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The John Newton Story
By Lisa Colwell

Who am I?

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, though 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 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

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

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."

Never judge a man until the hour after his last breath.


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