I just came across a very old song, written by John Newton, set to new music by Jamie Barnes of Sojourn Community Church. The lyrics are very powerful still in the 21st century, although written 230 years ago.
John Newton is probably best-known for his hymn “Amazing Grace”. His life was a mixture of extreme circumstances – and an overwhelming personal sense of mercy and forgiveness by God – which you can see in his lyrics.
During his lifetime, John Newton was captured and pressed into service by the Royal Navy, and on the receiving end of brutality from a captain (flogged with 96 lashes for attempting to escape the ship) and later from a slave trader’s wife who treated him as badly as the slaves in her household. He was rescued by a sea captain but on the voyage home to England was again in great danger, as the ship he was sailing in was holed and filling with water. He prayed, crying out to God for mercy, the ship’s cargo shifted and blocked the hole, and the ship drifted to land. This was his initial conversion experience, however, he had a fuller spiritual conversion when a year later he fell ill with fever and again cried out to God for help, giving his destiny into God’s hands and for the first time said he experienced peace with God.
After his conversion, he continued for a time in his work as captain of slavery ships – although later he would become a powerful influence for abolition. He became a minister at Olney, where Samuel Cowper the poet came to live – they became great friends and together they published a book of hymns which contains many classic songs of worship still sung today.
While he was a church minister, the young William Wilberforce met him – and later consulted him about possibly leaving Parliament, to become a minister – but John Newton convinced him to stay in Parliament and serve God there in his work. Thirty years after retiring from slave trade ships, in 1788 John Newton wrote a brutally honest record of conditions on the slave ships, a pamphlet called “Thoughts upon the Slave Trade” – which he regarded as a late confession. He had a copy sent to every MP. A strong ally with William Wilberforce, he lived to see the passing of the Slave Trade Act 1807, although dying within a few months.
(If you are interested in finding out more about the UK Abolition campaign, the film “Amazing Grace” (2006) is a good film to view; it tells of William Wilberforce’s life struggle against the slave trade, but there is a memorable scene in which he speaks to John Newton – played by Albert Finney, see photo above this post).
In John Newton’s life, he not only powerfully felt the forgiveness of God, but also passed on that experience by giving millions the words to understand and express it themselves in song. He was a powerful preacher in the pulpit, and now his songs still carry his message.