“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me” The author of the words was John Newton who wrote over 280 hymns during his lifetime including Amazing Grace and How Sweet The Name of Jesus Sounds.
He was born in London July 24, 1725. His mother died when he was seven and he went to sea at age eleven with his father who was the commander of a merchant ship. He made six voyages with his father and after his father retired John went into service on a man-of-war ship but deserted after he found the conditions there intolerable. He was recaptured, publicly whipped and demoted to common seaman.
He requested to be put into service on a slave ship and became the servant of a slave trader who brutally abused him. He was rescued from slavery by a sea captain who had known his father. He eventually became captain of his own slave trading ship. At that time the slave trade was considered a respectable business.
Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, who had died when he was a child, he had long since given up any religious convictions and led a rough lifestyle.
While travelling on a voyage home in 1748, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.” while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, He recorded in his journal that when he thought the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion.
In 1750 he married Mary Catlett, with whom he had been in love for many years. By 1755, after a serious illness, he had given up seafaring forever.
He decided to become a minister and applied to the Archbishop of York for ordination. The Archbishop refused his request, but Newton persisted in his goal, and he was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln and accepted the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire. Newton’s church became so crowded during services that it had to be enlarged. He preached not only in Olney but in other parts of the country.
In 1780 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London.
John Newton wrote the epitaph which is on his gravestone at St Mary Woolnoth in London England:
JOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Saviour
restored, pardoned and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty eight years in this Church.
Watch the Video and listen to the hymn