By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
A violent storm was the turning point in John Newton’s life. Motherless at age 6 and sent to sea on his 11th birthday, he soon became a teenage rebel. He was press-ganged into the Navy and flogged for desertion. Newton became involved with the African Slave Trade and came close to starvation while living in extreme poverty in Sierra Leone.
You name the corruption … he both saw it and lived it during his wealthy slave trading days. He even ended up for a short time as a slave himself. What he was most enslaved to, however, was a violent temper and a filthy tongue. John was so blasphemous that once even his hardened shipmates threatened to throw him overboard in order to calm a dangerous storm.
Throughout his blasphemy and rebellion, John had family members who never stopped praying for him. Secretly he began to read the “Good Book:’ but somehow it never made sense. One night in March 1748, at the age of 23, he was on board a cargo ship which was fighting for its life against heavy seas and rough weather. Worn out with pumping and almost frozen, he called out for God’s mercy at the height of the storm, and was amazed to be saved from almost certain death.
Newton’s life had many twists and turns. Eventually he renounced his involvement with slave trading, and, at age 39, became an Anglican Priest. He persuaded the young William Wilberforce to stay in politics, and joined him in his fight to abolish the slave trade. After 40 years of prayer and hard work, Wilberforce, through Newton’s influence, finally had slavery abolished in 1833.
John Newton is a parable of what the Christian faith is all about: moving from death to life, from slavery to freedom. Newton celebrated his new life in Christ by writing one of the world’s most famous songs.
“Amazing Grace, how sweet
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now
Was blind but now I see.”
May Amazing Grace touch your heart.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada
-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News and the Light Magazine/City Light News
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