Amazing Grace!

This year is the 250th anniversary of the publishing of the hymn “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton. The hymn is John’s testimony to his personal experience of God’s grace. Grace means “undeserved kindness.” John was nurtured by a Christian mother who taught him the Bible from an early age but, sadly, when he was 7 years old, she died from tuberculosis. After his mother’s death John was brought up by his father who was a merchant navy captain. John went with his father on his first sea-voyage when he was just 11 years old.

When he was 19, John was press-ganged aboard the H.M.S Harwich. He was rebellious against Royal Navy discipline and, after receiving a severe beating for insubordination, was discharged to a slave ship. He was an arrogant young man who embraced “free-thinking” and threw off all moral restraints. Later he wrote, “I sinned with a high hand and made it my study to tempt and seduce others.” He was employed by a cruel slave-trader in West Africa who treated him badly reducing him to poverty and the need to beg for food. With his father’s help he escaped and later became the captain of a slave ship based in Liverpool.

When he was 23, during a return voyage to England aboard the ship Greyhound, John experienced a spiritual conversion. He awoke to find the ship caught in a severe storm off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, and about to sink. John cried out to God for mercy and promised that if God brought him safe to land, he would give the rest of his life to God. God heard his prayer and brought the ship safe to port. John was a changed man as he returned to the faith he had learned from his mother. After leaving the slave trade John was ordained into the Anglican ministry and served churches in Olney and London. Later he actively supported William Wilberforce in his campaign to abolish the slave trade.

John never ceased to be amazed that God had not treated him as his sins deserved. So, he wrote, “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.”

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