Our Favorite Hymns#1
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
Thru' many danger, toils, and snares
The Lord has promised good to me
When we've been there ten thousand years
GOD RESCUES A REBEL
In the summer of 1725, in the city of London, England, John Newton was born. His mother, a devout member of the Dissenters, taught the young boy to pray and filled his mind with the Scriptures. But it was John's father, an often-absent sea captain, who captured the boy's imagination. John dreamed of sailing ships and the wide, wild seas, of adventures and mysterious destinations.
Just before John's seventh birthday his mother became ill and died, leaving her son a virtual orphan. Taken in by distant relatives, the little boy was mocked for his belief in God, discouraged from praying, and ridiculed for his childish faith. Unhappy and lonely, John turned again to his dreams of the sea and, at the age of eleven, ran off to become an apprentice on his father's ship.
If it was a close father-son relationship John desired, he was sadly disappointed, for like his foster family, his father also rejected him. For years, the young fellow plied the Mediterranean on sailing ships, enjoying all the experiences and immoralities offered in each exotic port. He was frequently fired for insubordination, but just as frequently hired by another ship's master, eager for young seamen and not too particular about their character.
After a short stint in the British Navy, John deserted and ray away to Africa to seek his fortune and new adventures in the African slave trade. Signing on with an unscruputlous slave dealer, he found his situation had declined dramatically. In the slave trader’s absences, John was left in the “care” of the man’s vindictive wife, who imprisoned him in her quarters, beat him, and forced him to eat his food from the floor like a dog. Believing death was preferable to this kind of treatment, John escaped from his prison into the West African forests and eventually made his way to the Atlantic Coast. After lighting signal fires, John was finally spotted by a passing ship’s captain, who sent a small boat to shore to pick him up.
The captian had hoped the lone man had gold or ivory to offer and was disappointed to receive, instead, a penniless runaway. Putting him to work as a mate, the captain learned later, was an unwise decision. Becoming bored during a particularly long watch, John broke into the ship's supply of rum and generously shared it with the crew. Again demonstrating his lack of discipline, John downed a goodly amount of the liquor, became totally disoriented, and fell overboard. One of the ship's officers, either out of pity or spite, saved John from drowning by spearing him in the thigh with a harpoon and reeling him back aboard like a flailing fish!
Painfully wounded and severely disciplined, Newton was relegated below decks where it was thought he could be no more trouble. It was a miserable journey from Africa to England in the stifling, stinking hold, and John had endless days and nights to ponder his empty life and unfulfilled dreams. Somehow, a copy of Thomas A Kempis' book Imitation of Christ fell into his hands. Reading the book awakened his conscience to the things of God, and he began to recall some of the early lessons learned at his mother's knee.
As the slave ship neared Scotland, severe winds and rains battered her and she began to take on water. Desperate measures were taken to keep her from sinking and for days every able-bodied man, slave or free, bailed water from the foundering ship. Exhausted, frightened, and facing certain death, John Newton had a life-transforming experience with God. The assurance of God's love flooded his soul. Later he would describe it as a miracle, an amazing manifestation of God's grace.
Although that voyage was not his last, John Newton's heart became drawn in other directions. Two years after his miraculous conversion, he married Mary Catlett, a devout Christian, and not long after that, John left the sea for good and became a minister. While he loved to preach and tended his little flock of believers with zealous care, his great joy was writing hymns to be sung at his weekly prayer meetings. He composed over 280 hymns, but the one for which he is most remembered came from his shipboard conversion and carries the message of his personal experience, "Amazing Grace."
Taken from HYMNS OF FAITH & INSPIRATION, Ideals Publications Incorporated, Nashville, Tennessee, 1990, pgs 80-83.