I was born in 1725 and I left this present world in 1807. As far as I can remember, the only godly influence in my life was my saintly mother, whom I had for only seven years. But these were the formative years and proved to be very important. When she left my life through death, I was virtually an orphan.
My father remarried, sent me to a strict military school, when the punishment for disobedience almost broke my back. I couldn’t stand it any longer and ran away in rebellion at the grown up age of ten. I decided right then that I would never again enter formal education. I became a seaman apprentice, hoping somehow to step into my father’s trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully navigate a ship.
In the process of time, I slowly gave myself over to the devil and I determined that I would sin to the fullest, without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of my life had gone out. I did that until my days in the military service, where again discipline worked hard against me. My spirit would not break and I further rebelled. I deserted because I just did not agree with a number of things in military rule. I was captured, put in stocks as a public humiliation and beaten several times. After enduring the shame I fled again and seriously entertained thoughts of suicide enroute to Africa. There I would be safe, far away from anyone who knew me.
I had earned my way through the knowledge of the sea and signed on with a Portuguese slave trader. I lived in his home but his wife, full of hostility beat me and whipped me with a lash. I fled penniless, owning only the clothes on my back. I built a fire on the shoreline, hoping to attract a ship that was passing by. The Skipper thought that I had gold or slaves or ivory to sell. My knowledge of navigation served me well and I became a ‘slaver’. I earned my way and it was not too long before I became the master of my ship. The triangular voyage from England to Africa to America and back to England was the trip I made many times. Some times there may be six hundred blacks from Africa in the hold of the ship, down below, being taken to America. I let the devil reign, not only in my heart but in my life.
It occurred on the home bound trip to England that we ran directly into a fierce wind (hurricane). It threatened to send us all to the bottom of the sea. I had been reading a book, entitled, “IMITATION OF CHRIST“, BY Thomas A. Kempis. When the storm broke, I fell into deep thought. We limped into South Haven that day and as I left the ship, I vowed never to set foot on board a ship again. My conversion led me to the deep desire to be a preacher.
After many years of private study, I was given a little church in Olney, England. I married my childhood sweetheart and entered the ministry. It was that day, on board that ship that I remembered the words of my mother, “Some day you’ll cry out to God and He will hear you”.
In every place that I served, rooms had to be added to accommodate the crowds. They wanted to hear again and again how God in His mercy and grace had saved a wretched sinner like me.
Eventually preaching in one of London’s greatest tabernacles, he came from the ante room, dressed in his old captain’s suit, with a whip in one hand and a gun in the other. He was wearing his captain’s hat and before a hushed audience, he said, I wish to recite a poem I wrote long years ago. As he began, tears began to roll, “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. When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing his praise, than when we first begun.”
John Newton’s tombstone reads today, “Born 1725, died 1807. A clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Preserved, restored, Pardoned and appointed, to preach the faith he long labored to destroy.”
It reminds me very much of the apostle Paul who wrote, “And I thank Jesus Christ our Lord, who has enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me in the ministry. Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious; but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief . . . This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:12-13,15).
Grace is the basis by which we are saved. Faith is the power to accept and receive this grace. Believers were commanded to “repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” Acts 2:38. Jesus Christ is the grace of God and in him we have all hope.