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HomeSpiritual GrowthOrigin of “Amazing Grace” by John Newton

Origin of “Amazing Grace” by John Newton

History of the Author

John Newton, the writer of “Amazing Grace”, was born in July of 1725. His mother died when he was 6 years old. At the age of 11, John went to sea with his father, a Merchant Sea Captain. At 18, he was captured and pressed into service by the Royal Navy as an English sailor. He tried to escape and was caught and beaten with 96 lashes. A few years later he transferred (at his own request) to a slave ship, traveling back and forth between Africa and North America. Newton did not fare well with the crew and was sold as a slave himself in West Africa. While there, he suffered physical abuse, starvation, illness, and exposure.

Newton was rescued a few years later in 1748, and returned to England as the Captain of his own Slave Ship. Off the coast of Ireland, the ship encountered a severe storm that resulted in a dangerous leak in the boat. In the middle of the night, Newton awoke to the ship filling up with water. However, miraculously, some cargo had shifted and sealed the hole such that the ship was able to float to safety. As all this was happening, Newton called out to God to rescue him. He believed God responded to him in and through the storm on May 10th, 1748. 

Salvation!

Newton began reading the Bible, studying who God was and what God wanted of his followers. At one point he got very sick, nearly dying.  Yet, by the time he reached Great Britain he had grown in his faith and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior.  Even with his newfound faith however, Newton continued running salve ships until 1754, retiring after suffering a severe stroke. 

Newton’s Christian Walk

In 1757, he became a lay leader in the church and later became an ordained pastor, preaching for the next 20yrs. However, it was not until 1788, thirty-four years after retiring from the slave trade, that Newton broke his silence and apologized for the appalling conditions and effects of the slave trade. John Newton passed away in December of 1807.

Why is Newton, a slave trader and pastor worth talking about? Besides being a Pastor at the end of his life, John Newton was a songwriter. In 1779, Newton published a group of hymns that he had written for his congregation. It included one of the most influential Christian hymns ever sung by his or any other congregation….. “Amazing Grace”  

Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” to document the spiritual journey he made from sinner to saved. The outward sign of that change was from Slave-trader to Minister. 

Listed below are the lyrics of the song that document Newton’s spiritual journey, much like our own. 


Amazing Grace” by John Newton

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,That saved a wretch like me.

Grace is both “amazing” and “sweet”. It can be defined through the first two verses of the Romans road. 

  • Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. 
  • Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ. 

It is amazing that the God of the universe was willing to reach down and save Newton, just as He does for us. Newton was truly a wretch (very unhappy and/or unlucky person). He had been beaten, tortured, and abused. And, he had turned around and done the same to others, as a slave trader. There are days, perhaps many days, when we can feel wretched, sad, unhappy, and lost.

“I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

Through nearly all of Newton’s life, he was apart from God and the grace only He can provide. Newton was blind to God’s love and compassion, the peace that only God can offer (John 14:27). 

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come…”

Newton had been through all sorts of dangers and struggles in his life. He lost his mother at 6 and went to sea at 11. He was sold into slavery after being abducted by the Royal Navy and punished with 96 lashes for trying to desert. He was shipwrecked and nearly killed multiple times. We all go through danger, toils, and snares. Each of us can think back on our lives and reflect on those times we have faced fear and failure. 

“Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far ….”

Newton falls back on that concept of Grace, especially in the middle of all the turmoil in his life. God was with him even in the middle of the dangers, and hardships. God was with him when Newton did not even acknowledge God existed. God is with us even in the darkest times of our lives. Even when we don’t know or don’t accept that He is there. 

“Grace will lead me home….”

Home for Newton was not England. He was referring to Heaven. God led Newton to Heaven just as He can lead each of us to Heaven, the place of ultimate peace and rest. 

“The Lord has promised good to me…”

God promises His grace and love to each of us who know Him. That should bring us great joy. However, He does not guarantee our happiness. The Lord cautions us that to be a Christian can bring persecution and struggles. 

“His Word my hope secures…..”

The Word Newton is referencing is the Bible. It secures our hope as an instruction manual for how we should live our lives on this earth. After his conversion, Newton spent many hours studying God’s word. God wrote a love letter to his children, you and me. We need to read and meditate on that letter to know who God is.

“He will my shield and portion be ….”

God will protect us as a shield for the remainder of our life. The Lord says in His Word that He will never leave us or forsake us.

“As long as life endures….”

Sometimes life is nothing more than a time of endurance, joy in the Lord while living in trials.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, a mortal life shall cease.” 

Newton moves from talking about life on this earth to life after death. The reality is that our time on this earth is quite short. It is just a flash because we are eternal beings. We will live forever, either in Heaven or Hell.

“I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace….”

This is a true picture of eternity. After this life is over, God provides His children with infinite joy and peace in Heaven. 

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,The sun forbears to shine;But God, who called me here below,Will be forever mine.”

Newton is talking about “The end of the Age” when God, in the form of Jesus Christ, returns and the earth is destroyed and replaced by a New Heaven and a New Earth. 

Summary

John Newton was far from a perfect man.  He did many terrible things in his life. But Jesus Christ died for all his sins, just like he died for all our sins. 

  • Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his love for us, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Newton did something on that boat back in 1748. Amid the storm, as the boat was taking on water and sinking, he called out to God, pleading for His grace and protection. 

We can and must do the same thing. In the midst of our lives, we need to call out to God, asking for His love and grace. We can only do this while we live this short time in our mortal bodies, on the earth. There are no second chances after death.

Romans 10:9 tells us how to accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, that brings joy on this earth and eternity in Heaven. 

  • Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 

This is God’s plea to mankind. To accept Him as both Lord and Savior of our lives. Eternity out of fellowship with the creator of the universe is a very long time. 

Jeff Hilles | BCWorldveiw.org

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