Amazing Grace

It’s the only way to describe the incredible transformation that took place in the life of John Newton, born in London in 1725. His mother died when he was seven. His father sent him to sea at eleven. Working first as a cabin boy and then a deck­hand, he was exposed to a life of drunkenness, profanity and immorality, embracing it all. Soon John surpassed his peers in outra­geous behaviour. Sharp-witted and sarcastic, he wrote offensive songs mocking the ship’s officers and expressing his contempt for their authority He invented new swear words and lead his peers on reckless and dangerous escapades. He frequently deserted his post. In his teens, John was briefly enslaved on an African plan­tation and nearly died. But instead of sobering him, the experience only served to strengthen his rebellious spirit.

After regaining his freedom, he served time in the British Navy and eventually became captain of his own slave ship. As a slave trader, Newton’s heart grew even harder. He earned a reputation for being a foul­mouthed, ill-tempered man, despised by his subordinates and superiors alike. He cared for no one and sought nothing but his own pleasure.

Then one night John Newton hit rock bottom. He had been punished for misbehaviour by being publicly humiliated, beaten, and stripped of his rank. His attempts to regain his position had failed. No one cared about him. Caught in a fierce storm, he came face to face with a gripping fear of death. As the waves pounded the ship and filled his cabin with water, terror filled Newton’s heart. He fought desperately to save the ship, bailing water and plugging holes in the hull with the ship’s sails and burlap bags. As an experienced sailor, John knew he had little chance of survival. And he was not ready to face eternity.

Memories of his childhood came flooding back—the Bible verses and hymns his God ­fearing mother had taught him, her prayers on his behalf. John tried to cry out to God for mercy but he was stopped abruptly by the thought of how little he deserved it. How could he turn to God for help when he had ignored Him for so long? John spent a har­rowing night in deep soul-searching.

The following day, the storm subsided. Miraculously, the battered ship found safe harbour. It was then, Newton said, that he became convinced that “there is a God that hears and answers prayers.” He discovered anew the love of God expressed in Scripture: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoso­ever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

In the midst of the storm, Newton’s eyes had been opened. He realized that he was a sinner in need of a Saviour. For the first time, he understood the meaning of God’s grace. Repenting of the sins of his past, he surrendered his life to God completely. In an instant, he became a new man.

Years later, as he reflected on his experience, Newton penned the words:

Amazing grace
how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
Ι once was lost but now am found
was blind but now Ι 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
Ι have already come;
‘tis grace hath brought mc
safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.

At the age of 39, the former slave trader became a pastor. He dedicated the rest of his life to sharing with others the good news of the gospel: that Jesus Christ had come “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Newton influenced the abolitionist movement in Great Britain, exposing the evils of slavery and fighting to outlaw the vile trade he had once engaged in. In his epitaph, he summed up his life this way:

JOHN NEWTON, CLERK

Once an infidel and libertine,
Α servant of slaves in Africa,
Was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
Preserved, restored, pardoned.
And appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy…

Like Newton, you, too, can experience God’s amazing grace—no matter who you are or how much you have sinned. You can begin your own life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ.

You might pray something like this:

“Dear God, Ι realize that Ι have been lost in my sins and blind to Your truth. Ι know now that You sent Your Son to die on the cross for me—to pay the penalty for my sin. Please forgive me. Come into my life and change me by Your grace. In Jesus’ name, amen.”