AMAZING GRACE written in 1779
This hymn is almost as old as the United States of America is… and may have been sung more than any other hymn in the history of the church (second possibly only to “Just As I Am”)!
John Newton was born in Wapping, London, in 1725, the son of Elizabeth and John Newton Sr., a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service. Elizabeth died of tuberculosis (then called consumption) in July 1732. Newton spent 2 years at boarding school before going to live in Essex, the home of his father’s new wife.
At age 11 he first went to sea with his father. Newton sailed 6 voyages before his father retired in 1742. At that time, Newton’s father made plans for him to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. Instead, Newton signed on with a merchant ship sailing to the Mediterranean Sea.
In 1743, while going to visit friends, Newton was captured and drafted into the naval service by the Royal Navy. He became a midshipman aboard the HMS Harwich. At one point, Newton tried to desert and was punished in front of the crew of 350. Stripped to the waist and tied to the grating, he received a flogging of 8 dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of a common seaman.
Following that disgrace and humiliation, Newton initially contemplated murdering the captain and committing suicide by throwing himself overboard. But, he recovered, both physically and mentally. Later, while Harwich was en route to India, he transferred to the Pegasus, a slave ship bound for West Africa. The ship carried goods to Africa and traded them for slaves that were then shipped to the colonies in the Caribbean and North America.
Newton did not get along with the crew of the Pegasus and at one point, when it set sail, Newton stayed behind to work the slave trade in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave dealer… eventually becoming a slave himself! Clowe took Newton to the coast and gave him to his wife, Princess Peye of the Sherbro people. She abused and mistreated Newton equally as much as she did her other slaves.
Early in 1748, he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton’s father to search for him, and returned to England on the merchant ship Greyhound, which was carrying beeswax and dyer’s wood.
During his 1748 voyage to England after his rescue, the ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Ireland… and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and, as the ship filled with water, called out to God. The cargo shifted and stopped up the hole, and the ship drifted to safety. Newton marked this experience as the beginning of his conversion to evangelical Christianity.
He had promised God to serve Him in exchange for his life, so he began to read the Bible and other religious literature. By the time he reached Britain, he had accepted the doctrines of evangelical Christianity. The date was March 10, 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking. Though he continued to work in the slave trade, he had gained sympathy for the slaves… and was kind to those who worked for him.
The final verse of the hymn we know was written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, and was included in her anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, written in 1852.
The rest of the verses were written by John Newton as his own testimony.
Read this hymn, and make these words your own song of testimony!
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.
T’was 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 has 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.
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’ve first begun.