Saturday, August 8, 2009

Meet John Newton

Periodically I would like to introduce to those of you who read this blog, believers who have contributed to or influenced my growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I thank God for the many men and women whose shoulders I am standing on who faithfully passed down something of value that I have latched onto by the grace of God. The men who have had the most influence on me are pastors. I love the men of God who pastor God’s dear lambs and sheep. I am a pastor with a shepherd’s heart and many men both dead and living have had a tremendous influence on me. The first man that I want to share with you was a pastor. He is well know either for his horrific debauchery as an immoral slave trader or for his conversion and writing of the beloved hymn, Amazing Grace. John Newton wrote over 300 hundred hymns, wrote many letters and kept journals. His life and ministry has been a blessing to me. John Newton was born in London, England on July 24, 1725. Newton’s father was a commander of a merchant ship and his mother died before he turned eighteen. It seems that Newton joined his father on his ship and he became a deckhand at the age of 11. He was able to sail on six different voyages with his father. In 1744 Newton was forced to serve on a ship called the H. M. S. Harwich. Since the conditions were harsh, we deserted his post. However we was captured and beaten for being a deserter. At some point, Newton requested a transfer to a ship that was involved in slave trading. He ended up in worse conditions and it was reported that his treatment was even harsher than before. Newton eventually became the captain of his own ship. He was still involved in the slave trade. He became a heavy drinker, sexually immoral, and wicked in every behavior he could think of.
Lindsay Terry writes: “It is reported that at times he was so wretched that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal.” It was also reported that Newton fell overboard on one occasion and his own crew refused to drop a boat over the side to help him. It is said that the crew threw a harpoon at Newton and the crew dragged him back into the boat with it. It is also reported that to avoid capture with the evidence (which was hundreds of African prisoners who would be sold into slavery) Newton would throw them overboard, while chained together, choosing to murder them rather than be caught red-handed. Newton lived a life of absolute and sinful debauchery. But thanks be unto God that God in His wisdom had a plan. Newton records for us that he believed God was speaking to him through a violent storm that was so severe that the crew had to tie themselves to the ship to be kept from washing overboard. Newton records in his journal the following: When all seemed lost and the shop would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us." Newton continued to write, “later I reflected on what I had said and I believed that God spoke to me through the storm and His grace had begun to work in me.” In Newton’s multitude of letters and journals he commemorates May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion. This was for him he believed to be a “day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a higher power.”
Newton married Mary Catlett in 1750. In 1755 due to a serious sickness, Newton gave up the sea. While he was a sailor he had begun to educate himself. He had taught himself Latin. For a short period of time Newton was a surveyor in Liverpool, England. During this time he met George Whitefield and also John Wesley. Newton became the disciple and protégé of George Whitefield and he learned both the Hebrew and Greek languages.
John Newton became a pastor in Olney, Buckinghamshire. It is reported that his church became so crowed that services had to be enlarged. In 1767 a great meeting took place by the Providence of God. John Newton became friends with William Cowper.
Cowper helped Newton with his church services and they wrote songs together for weekly prayer meetings. They determined to write a new hymn for each meeting. Together or separately they wrote over 350 hymns. Many of those hymns are sung regularly each week in the worship of our God. Of course you know Newton as the author of probably his most well known hymn, “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” Oops, that was the original title of his most well known and beloved hymn, the title later became “Amazing Grace.” You know that one don’t you?
John Newton pastored sixteen years in Olney and then for twenty-eight years at St. Mary Woolnoth. He is buried there with a head stone that he wrote himself which says:
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior JESUS CHRIST,
restored, pardoned, and ap­point­ed to preach
the Gos­pel which he had long labored to destroy.
He min­is­tered, Near sixteen years in Ol­ney, in Bucks,
And twenty-eight years in this Church.
{Adapted from information by Al Rogers & Lindsay Terry, R. E. Welsh, and from Christian Biography Resources.}

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