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 the age of ten. One year later, deciding that I would never enter formal education again, I became a seaman's apprentice, hoping, somehow, to step into my father's trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully navigate a ship.
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 all my days in the military service and I further rebelled.
My spirit would not break and I became 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. I decided on Africa because it would be the place where I could get farthest from anyone who 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 out on me. She beat me and I ate like a dog on the floor of the house. 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, slaves or ivory to sell and was surprised that I was a skilled navigator. And, it was there that I virtually lived for a long period of time.
I went through all sorts of narrow escapes, with death only a hair's breadth 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 and threw me down below. I lived on stale bread and sour vegetables for an almost 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, from a wound big enough for me to put my fist into, until the day of my death. On board, I was inflamed with fever and 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 as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused, bleeding and 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 could find was in a crack in the floor above me. 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.
The 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.