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A Short Summary of the Life of John Newton, Author of the Well-known Hymn Amazing Grace

Greetings All!

     I hope you are not tired of seeing entries from L. B. Cowman's devotional book, "Streams in the Desert." Because I have one more for you today -- the last in a while -- before moving on in the next few weeks to other authors!  I wanted to pass it on to you because I found it encouraging. Many measure the influence or effect they've had on the world by the things they do directly.  Things they've said, events they've planned, things they've written, or deeds they've done.  And because they do, they can often minimize the effect their influence or ministry to others has had. I say that because there is often fruit we will know nothing about until eternity reveals it to us.
     That was the case with the mother of John Newton, and John Newton himself, author of the well-known hymn "Amazing Grace."  Few will ever know her name, but she has had a profound impact even to this day -- as this entry seeks to show. The devotion by Cowman is at the end, and rather short, but I wanted to share a little about Elizabeth Newton and her son John's life, to help you understand it. I know it's a wee bit long, but please take the time to go through it.  It will be worth your time.  Enjoy.

A Short Summary of the Life of John Newton, Author of the Well-known Hymn Amazing Grace.

     John Newton was born on July 24, 1725, to Elisabeth and John Newton Sr.  His father was a moral man, but not a believer, while his mother Elizabeth was a gentle, caring, and faithful mother whose life was tragically short-lived – dying when John was but 7 years old.  Though Elizabeth was unable to function as she might have wished, due to contracting tuberculosis, she did not waste her days. Knowing that time with her son might be short, she determined to make the most of what remained and took on the role of a teacher, spending hours with John each day.  She was a good teacher and he was an eager and intelligent student.  In fact he progressed so quickly he would later write: When I was four years old, I could read, (hard names excepted) as well as I can now: and could likewise repeat the answers to the questions in the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism, with the proofs; and all Dr. Watt’s smaller Catechisms, and his Children’s Hymns.”
     From this list of material, we know that Elizabeth consistently trained her son in the theology of the Protestant Reformers. Elizabeth prayed and hoped God would call him to ministry. “My mother observed my early progress with peculiar pleasure, and intended from the first to bring me up with a view to the ministry if the Lord should so incline my heart.”  John later wrote, “As I was her only child, she made it the chief business and pleasure of her life to instruct me, and bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Even though she was gravely ill for all of her son’s early life, she did not allow her condition to keep her from fulfilling her God-given duty. She used what strength she had to teach him to know of God’s existence, holiness, and demands on his life and songs that would remain in his mind and heart until his dying day. She taught him to honor the Bible and to turn to it for spiritual knowledge and strength. And she taught him the Good News - that salvation was not by works, but by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.
     In 1733 John Sr. returned from his voyage and learning of his wife’s death, wasted no time in remarrying. John’s step-mother was at first attentive, but she soon bore children of her own and lost interest in John, excluding him from family life. He became distant and rebellious. So, when John Jr. was merely eleven years old, his father took him to sea and he made six voyages with him before his father retired.
     In 1743, at the age of 18, while going to visit friends, Newton was captured (essentially kidnapped) and pressed into the naval service by the Royal Navy, where he became a midshipman. But at one point tried to desert, was captured, and punished in front of the crew of 350 by being stripped to the waist, tied to the grating, and flogged with eight dozen lashes. Following that disgrace and humiliation, Newton initially contemplated murdering the captain and committing suicide by throwing himself overboard, but He recovered, both physically and mentally and eventually convinced his superiors to discharge him to a slave ship.  Espousing freethinking principles, he remained arrogant and insubordinate, and he lived with immoral abandon: "I sinned with a high hand," he later wrote, "and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others [to join with me]."   He gave up all religious convictions, rejected his mother's teachings, and even lead other sailors into a life of unbelief. Sailors were not noted for the refinement of their manners, but Newton had an especially notable reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery, which even shocked many sailors. He became known as, "The Great Blasphemer."  When he writes in his famous hymn that God's amazing grace, "saved a wretch like me," he was not using hyperbole. He had indeed lived a wretched life.
     Finally, at his own request, he was exchanged into service on a slave ship which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone, Africa. Newton did not get along with the crew of that ship and in 1745 they left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave dealer.  Clowe took Newton to the coast and gave him to his wife, Princess Peye of the Sherbro people, who brutally abused and mistreated him as much as she did her other slaves.  Newton's clothes turned to rags and he was forced to beg for food. He would later say of this period of his life that he was, "once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in West Africa." 
     Early in 1748, he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton's father to search for him, returning to England on the merchant ship Greyhound.  The ship encountered a severe storm off the coast of Ireland and almost sank. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and, as the ship filled with water, called out to God. He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.”  The cargo shifted and plugged up the hole, and the ship drifted to safety.  Newton marked this experience as the beginning of his conversion to Christ. He would later refer to this as his “great deliverance.”  The date was 10 March 1748, an anniversary he marked for the rest of his life as the point of his initial turning to Christ. From that point on, he avoided profanity, gambling, and drinking.
     Although he continued to work in the slave trade, he had gained sympathy for the slaves during his time as a slave in Africa. He later said that his true conversion did not happen until sometime later: "I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterward."  He would also write in his diary years later: “My dear mother, besides the rains she took with me, often commended me with many prayers and tears to God; and I doubt not but I reap the fruits of these prayers to this hour.”


     This brings us to the entry by L. B. Cowman:

     "John Newton the drunken sailor became John Newton the sailor-preacher. Among the thousands of men and women he brought to Christ was Thomas Scott, cultured, selfish and self-satisfied. Because of the prayers of Newton's mother, another miracle was worked, and Thomas Scott used both his pen and voice to lead thousands of unbelieving hearts to Christ -- among them a dyspeptic, melancholic young man named William Cowper. He too was washed by the cleansing blood and in a moment of inspiration wrote:
     "There is a fountain filled with blood, 
     Drawn from Immanuel's veins, 
     And sinners plunged beneath that flood, 
     Lose all their guilty stains."
     And this song has brought countless thousands to the man who died on Calvary. Among the thousands was William Wilberforce, who became a great Christian statesman and unfastened the shackles from the feet of thousands of British slaves. Among those whom he led to the Lord was Leigh Richmond, a clergyman of the Established Church in one of the Channel Islands. He wrote a book, "The Dairyman's Daughter," which was translated into forty languages and with the intensity of leaping flame burned the love of Christ into the hearts of thousands."

     All this resulted, notes Cowman, because of a mother's earnest prayers for her son. Her instruction and prayers for a son she never lived to see grow up, bore fruit beyond anything she ever imagined and continues to do so to this day.
In His Service, Pastor Jeff