Where in the world did we get this song? How does its story relate to you and me?
The story of John Newton’s life is the real story behind “Amazing Grace.” One would be hard pressed to imagine, let alone live, a blasphemous life equal to Newton’s early years. In his youth, he became the captain of a slave ship, landing at least one load of human cargo in Charleston, South Carolina. It is reported that at times he was so drunk and destitute that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal. Once he fell overboard and his crew refused to drop a boat to him. Instead, they threw a harpoon at him, with which they dragged him back into the ship. He seemed oblivious to the plight of the poor Black souls chained in the hold of his ship.
His complete disregard for all that was right and holy led him into a life plagued with despair, dangers at sea, abuse, public floggings, destitution, and depression. During those years, Newton often entered into a state of spiritual awakening. Those times were short-lived, and he invariably lapsed into a more wicked direction. However, the Lord used one harrowing experience at sea to cause young Newton to consider seriously his standing before a holy God. After being at sea for several months with a load of lumber, livestock and beeswax, the ship ran into a violent storm. So severe was the gale that the vessel was in danger of sinking. After the livestock were washed overboard, the crew tied themselves to the ship to keep from being swept into the sea. For four weeks, because of damage to the ship, the sailors despaired of life, spending most of their waking hours at the pumps to remove water. Rations were so low the men feared starvation. When they finally reached a port in Ireland, Newton began a sincere effort to become right with God.
During that experience, Newton became acutely aware of four things taught in the Bible:
- I must realize that in my present condition I am a sinner before God. “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
- I cannot save myself from eternal punishment in hell. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
- Jesus has paid for my sins and my punishment with His death on the cross. “But God commend his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
- I must accept His crucifixion as payment for my sins, personally. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
Two years later John Newton married his teenage sweetheart. During the following fourteen years, he continued to study the Bible, to serve His Lord and Savior, and to witness to His grace. In 1779, Newton published a hymnal “The Olney Hymns” in which he placed 281 of his own works, including “Amazing Grace.” The next time you hear the hauntingly beautiful “Amazing Grace,” remember that you, too, can experience the same saving grace as John Newton. In fact, you can do that right now! Just read over the Scriptures listed above, bow your head wherever you are, and ask Christ to come into your heart and be your Savior.