John Newton is well-known in Christian circles, but may not be someone you have heard of….or at least you think you haven’t. If you have ever been to a memorial or funeral, chances are you have heard the song he wrote about his life. Yet, you may not have known anything about the man himself. Here’s a summary of John Newton’s life in a few sentences:
- Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean.
- In 1744 John was impressed into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. Finding conditions on board intolerable, he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.
- Finally at his own request he was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. Being a servant of a slave trader, he was brutally abused.
- Rescued later, John Newton ultimately became captain of his own slave ship, but his life was about to change.
- His mother died when he was a child and Newton had no real religious convictions.
- However, on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance” which was his conversion to Christianity. He wrote in a journal ( May 10, 1748) that he believed “Lord, had mercy upon us.” This, he believed, was his moment of grace and God had begun to work in his life.
- He continued in the slave trade for a time after his conversion; however, he saw to it that the slaves under his care were treated humanely.
- He married and began educating himself; teaching himself Latin and other subjects.
- Newton also met and came to admire John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Newton’s self-education continued, and he learned Greek and Hebrew.
- From 1755 to 1760 Newton was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, where he came to know George Whitefield, deacon in the Church of England, evangelistic preacher, and leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. Newton became Whitefield’s enthusiastic disciple.
- Deciding to become a minister, he applied to the Archbishop of York for ordination and was refused.
- Newton persisted in his goal, and he was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln and accepted the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire.
- In 1780 Newton become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth church, in London. There he drew large congregations and influenced many, among them William Wilberforce, who would one day become a leader in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807. Calling himself a “wretch” he was secure in his faith that God’s amazing grace would lead him home.
- BEST KNOWN FOR WRITING THE WORDS TO THE HYMN AMAZING GRACE which showed his feelings about his life and God’s grace toward him. (a portion of which is written here).
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…
Pain and suffering was part of John Newton’s life and pain and suffering is in our world today. Newton would probably be amazed at how many times his beautiful song, often played with bagpipes, has been sung and played at memorials of those we lovingly remember…..as shown below.