John Newton took his first breath on July 24, 1725. His father was a ship’s captain on the Mediterranean, and his mother kept down their London home. She died when he was 7. After that, John’s father tried to apprentice him to be a tradesman.
However, John rebelled and fled. After a while, it seems he reluctantly came around. When he turned 11, Newton went to sea with his father. He made six voyages before the elder Captain Newton retired. In 1744, John was impressed into the British navy. He jumped ship and was recaptured, flogged, demoted ,and traded to the lowest of all merchant marines: a slave ship.
At first, young reprobate Newton enjoyed his new commission. He brutalized the Africans and had his way with whatever women he desired. But eventually the tables turned, and he found himself enslaved to a slave trader named Clowe on the west coast of Africa in a port called Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile John Newton’s father had not given up on him. He asked the captains sailing along the shores of Africa to watch for his son.
Eventually Newton was discovered and rescued. He was placed aboard the ship Greyhound and shipped back toword England. However, first the ship had to cross the Atlantic and make a stop in the West Indies. During the crossing, Newton picked up a book by Thomas A. Kempis called, “Imitations of Christ.” He quickly fell under conviction for his terrible sins and threw the book aside.
A storm hit.
Newton, fearing the ship was going down, cried out to God, “Lord save me!”
For the rest of his life, he observed May 10, 1748 as the anniversary of his conversion.
Newton eventually returned to England and continued to sail. In 1755 a serious illness forced him from the sea. He took a job as a tide surveyor in Liverpool.
During that time he came under the influence of the powerful evangelist George Whitfield. He also met and came to admire John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church.
In time, Newton felt called to ministry. His application was initially denied, but after repeated attempts they allowed him to become a priest in the Anglican church. They gave him a little pastorate in the hamlet of Olney. It was there that Newton wrote poems and stories.
You might be most familiar with an autobiographical little piece he titled, “Amazing Grace.” The first line tells it all,
“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. . . “