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Amazing Grace: The Life of John Newton and the Surprising Story Behind His SongSample

Amazing Grace: The Life of John Newton and the Surprising Story Behind His Song

DAY 1 OF 5


John Newton was the son of a stern merchant sea captain. At a young age, he lost his godly mother who had given him a picture of faith in God. When she died, he struggled to find where he fit in, and rebellion and the indulgence of sinful impulses characterized his teenage and young adult years. He often squandered opportunities to advance himself at sea and brought shame to the respected Newton name that his father had created.

At one point, John encountered a navy press gang. John’s service on the HMS Harwich was brutal, and even though his father’s influence improved his situation a bit with a promotion to midshipman, he squandered the opportunity. Instead of learning from his past shame, he became arrogant and abusive toward the men he had previously served alongside.

John also joined a growing number of fashionable elites who saw no need for faith. His companions were an irreligious bunch, dedicated to living as if there were no God, morally independent and making their own way in life. John found it surprisingly easy to forget the years when he willingly professed his Christian faith and had tried to live up to its demands. He was soon mocking Christianity with the best of them.

After a difficult period in Africa, John was headed toward England on the Greyhound. It was a slave ship and it traded for goods in Africa longer than usual. The ship was in a perilous state after months in the heat and humidity of Africa and Brazil. John was troubled, not just by the state of the ship, but by the state of his soul. He was returning home to the father on whom he had brought great shame and the young woman whose love he had betrayed by this lifestyle. He felt like a wretch. The weight on his chest made it hard to eat, to sleep, and even to breathe.

As John read the words of Thomas à Kempis, they took root. “Ah, stupid unthinking sinner! How shalt thou escape the terrors of that dreadful day?” A moment of clarity settled on him. He had turned his back on God and embraced everything he once thought was wrong. Sin creates a debt. Soon or later, the debt must be paid.

During a violent storm onboard the deteriorating Greyhound, John called on God for mercy. He was shocked, wondering if somewhere inside a part of him still believed that God might choose to save them. He wondered what would happen if the ship sank and he drowned. Would he be sent to hell for all he had done? If he survived, would it mean that God had chosen to save him?

As they battled the storm, his mind was full of memories from his childhood. Times when he sat beside his mother while at church. The memory of the way her voice soared when she sang. The way she placed every ounce of her attention on the preacher as he stood up to speak. While the mood aboard the ship was subdued, John’s gloom had lifted. When the ship did not sink, there was only one possible explanation for their survival: God had saved them.

At eighty years of age, John Newton penned with a shaky hand the very last entry in his diary. It was March 21, 1805, the anniversary of the violent North Atlantic storm in 1748 that led to his first cry to God for mercy. He wrote, “Not well able to write. But I endeavour to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise.” Like this diary entry, “Amazing Grace” was itself a hymn of looking back over life’s journey: “Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”


When you look back over your life, where did you experience God’s grace and mercy?

What notes of humiliation, prayer, and praise do you want to acknowledge before God?

How can you respond to your past sin in a way that honors God and Jesus’ sacrifice for your sins?


Heavenly Father, thank you that you can use my shame to pull me back to you. I need your amazing grace in my life to guide me to walk in your ways. Thank you that by offering my shame to you, you can lift the weight it places on my life and give me a new start as your child. Amen.

Day 2

About this Plan

Amazing Grace: The Life of John Newton and the Surprising Story Behind His Song

This reading plan includes five daily devotions based on Bruce Hindmarsh’s and Craig Borlase’s book Amazing Grace: The Life of John Newton and the Surprising Story Behind His Song. This study will explore John Newton’s e...


We would like to thank HarperCollins/Zondervan/Thomas Nelson for providing this plan. For more information, please visit:

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