This week’s Thought is written by Peter Hodson.
This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Many of us are familiar with the name John Newton. A former slave trader, John Newton came to faith in Christ and, deeply encouraged early in his faith by the preaching of, and personal conversations with George Whitfield and John Wesley, he went into the Church of England ministry and became a curate at St Peter & St Paul's, Olney, Buckinghamshire.
Later, John Newton took up a post in St Mary's, Woolnoth, London, where he became acquainted with the young M.P. William Wilberforce. It is said that if Newton had not encouraged Wilberforce to fulfil God’s call as an M.P., he would have gone into the church ministry and the Abolition Movement against slavery would not have taken place.
While in Olney, John Newton had a practice of composing a poem for a special prayer meeting held on each New Year’s day. Late in 1772 he composed a poem he entitled “Faith’s Review and Expectation”, read out on New Year’s day 1773. It was a testimony of his journey from a recalcitrant, insubordinate blasphemer, to a compassionate preacher of God’s grace. The poem didn’t have any particular tune but was compiled as one of many poems and hymns into ‘Olney Hymns’. This poem of around 150 words only had 21 words of more than one syllable, so was much appreciated at the time by his mostly poor and illiterate congregation. However, in a short time, it fell into obscurity.
John was known by many who had been slaves, and in the southern states of America, his poem was picked up, given a tune and became perhaps the most famous and well loved hymn in the world, sung frequently during America’s Great Awakening and was considered a pioneer of ‘evangelical hymnody’.
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.
His epitaph in his own words, as inscribed on a memorial plaque in St Mary’s church reads:
“JOHN NEWTON. Clerk. Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our LORD and SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy.”
What wonderful grace God had shown to John Newton and what amazing grace He has shown to each of us and what a story we each have to tell of God’s rich grace!
We can echo the words that John Newton wrote in the last verse of another of his hymns, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds”:
Till then I would your love proclaim
With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of your name
Refresh my soul in death.
Copyright © 2014 Struthers Memorial Church All rights reserved
Struthers Memorial Church is a registered Scottish Charity No. SC 006960 | Struthers Memorial Church is a company limited by guarantee incorporated in Scotland Company No SC335480 | Registered Office: 33 West Stewart Street, Greenock, PA15 1SH.