John Newton ( 24 July 1725 – 21 December 1807) wrote the poem Amazing Grace. He was an English priest but was well known for his profanity, gambling, and drinking habits in his earlier life. He was also a former captain of slave ships but subsequently became a ferocious opponent of the slave trade. In later life, he worked resolutely with the English MP William Wilberforce and lived to see the British Empire’s abolition of the African slave trade in 1807, just months before his death.
At a young age, he went to sea and worked in the slave trade for several years. In 1745, he was captured and became a slave of Princess Peye, a woman of the Sherbro people in Sierra Leone. However, he was rescued from there and returned to sea and the trade, becoming captain of several slave ships.
In 1748, Newton had a spiritual conversion during his return voyage to England aboard the ship Greyhound. He awoke to find the ship caught in a severe storm off the coast of Donegal, Ireland, and about to sink. In response, Newton began praying for God’s mercy, after which the storm began to die down. After four weeks at sea, the Greyhound made it to port in Ireland. This experience marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity.
He began to read the Bible and other religious literature, and by the time he reached England, he had accepted the doctrines of Christianity. The date was 10 March 1748 (at the age of 22) an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking. He later accepted that his full conversion did not happen until much later when he said, ‘I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.’
After many years of petitioning, he was accepted for ordination as a Church of England priest and served as the curate at the parish church in Olney, Buckinghamshire. He spent sixteen years at Olney. His preaching was so popular that the congregation added a gallery to the church to accommodate the many people who flocked to hear him. He also wrote hymns while he was there, including Amazing Grace to illustrate a sermon he was compiling for New Year’s Day 1773. Learn more about his time in Olney here.
Amazing Grace a Poem written by John Newton
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.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.