On March 21, 1748, while aboard a slave ship caught in a nasty storm and fearing for his very life, John Newton recalled the words of scripture that he had heard so many years before. He had not always been a blasphemous sailor and trader of mankind. Once, he had been a small boy with a mother who loved him and taught him God’s Word. He had given little thought to those words of scripture since his mother’s death and had lived a life antagonistic to her faith.
“Because I have called you and you refused to listen…I will mock when terror strikes you, when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.” Proverbs 1:24-27
Those words of scripture he knew as a child now returned to the mind of John Newton, convicting him of his sinful lifestyle and arrogant posture toward God. The words of Hebrews 6:4-6 also arose in his mind and caused him to fear he might be beyond hope, with no chance of forgiveness.
The sailors on that ship did live through that torrential night. In gratitude to God, Newton made quick work of studying the New Testament he had in his bunk. It was there that he found hope. In the words of Jesus recorded in Luke 11:13, he discovered that God is a like a good father who gives good gifts to his children, particularly the Holy Spirit. He read on in Luke 15 to find the story of the prodigal son where he saw the loving father who lovingly and joyfully welcomed home his wayward, sinful son.
Newton did not have a full mastery of scripture that fateful day in March of 1748, but he received the word of the Lord in a way that he had never done before. His life was forever changed because of the scripture that had been planted into his heart as a child. And it was the continued study of scripture that led to his salvation, a lifetime of ministry, and the writing of his most famous hymn of his testimony which still blesses so many today.
"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.”
Pollock, John. Amazing Grace: John Newton's Story. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981.
Newton, John. Out of the Depths: The Autobiography of John Newton. A Shepherd Illustrated Classic. New Canaan, Conn.: Keats, 1981.