“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. ‘”
Last night we were so blessed as we listened to “Amazing Grace” played on bag pipes as the sun went down by a man standing out in the ocean on the sandbar. Adults as well as children all along the beach stopped what they were doing and stood still, listening until the last note was played and the sun dipped into the water and disappeared. Then everyone began clapping many with tears in their eyes. It was the perfect ending to a beautiful Easter Sunday.
“Amazing Grace.” This hymn has touched people’s lives for close to 250 years, yet it is as fresh and meaningful today as the day it was first written. We hear it everywhere…in church services, radio, movies and television. It always evokes the deepest personal emotions.
But, who wrote it? And, under what circumstances? It is truly astonishing that it was written by John Newton, a self-confessed sinner with no equal in debauchery and blasphemy.
John’s life was cruelly changed with the loss of his loving and religious mother at age six. His father, a famous sea captain, ignored him then left him with a substitute mother who hated him. She put him away in a boarding school where he was mistreated and abused.
Captain Newton took John to sea as a common sailor when John was only eleven years old. He was forced to live with the sailors in the hold of the ship who taught him every vice known to man. John reveled in it and quickly lost the religious qualities his mother had tried so hard to instill in him.
His life took another turn when he was introduced into the family life of the Cattletts, dear friends of his late mother. There he met Polly, who was destined to become the love of his life. She was only fourteen and John had not secured any position worthy of asking for a young girl’s hand in marriage. He was rebuffed by Polly and her parents.
On a return trip to visit Polly, he was pressed into the British Navy and was forced to fight in naval battles.
John’s conduct worsened. In his journal he wrote, “I was the chief of all sinners and if I had my way, I would have taken the whole human race to hell with me!” He deserted the ship only to be caught and returned. He was punished severely by the whip and keelhauling. Eventually the Captain tired of his conduct and traded him off to a slave ship on its way to Africa. There he was enslaved by slave traders who treated him the same as their African slaves. He remained a slave for two years until he was rescued by a friend of his father.
On the return trip to England, which took 4 months, the ship was caught in a terrible storm and the ship was in grave danger of sinking. John, on deck, was swept toward the sea and realizing that his life was at an end, cried out to God, “Lord save me!!” Miraculously a huge wave knocked him back into the ship and he was saved. The ship limped back into Ireland with John a completely changed man.
He married Polly and became a minister. He was asked to speak to Parliament by Prime Minister Wilberforce against slavery. It was his influence that resulted in England outlawing slavery over a hundred years before it was outlawed in the United States. He wrote over 300 hymns and was one of the first ministers in England to make hymn singing a part of regular worship. His most famous was…”Amazing Grace.”
At one of his last sermons in his old age he stated…
“They tell me I’m getting old and perhaps I am. But the one true thing that I know is that I’m a great sinner and God is a great Savior.”
“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.
T’was Grace that taught…
my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…
the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares…
we have already come.
T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
and Grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me…
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be…
as long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
a life of joy and peace.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years…
bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise…
than when we first begun.
And our hearts were filled with joy!