Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Amazing Grace by John Newton

Born: Ju­ly 24, 1725, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Died: De­cem­ber 21, 1807, Lon­don, Eng­land.

Buried: Orig­in­al­ly at St. Ma­ry Wool­noth Church, Lom­bard Street, Lon­don.

In 1893, New­ton and his wife Ma­ry were re­in­terred in the south­east cor­ner of the grave­yard at St. Pe­ter and St. Paul’s Church, Ol­ney.

This is prob­ab­ly the most pop­u­lar hymn in the Eng­lish lan­guage. Per­haps it is be­cause its words so well de­scribe the au­thor: John New­ton was a slave trad­er be­fore com­ing to Christ. It was sung at the fun­er­al of Amer­i­can pre­si­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan.

Newton’s mo­ther died when he was sev­en years old. At age 11, with but two years school­ing and on­ly a rud­i­men­tary know­ledge of Latin, John went to sea with his fa­ther. His life at sea was filled with won­der­ful es­capes, viv­id dreams, and a sail­or’s reck­less­ness. He grew into a god­less and aban­doned man. He was once flogged as a de­sert­er from the na­vy, and for 15 months lived, half starved and ill treated, as a slave in Africa.

A chance read­ing of Thom­as à Kemp­is sowed the seed of his con­ver­sion. It was ac­cel­er­at­ed by a night spent steer­ing a wa­ter­logged ship in the face of ap­par­ent death. He was then 23 years old. Over the next six years, dur­ing which he com­mand­ed a slave ship, his faith ma­tured. He spent the next nine years most­ly in Li­ver­pool, stu­dy­ing He­brew and Greek and ming­ling with White­field, Wes­ley, and the Non­con­form­ists. He was even­tu­al­ly or­dained, and be­came cur­ate at Ol­ney, Buck­ing­ham­shire, in 1764. It was at Ol­ney that he formed a life long friend­ship with Wil­liam Cow­per, and pro­duced the Ol­ney Hymns.

A mar­ble plaque at St. Mary Wool­noth car­ried the epi­taph which New­ton him­self wrote:

ClerkOnce an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,Was,
by the rich mercy of our Lord and SaviourJESUS CHRIST,
restored, pardoned, and ap­point­ed to preach
the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.
He min­is­tered,Near sixteen years in Ol­ney, in Bucks,
And twenty-eight years in this Church.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

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