On the first Sunday of October, we will sing “Amazing Grace,” likely written between 1760 and 1770 by John Newton. In the first verse we will sing the lines, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” For John Newton, these lines are autobiographical.
For me, and I’ll be sixy-seven this month, one idea of fun is going into the church about ten minutes before the service begins, picking up a Hymnal, and looking at the hymns we will sing that day (sounds like a good time, doesn’t it?). But if you were to do that every Sunday, as I do, you might learn some interesting
John Newton was born in London in 1725, son of a Puritan mother and a sea captain father. He went to sea at age eleven, and spent his youth engaging in heavy drinking and immoral behavior. He was forced to serve in the British navy, and disliked it so much that he attempted to desert. He was caught and publicly whip lashed, and demoted from midshipman to common seaman..
He later was transferred to the crew of a slave ship, and eventually received command of his own ship, running cargos of slaves, inhumanely transported, from the west coast of Africa to Charleston, South Carolina. On one such voyage, he made his delivery to Charleston and was on his way back to his native England when his ship was engulfed in a violent storm. At the moment when the ship was being tossed about and he was certain it would sink, he is said to have shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us.” The storm subsided, the ship survived, and for the rest of his life he counted that moment as his moment of grace.Thereafter he quit the slave trade and eventually ceased to be a sailor, and began to study religion, teaching himself. During this time he came to know the famous Church of England deacon, George Whitefield, and also met and came to admire John Wesley, priest of the Church of England and founder of the Methodist Movement. Newton was ordained priest in the Church of England by the Bishop of Lincoln, accepted the cure of Olney, Buckinghamshire, and began writing hymns, one of which was “Amazing Grace.” By the time he wrote this hymn he could truly say, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come.”