I was born in 1725, and I died 1807. The only godly
influence in my life, as far back as I can remember, was my mother,
whom I had for only seven years. When she left my life through death,
I was virtually an orphan. My father remarried, sent me to a strict
military school, where the severity of discipline almost broke my
back. I couldn't stand it any longer, and I left in rebellion at
age of ten. One year later, deciding that I would never enter formal
education again, I became a seaman apprentice, hoping somehow to
step into my father's trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully
navigate a ship.
By and by, through a process of time, I slowly gave
myself over to the devil. And I determined that I would sin to my
fill without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of my life had
gone out. I did that until my days in the military service, where
again discipline worked hard against me, but I further rebelled.
My spirit would not break, and I became increasingly more and more
a rebel. Because of a number of things that I disagreed with in the
military, I finally deserted, only to be captured like a common criminal
and beaten publicly several times.
After enduring the punishment, I again fled. I entertained
thoughts of suicide on my way to Africa, deciding that would be the
place I could get farthest from anyone that knew me. And again I
made a pact with the devil to live for him.
Somehow, through a process of events, I got in touch
with a Portuguese slave trader, and I lived in his home. His wife,
who was brimming with hostility, took a lot of out on me. She beat
me, and I ate like a dog on the floor of the home. If I refused to
do that, she would whip me with a lash.
I fled penniless, owning only the clothes on my back,
to the shoreline of Africa where I built a fire, hoping to attract
a ship that was passing by. The skipper thought that I had gold or
slaves or ivory to sell and was surprised because I was a skilled
navigator. And it was there that I virtually lived for a long period
of time. It was a slave ship. It was not uncommon for as many as
six hundred blacks from Africa to be in the hold of the ship, down
below, being taken to America.
I went through all sorts of narrow escapes with
death only a hairbreadth away on a number of occasions. One time
I opened some crates of rum and got everybody on the crew drunk.
The skipper, incensed with my actions, beat me, threw me down below, and
I lived on stale bread and sour vegetables for an unendurable amount
of time. He brought me above to beat me again, and I fell overboard.
Because I couldn't swim, he harpooned me to get me back on the ship.
And I lived with the scar in my side, big enough for me to put my
fist into, until the day of my death.
On board, I was inflamed with fever. I was enraged
with the humiliation. A storm broke out, and I wound up again in
the hold of the ship, down among the pumps. To keep the ship afloat,
I worked along as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused,
bleeding, diseased, I was the epitome of the degenerate man. I remembered
the words of my mother. I cried out to God, the only way I knew,
calling upon His grace and His mercy to deliver me, and upon His
son to save me. The only glimmer of light I would find was in a crack
in the ship in the floor above me, and I looked up to it and screamed
for help. God heard me.
Thirty-one years passed, I married a childhood sweetheart.
I entered the ministry. In every place that I served, rooms had to
be added to the building to handle the crowds that came to hear the
gospel that was presented and the story of God's grace in my life.
My tombstone above my head reads, "Born 1725, died
1807. A clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves
in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ,
preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith
he once long labored to destroy."
I decided before my death to put my life's story in
verse. And that verse has become a hymn.
My name? John Newton.
The hymn? "Amazing Grace."