Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound


Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me!

I think we have all heard those lyrics before and reading them may bring a melody to your ear. Some may know the story behind John Newton's famous hymn, but for those who haven't heard it, what a story it is!

John Newton

John Newton's mother had wanted him to be a clergyman. However, her early death due to tuberculosis sent John on a rockier path. His father remarried but as a sailor was at sea much of the time, leaving John with his stepmother who he had a disconnect with and when not with her was at a boarding school. By the time he was eleven years old he was on a ship with his father as an apprentice. He had little if any religious conviction and it showed in his head-strong disobedience which frequently got him into trouble.

As a youth he turned his back on God, later realizing, he did so at a time when he needed God's love and comfort the most. Turning away from God and to his own devices brought about many trials for John. One of which landed him in the hands of the Royal Navy as he was pressed into service. But instead of following the rules, John Newton followed his heart too his sweet Polly and deserted. His desertion caused him to be flogged in front of the crew, demoted, and humiliated. He was eventually traded and put on a ship of slave traders in South Africa. But even there he didn't come to the God his mother so desired him to.

It is said that Newton used terrible language, was a drunkard and was so bad that he even shocked some of the crew of the slave ship, Pegasus. He made fun of the sea captain, calling him names, mocking him, and writing derogatory poems about him, which much of the crew enjoyed and joined in. But Newton had his disagreements with other members of the crew and because of his behavior was imprisoned while at sea, chained like the slaves they carried, and almost starved to death. 

In 1745 they gave him to a slave dealer which in turn brought him to his plantation on Sierra Leone. It is said the slave trader's wife abused Newton. Newton sent his father a letter describing his circumstances. His father, concerned, asked a merchant ship captain to look for his son. 

In 1748, Newton was rescued by the captain of the Greyhound merchant ship. Newton continued in his unsavory ways using some of the most profane language even the captain had ever heard. He went so far to make up words to shock the men. His debauchery became so extreme that he was called out several times by the captain for his words and actions.

Still traveling on the Greyhound, Newton didn't realize, but his life was about to take a drastic change. During a March voyage, a violent storm arose off the coast of Ireland. One of the crewmates, standing on the deck where Newton stood only moments before, was swept off and into the raging sea. The ship faltered in the storm and began to take on water. The crew worked for hours bailing out the ship, attempting to keep it afloat. Knowing death awaited him, Newton cried out to God asking Him for mercy. Shortly after his prayer, the storm began to die down. The Greyhound made it to a port in Ireland after four weeks at sea.

John began reading his bible and gave up his life of drunkenness, profanity and gambling. On March 21, 1748 Newton gave his life to Christ, however he continued to deal in the slave trade. He worked his way up through the ranks eventually becoming captain. But Newton never forgot his promise to the Lord and he had more sympathy for the slaves.

Vicarage of Olney where Newton wrote
"Amazing Grace"
It wasn't until around 1753/54 when he had a stroke that he gave up sailing the
slave ships. Newtons transformation started during that storm off the coast of Ireland but took many years to bring him to the song of "Amazing Grace". In 1755 he began studying Greek, Hebrew and Syriac and became known as a lay minister. It took seven years before the Church of England ordained him and on June 17, 1764 he was ordained as a priest. 

In 1772, in preparing for a sermon, John Newton penned the beloved hymn, "Amazing Grace". 

                                                             Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd 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 reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ'd!

Thro' 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 promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, 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 call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

As John Newton grew in faith, he had great sorrow over his involvement in the slave trade business. In 1785 he met William Wilberforce a strong abolitionist. Newton became a mentor for the abolitionist for the following twenty years.



  1. Thank you for posting today. John Newton surely lived a life that enabled him to recognize God's amazing grace. His story is one all of us can learn from. No one, anywhere, is so bad that their cries to God will not be heard if they are sincere.

  2. Amen, Connie!!! Truer words were never spoken. We serve a forgiving God. Thanks for your faithfulness!