saviour
Thank you dear Lord, for giving me a new and eternal life.
I invite you to live your life through me
and to make me the person that You want me to be.
In Jesus Name, I pray,
• Pastor Peter Rahme is the pastor of the Inner
West Baptist Church in Sydney. His book, The Man & the
Story behind Amazing Grace, is due out in February/March this
year. As a special introductory offer, you can advance-order a
pack of 20. To order, call (02) 9742 5716 or email:
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