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Amazing Grace
By John Newton (1725-1807)
 
On the high seas in the mid 1700s, an angry sailor threw a whaling harpoon at his own captain, who had fallen overboard.  What on earth would have provoked such anger and mutinous behavior?
 
The captain was a wicked, loathsome and cruel taskmaster.  He had little regard for his crew or the human cargo chained in the hold of his ship.  The harpoon caught the captain in his hip, and he was hauled back on board, much like a large fish.  The captain’s name was John Newton.
 
Born in London, England, Newton had been going to sea since the age of ten.  His father was the captain of a ship and taking John was perhaps all his father knew to do for his son, whose mother had died.  All John could remember of his mother was the scripture passages, poems, and hymns he had learned at her knee. 
 
Life at sea demanded he associate with older, hardened sailors.  As a result, he grew more wretched than almost anyone with whom he associated.  His lifestyle led to rebellion, desertion, public floggings, abuse, destitution and near drowning.  Once, while in the employ of a slave trader, he became ill and was left on the coast of Africa in the charge of a woman who locked him away and very nearly starved him to death.  How ironic that only the kindness of the slaves in chains kept him alive.
 
After one particularly harrowing experience during a violent storm at sea, Newton began to earnestly seek a right relationship with God.  It was on a small island off the coast of north Africa, sick and alone that John Newton would write:
 
Weak and delirious, I arose from my bed and crept to a secluded part of the island; there I found a renewed liberty to pray.  I made no more resolves but cast myself before the Lord to do with me as He should please.  I was enabled to hope and believe in a crucified Saviour.  The burden was removed from my conscience.
 
By God’s grace John Newton began a new life.  He married his sweetheart of many years, began to study for the ministry and became the pastor of a small church in Olney, England.  While there he wrote many hymns collectively published in 1779 as the “Olney Hymns,” one of which was “Amazing Grace.”  The melody we sing it by wasn’t written until 50 years later.
 
Remember the harpooning incident?  Pastor Newton would say, “Each limp is a constant reminder of God’s grace to this wretched sinned.”