December 2015 / January 2016 - Vol. 83
slave ship caught in a storm at
.Fresh Beginnings - Amazing Grace
by Rob Clarke

John Newton was just 18 when he was captured and press ganged into the Royal Navy. Like many young men forced to work on the ships he hated life in the Navy and attempted to run away while in port. He was caught, stripped to the waist, tied to a grate and flogged in front of the ship’s crew.

Newton eventually recovered and managed to transfer to another Navy ship but again ran into problems. He did not get on with the ship crew and they abandoned him into the hands of a cruel slave trader off West Africa where he was badly mistreated.

Newton eventually escaped but having been hardened by his experiences and knowing little else but the life at sea, he joined the slave trade.

Newton had a wake up call off the west coast of Ireland when his ship hit a big storm and almost sank. He woke in the middle of the night to find the ship filling with water. He prayed for perhaps the first time in his life. The cargo shifted and stopped up the hole and amazingly the ship survived. Newton later wrote that this experience marked the beginning of a change in his heart. He began to think about his life more critically. He began to read the bible.

John Newton loads
                          cargo on slave ship

In time he grew uneasy about the slave trade. He grew increasingly uneasy that his actions were causing misery for so many. A second wake up call came when sick with fever off the coast of Africa, he again cried out to God to help him. Newton experienced the transforming power of God. He left the slave trade and became a tide surveyor for the Port of Liverpool.

In his spare time Newton studied Greek and Hebrew and eventually became a church minister. More than most people, he had a very real sense of his own guilt, his own wrong doing, and more than most he had an awareness of the tremendous unstinting generosity of God. 

Reflecting on his life, Newton sought to capture the goodness of God in a hymn. “Amazing grace, How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

The hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ was first sung on New Year's Day in 1773. It remained in obscurity for about eighty years but finally came to the attention of the wider public. 

The story of Newton’s life and the words of this hymn remind us that with God there is always the opportunity for a fresh beginning.

This article was originally published in Life Blog, (c) July 2015 Spirit Radio, Ireland. Used with permission.

Rob Clarke is the CEO for Spirit Radio, a national Christian radio station for Ireland online and also on am and fm. Originally from New Zealand, Rob moved to Dublin in 1987 and has worked extensively in Christian leadership and is a regular conference speaker. Rob and his wife Anne are members of Nazareth Community in Dublin. They have six children.

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