John Newton was born in 1725. On Sept. 3, 2020, my favorite blogger, Jim Denison, wrote about an event which occurred in Newton’s life on the same day 272 year earlier, Sept. 3, 1748. Newton, who was the captain of a slave ship, encountered such a violent storm he feared he and his crew were going to die. Amid the howling wind and towering waves – Newton recalled the lessons his godly mother had taught him when he was just a boy. He begged, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” He believed God spoke to him through the storm – and from that day forward was a changed man.
Often people praying during a crisis, are primarily asking God for help. Those prayers rarely result in life-long changes. But when Newton committed his life to Christ that day, his life changed forever. He stopped being a slave ship captain and became a disciple of well-known preacher George Whitefield. Newton taught himself Latin, Greek and Hebrew, believing God was calling him to be a minister.
Remarkably, his ministry not only made an impact during his life but continues to touch millions 215 years after his death. His most enduring legacy was not the sermons he preached, but the hymns he composed. Although he wrote 280 songs, he is best known for the most beloved hymn ever written, “Amazing Grace.”
His ministry was to make even more of an impact, Newton pastored a church in London, where he deeply influenced William Wilberforce, who became the driving force behind the movement to outlaw slavery in England.
In his blog, Denison shared how he visited Newton’s grave and read these words on his tombstone: “John Newton, Clerk, Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”
Newton never forgot how God changed his life. He understood what the Apostle Paul wrote about not deserving God’s forgiveness, “…it is not by their good works. For in that case, God’s grace would not be what it really is – free and undeserved.” (Romans 11:6, NLT)
God’s amazing grace changed Newton and it changes people today. God offers mercy not because we deserve it, but because his grace is freely given to anyone who confesses their sin and commits to following Jesus.