Amazing Grace, How Sweet The Sound, That Saved a wretch Like Me!
Born in England, his mother died when he was seven. His father remarried and sent him away to school for a few years. At age eleven he left school and joined his father’s ship to start life as a seaman. His early years were one continuous round of rebellion and debauchery.
After serving on several ships and working for a period of time on the West African coasts collecting slaves to sell to visiting traders, he eventually became captain of his own slave ship. The capturing, selling and transporting of black slaves to the West Indies and America was a cruel and vicious way of life.
In 1748, while returning to England from Africa during a particularly stormy voyage, when all appeared lost, he began reading Thomas A. Kemps’s book, Imitation of Christ. The message of Christ contained in this book and the frightening sea around him were used by the Holy Spirit to sow the seeds of his eventual conversion and personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
He remained a slave ship captain for several years but tried to justify his position by improving the conditions for the slaves. He even held services for his ship’s crew each Sunday. Eventually, however, he felt convicted of slave trading and became a strong and effective crusader against slavery.
Returning to England, he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Catlett in 1750, and became a clerk at the port of Liverpool for the next nine years. He began to feel called to the ministry of the Gospel and studied diligently for the ministry. While he was guided and influenced by others, he decided to stay within the established Anglican Church.
At age thirty-nine, he became the first Pastor at the small church in the village of Olney, near Cambridge, England.
He often used the story of his own life in his services and it was so effective he became known as the "Old Converted Sea Captain.”
A practice he used in his Church was that of singing Hymns that expressed simple, heartfelt faith rather than singing of Psalms from the Sterhold and Hopkins Psalter which was used by other Anglican Churches. When he couldn’t find enough hymns, he started writing his own.
Over a period of years he and William Cowper produced the famous Olney Hymns Hymnal which contains 349 hymns, 282 written by himself.
After fifteen years of Pastoring at Olney, he spent the next twenty-eight years of his life as Pastor of St. Mary Woolnoth Church in London. After he went to be with the Lord, he and his wife were buried at Olney Church and their monument can still be viewed there today.
At age eighty-two this man went home to be with his Father. Until that time he never ceased to marvel at God’s mercy and grace that had so dramatically changed his life. In the last years of his life while preaching he proclaimed in a loud voice, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: “That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour!’”.
In the Church yard in Olney, England, you will find his name on a tombstone. On it also you will find the following inscription written by him before his going home. I think it says all required to know of the faith of this man. This man who transformed thousands of lives by his very presence.
“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers
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 labored to destroy.”