This is an excerpt from a book “Living Stories of Famous Hymns by Ernest K. Emurian”
Amazing Grace (The story behind the song amazing grace)
Most Christians who sing “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretched like me,” don’t feel wretches at all. But the author of the hymn John Newton, did. And if ever was a wretched who was marvelously saved by grace of God, it was the man who penned those autobiographical lines.
London-born John Newton, only child of a respectable sea-captain father, was early dedicated to the Christian ministry by his devout mother. His religious training began almost at once, and, by the time he was four, he could recite passages from Westminster Catechism and Children’s hymns by Isaac Watts. At eleven he was sailing at the Mediterranean with his father, but at the age of seventeen he laid aside every religious principle and abandoned himself to the service of the devil. Only his love for Mary Catlett, with whom he fell in love in 1742 but did not marry until 1750, kept a few sparks of decency aglow within his heart.
He deserted his ship, was caught and brought back like a common felon. So severe was his punishment that he plotted suicide, hi great love for Mary being the restraining influence that persevered his life. After his imprisonment, he embarked on a career of such wickedness that his friends despaired of his sanity.
Living for a time among the cruel slavers of Sierra Leone, he was mistreated by his Portuguese master’s black wife. Of these days, he said, “Had you seen me go so pensive and solitary in the dead of the night to wash my one shirt upon the rocks and afterward to put it on wet that it might dry on my back while I slept; hadyou seen me so poor a figure than a ship’s boat came to the island, shame often constrained me to hide myself in the woods from the site of strangers; had known that my conduct, principles and heart were still darker than my outward condition—how little would you have imagine that such a one was reserved to be so peculiar an instance of the providential care and exuberant goodness of God.”
Later he added, “The only good desire I had left was to get back to England to marry Mary.”
After father humiliation and suffering, he boarded a vessel for England, splendid several quiet days at sea reading “Imitation of Christ.” When a violent storm arose, he regarded himself as the Jonah who cause and blamed his wicked life for the raging winds and mountainous seas that threatened to engulf the vessel. Suddenly a storm as violent as nature’s broke over his soul. With awakened conscience he regarded that day, March 10, 1749, as his “spiritual birthday.”
“I cried to the Lord with a cry like that of the ravens which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear,” he said. “And I remembered Jesus whom I had often derided.”
But the changed that took place was only the reformation of an unconverted man. During the next six years he made several voyages as a captain of his own ship, even carrying cargoes of slaves on some occasions. Not until he reached Liverpool in August, 1754, did he consider himself a regenerated Christian. But even then he did not feel the call to the ministry to which his godly mother had so early set him apart. Gradually he came to consecrate everything to Christ, in the hope that he might be deemed worthy of being called into His service. After two miraculous escapes from death, and several years of hard study and training, he was appointed minister of Church of England on December 16, 1758. Six years later he went to Olney where he was ordain a deacon and a priest. His fellowship with William Cowper resulted in the publication of their “Olney Hymns.” Number forty-one, of Book I, Contained Newton’s life-story in this form:
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.
He made his last move in 1779, going to serve two churches in London. There he labored faithfully until his death, December 21, 1807, at age of eighty-two. His epitaph, which he wrote himself, reads as follows:
“JOHN NEWTON, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, was, by rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy, near sixteen years as Olney in the Bucks, and twenty-eight years in this Church.”
Later he added, “And I earnestly desire that no earthly monument and no inscription but to this purport, may be attempt for me.”