John Newton’s Mom died suddenly when he was 6 years old. By the time he turned 11 he was sailing the high seas. When he was 20 he was forced off his ship on some small island just southeast of Sierra Leone, West Africa where he was enslaved for 18 months. Ironically he would captain a slave-trading ship and transport slaves from Africa to England, his home country.
John did not start well.
During a rough night at sea, John’s life took a turn as he found comfort in the Bible and in the message of God’s amazing grace. John would leave the comfort and convenience of the ship and embark on a new journey. He would pastor a small congregation and serve with “toughness and habitual tenderness.” He would pastor two churches for 43 years while teaching himself Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac. He read the best there was in Latin, English, and French. And, he invested most of time studying the scriptures.
John also wrote hymns.
He developed the discipline of writing hymns to accompany his sermons. During one stretch he wrote a new hymn, each week, for over 300 consecutive weeks. He developed quite a “talent” for putting words into poetry that brought a concreteness to the very abstract. One of those songs that you might have heard once or twice before, was my Dad’s favorite. As a young boy, I can recall my Dad trying to tell me the story behind the song. I hardly heard a word and am certain my Dad felt my shortness, lack of attention, and general disdain for his words. I was certain my Dad was weak and what could I possibly learn from a weakling. I turned my back literally and figuratively. Amazingly, I never felt anything from my Dad but his tenderness toward me. The song, you ask?
Thanks John. Thanks Dad. And, thanks Heavenly Father for your Amazing Grace. Thank God for amazing Grace for a wretch like me. God help me become tender. God, help me…