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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 5 OF 5


On Newton’s last voyage, he met a godly man, also a sea captain, in whom he could confide and wrestle through questions of faith. As John told Mary, “He encouraged me to open my mouth in social prayer; he taught me the advantage of Christian converse; he put me upon an attempt to make my profession more public and to venture to speak for God.”

This was the beginning of Newton’s path to the pulpit. As he followed this path that God’s grace had laid for him, he brought his experiences of the sea with him. He peppered his hymns and sermons with sailing metaphors, but the deeper legacy, buried deep within, was his memory of horrors he had witnessed and the burden that he carried.

The slave trade was simply a fact of life for most Britons. There was an appalling but near-universal blindness. And yet change was coming. It started with three Quakers in America. Slowly, the tide was turning, and John found himself drawn ever closer into the orbit of the antislavery world.

Near the beginning of his ministry, John was asked to write down some of his stories from his previous life at sea, to share in more detail how God had worked in his life through his experiences. John wrote honestly about his failings. He confessed to being a lout and a blasphemer, to seeing all his fine words and best Christian intentions turn to smoke. But when it came to the detail of his work as a slave trader, he was quiet. There was no mention of chains or thumbscrews or the air filling with screams as he divided a mother from her children in the pursuit of profit. It was too much. It was too soon.

When he moved to London, a network of influential friends who shared his social concerns as well as his concern for the gospel surrounded John. William Wilberforce was among those who benefited from Newton’s wisdom and were inspired in their cause to end the slave trade. Although John was advancing in years, he had a genuine desire to help young Wilberforce take on his calling in politics and influence the world around him.

As he saw Wilberforce join with others to fight the slave trade, his own path was becoming clearer. He had written about his past already, but there was more to say. More to share. More to be risked. But so much more to be gained. John’s forty-one-page essay Thoughts on the African Slave Trade was published in 1788. John came out swinging with nothing to hide. There was nothing quite so “iniquitous, so cruel, so oppressive, so destructive, as the African Slave Trade,” he wrote. He refuted the suggestion that Africans were in some way subhuman and wrote about their humanity. And, writing as one of the best-known preachers in the country at the time, he made it clear which side of the issue God was on.

John was aware that he could easily be branded a hypocrite for preaching against the trade he once profited from. He explained that it would “always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” Eventually, John was asked to testify in person before a House Select Committee. In John’s final months, Wilberforce’s bill passed banning British ships from playing any part in the slave trade. The journey was nearly over. The work was almost complete. Before he died he said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” Newton’s story encourages us that God’s grace changes us over our lifespan to make us more like Christ. We need grace all the way to the end.


How does John Newton’s story of continual humble surrender to God’s grace inspire you?

In what ways can you build a network of godly friends who encourage you to dig deeper into God’s grace and your responsibility to draw others to Christ?

Where do you see a need in your life to display the courage to stand up for what God says is right and good?


Lord, grant me the courage to speak of your grace to a hurting world. May I have your strength to stand up for those you call me to defend. Thank you, Lord, that your grace is available to me to the end of the age! Amen.

Day 4

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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