An unlikely source of inspiration

Published 7:18 pm Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Around the early 1700s a young man was born to a Puritan mother who died a few weeks before his seventh birthday. Records of his early life reveal that after her death,  his father, an insensitive and mean sea-captain, forced him to accompany him to sea at an early age.

After many voyages with his father, he was eventually forced into service with the British Navy. It was actually during this period that he engaged in reckless and riotous behavior characterized by irresponsible alcoholic binges. Some of his behavior was attributable to the fact that he did not like the idea of being conscripted in the Navy. Because of his disdain for service, he plotted to desert. Unfortunately, his plan to desert was unsuccessful, resulting in him being beaten and demoted.

Later in life he served on a slave ship. He found it difficult to get along with the other crewmen and while on the coast of West Africa, they intentionally left him in the custody of an infamous slave trader who treated him as his personal property.

Although it is believed that his father ultimately rescued him from the slave trader, it was actually someone else whom he persuaded to save his son.

On his way home, the ship was caught in a horrendous storm off the coast of Ireland and almost sank. He prayed to God and the vessel drifted to safety. He took this as a sign from the Almighty and marked it as his conversion to Christianity. However, he did not radically change his ways all at once.

His total reformation was more gradual.

“I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards,” he later wrote. He did, however, begin to view his captives with a more sympathetic view.

Although he became an iconoclast when it came to the institution of slavery, it did not seem to stop him from investing in the trade. After numerous illnesses and a stroke, in 1764, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and wrote 280 hymns to accompany his services.

If you haven’t guessed it, I am referring to John Newton, who in 1772, wrote the words to the hymn, Amazing Grace, one of the most popular hymns of the past two centuries that is reportedly performed more than 10 million times, annually.

Many associate the author of the hymn as being an African -American, but in reality it was written by an alcoholic, slave trader, abolitionist, who became a minister, whose hymns provide a source of comfort to millions around the world.