Amazing Grace

The life story biography of John Newton
who wrote the all-inspiring lyrics to the hymn
“Amazing Grace.”
John Newton’s story is an Amazing Story
of God’s Grace and Salvation.

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Amazing Grace! (how sweet the sound!)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost
but now I found;
was blind, but now I see.

“I was blind but now I see.”
John 9:25

John Newton
Born: July 24, 1725
Died: December 21, 1807
London, England

John Newton's Amazing Grace

JOHN NEWTON was born in London, England, in 1725 and was raised by his tough seafaring father and a devoted and religious mother. His mother had prayed for John to join the ministry and often read the Bible to him. By age six she had already started to teach John Latin; a requirement he would need to become a pastor. Unfortunately, John Newton’s mother died when he was only seven years old. At age 11, he first went to sea with his father a commander of a merchant ship where he learned navigation and the mechanics of sailing a ship.


John sailed with his father for five years. At one time John visited some friends of his mother’s. At the age of 17 he met and fell in love with their oldest daughter, Mary Catlett; she was no more than just fourteen years old. John was signed to sail on a ship voyage, but he missed the ship to be near Mary. John’s father was furious with this and signed John up for another voyage. As soon as he got back to England he went to visit Mary; he also missed the next ship he was suppose to sail on to be with Mary.

In 1744 he was kidnapped and pressed into service in the British Royal Navy and was forced onto a man-o-war ship. After two years when he was about twenty, he learned that the H.M.S. Harwich a 976 ton ship with a crew of up to 350 was going on a five-year cruise to the East Indies, he deserted to be with Mary, but was soon recaptured, flogged, sold into slavery and for 15 months lived, locked in chains, half starved, and abused as a slave. When John was a slave he found the slaves to be more honest and trustworthy than his English countrymen.

John’s time at sea was often spent getting into trouble, drinking, cursing, and blaspheming. Even seasoned captains and crews were intimidated by John’s venomous cursing; they feared that John’s blaspheming would bring the “wrath of God” upon them and destroy them all. John would even write melodies that the crew would sing criticizing the officers. John Newton would also at times embraced religion only to abandon it later. Short times of piety, praying, writing prayers, Bible study, fasting, not eating meat, long periods of not speaking, and keeping silent would give way to drunken debauchery; repentance would fail to fits of cursing, anger and episodes of deep depression.


In 1748 a sea captain of the Greyhound, who had known John’s father rescued him. The ship was sailing back to England when a violent storm arose. In his own words:

“The ship I was on board as a passenger, was on a trading voyage for gold, ivory, dyers wood, and bees wax. We were off the coast of Newfoundland. On these banks we stopped half a day to fish for cod. I went to bed that night in my usual security and indifference, but was awakened from a sound sleep by the force of a violent sea, which broke on board us; so much of it came down below as filled the cabin I lay in with water. The alarm was followed by a cry from the deck, that they ship was going down or sinking. The sea had torn away the upper timbers on one side. It was astonishing, and almost miraculous, that any of us survived to relate the story. We had but eleven or twelve people to bail the water with buckets and pails.

Hours later, being almost spent with cold and labour, I went to the captain, who was busied elsewhere, and just as I was returning from him, I said, almost without any meaning, ‘If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us.’ This was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for the space of many years. I was instantly struck with my own words and thought, ‘What mercy could there be for me?’ I was obliged to return to the pump, and there I continued till noon, almost every passing wave breaking over my head; but we made ourselves fast with ropes, that we might not be washed away. I thought, if the Christian religion was true, I could not be forgiven; and was, therefore, expecting, and almost at times wishing, to know the worst of it.”

Most of the ships provisions had been washed overboard by the storm. When the ship finally limped into an Irish port Newton wrote: “Our very last victuals were boiling in the pot.” Another storm arose, “If we had continued at sea that night in our enfeebled condition,
we must have gone down to the bottom.”


John Newton was twenty-three years old when he thought he was going to perish during the terrible storm at sea, he experienced what he would refer to later as his “Great Deliverance.”

He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin, after the danger had passed he reflected on what he had said during the storm and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that God’s Grace had saved him. For the rest of his life he observed May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion.


John Newton later became captain of his own slave trading ship for the next six years and continued in the slave trade until 1754; during this time his faith continued to mature.

In John Newton’s time slave trading was just doing business and commerce; slavery was not against the law. Slavery had already been around since ancient times. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all practiced slave trading. Arguably there is still slavery today!

Millions of Africans were ripped from their homes. Many an African chose to jump overboard to drown themselves in the waters of their homeland rather than to be slaves. For the slave trader this was just – a Profit Loss! Some of the slave traders were called “tight packers” because of their overcrowding slave cargo. John Newton was what they called a “loose packer” and gave the slaves slightly more humane treatment: including hot meals and exercise up on deck. The slave traders were always on guard against a slave mutiny and most slaves were chained in a hole for the eight-week voyage.

Families were broken up; men in one section and women and children in another. The sailors routinely raped many of the chained women at night while their children helplessly watched. Babies, which were born, were sometimes treated as a “Buy one – get one free Sale! But most often babies were considered to be more trouble than they were “worth” and were callously thrown overboard.

Living in these filthy living conditions with the lack of bathroom facilities, the smells were sickening and oppressive. Slaves in these overcrowded conditions suffered from excessive heat, malnutrition, dehydration, and many would die of epidemics of “the flux” (dysentery) and smallpox. If one slave died they remained chained to a living slave until one of the crew came to help. Eventually the body would unceremoniously be thrown overboard. When a slave died it was just a loss of profit.

John Newton wrote in his Journal:
After a death the lower deck was “smoked with tar, tobacco and brimstone (sulphur) for two hours, (and) afterwards washed with vinegar.” This was done to stop the spread of disease.

On one of Newton’s voyages he did not loose the life of one slave. This is an incredible contrast to most of the slave traders. Later in his life, John Newton would think about the dangers, toils, and snares he had been through: his mother’s death at age seven, years of sailing at sea with his father, Mary Catlett, his time spent as a slave, and the Storm at Sea.

John Newton believed that his greatest sin was partaking in the slave trade.

He was ashamed and despised his own behavior as a slave trader.
John Newton wrote: “I hope it will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I once was an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”

John Newton would later feel very guilty about his part in the slave trade; in fact, at times he questioned if he deserved the life of joy and peace that he had talked about in “Amazing Grace.”

Later in 1788, he wrote a pamphlet called "Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade" where he argued strongly against the slave trade.


In 1750 he married Mary Catlett. After a serious illness in 1755 he gave up his seafaring career. After John Newton recuperated from his ailment, Mary unfortunately came down with the ailment; John Newton cared for Mary for nearly a year until she got better.

He spent nine years educating himself; he learned Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. He came to know George Whitefield a deacon of the Church of England and leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. John Newton also came to know and admire John Wesley, founder of Methodism. At the age of thirty-nine, John Newton became an ordained minister in 1764. He became a curate (minister) in the town of Olney.

He formed a life long friendship with William Cowper, a famous English poet of his time. Cowper helped Newton with his church religious services and travel tours. They held regular weekly church services and began a series of weekly prayer meetings; their goal was to write a new hymn for each prayer meeting. William Cowper suffered from mental illness; John took care of his friend for over a year. During this time they produced nearly 350 hymns called the Olney Hymns. The first edition published in 1779, contained 68 pieces written by Cowper and 280 pieces written by Newton. The hymns written by Cowper were clearly identified by a large “C”.

The Olney Hymns were divided into three sections or books. Hymn 41 in Book 1 was about “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” Then appeared the words which we now cherish: “Amazing Grace! (How sweet the Sound!)”….

The suggested Scripture passage was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17:

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:
“Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men,
O Lord God.”

There is absolutely no doubt that John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace” for his life is well documented from his own journals, diaries, books, and letters but still we only know that John Newton wrote Amazing Grace probably between 1760 and 1770. The word “wretch” was originally “worm”...
“that saved a worm like me.”

During John Newton’s lifetime, hymnbooks looked more like books of poetry; there were no musical notes or scores as we know them today! These hymns were treated more the way we today repeat responsive prayers in church, or where a speaker says a line and the congregation repeats and chants the line back, imitating the cadence of the speaker.

The origin of the melody is also unknown, but most hymnals attribute it to an early American folk melody, which probably originated as the melody of a song the slaves sang. The earliest melody of Amazing Grace appears in an early Protestant hymn called New Britain, which uses early music shaped notes.

Amazing Grace

1. 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.

2. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
how precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

3. Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe this far
and grace will lead me home.

4. The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
as long as life endures.

5. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
a life of joy and peace.

6. The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
the sun forbear to shine;
but God, who called me here below,
will be forever mine.

Originally verse 1 read:
1. Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a "WORM" like me!

This was sent in by John (I lost the e-mail and his name. - SORRY!!!)
Before I sing a hymn I usually read and research to get a "feel" of the lyrics being sung. I heard somewhere that "wretch" wasn't the original word used in the first verse, that it was "worm"! Thinking about this maybe some people didn't like the word "worm", and they felt more like wretches before they were converted; Whatever!

But I can relate to the word "worm" because when a person is at his lowest and crawling on his belly, your acting just like a worm!

And why not keep the lyrics as such? For when I sing: Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a "worm" like me. Because I can relate as being a worm at one time!

Verse 6 is not included in the Methodist Hymnal. These first six stanzas appeared with minor spelling variations in both the first edition in 1779 and the 1808 edition, the one nearest to the date of John Newton’s death.

7. When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve got no less days to sing God’s praise
than when we’d first begun.

This is the 6th and last verse in the Methodist Hymnal.

“Amazing Grace” Methodist Hymnal Page 378.
Authorship of this last stanza by John Newton is of some conjecture.

The first 5 verses are written in the "first person/I"
Verse 6 is "plural/we"

In 1990 Jessye Norman, a black opera singer sang “Amazing Grace” at a rock concert in London in honor of the seventieth birthday of Nelson Mandela, the black South African freedom fighter who suffered his twenty-five years in prison with Grace.

Over the past two hundred years, people have made changes, adding new words, verses, and making slight changes to the melody to “Amazing Grace.” But the most familiar verses, including the first verse, which is often repeated as the chorus are pure, essential John Newton! Some people sing a verse that John Newton wrote from another hymn called “The Name of Jesus.”:

How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

Another popular verse, which is about heaven:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun;
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first began.

John Newton at the age of eighty-two died on December 21, 1807.
John Newton summarized his life and actually wrote
his own epitaph, which reads in part:

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....

“Grace” is God calling you to Him.
“Justice” is receiving a judgment you deserve.
“Mercy” is not receiving a judgment you deserve.
“Grace” is receiving God’s gift of unconditional love and
"Forgiveness" that you did not deserve, earn, or merit.

Grace is everything for nothing
to those who don’t deserve anything.

Given to me by John West.

In Him we have redemption through His blood,
the forgiveness of sins,
according to the riches of His grace.

Ephesians 1:7

John Wesley

· Many similarities with their devout mothers’ between John Newton and John Wesley.

· Both John Newton and John Wesley both had a close encounter with death: Newton being rescued from the terrible storm at sea and Wesley being rescued from a burning fire.

· John Newton has similarities to Saul/Paul:
o Life threatening experience
o Astonished other people; the least expected to be converted.
o Newton had doubts about receiving such “Grace.”

The Lord’s Grace to Paul
1 Timothy 1:13-16

13Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

You don’t know Beauty if you don’t know ugly!

So far, I can only think of one advantage of not knowing God for forty years. Forty years of not knowing God is very ugly. When you have known ugliness most of your life, when you find Beauty/ God, you recognize how ugly your life has been and how beautiful is the love, grace, and forgiveness of God. The promises of hope and faith in God are eternally beautiful. The uglier your life has been, the more beautiful is the following of Jesus Christ.

You also have a deeper understanding of “GRACE.” You truly understand that you did NOTHING to deserve, NOTHING to warrant, you did NOTHING to earn God’s love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. For me it was God’s GRACE that God brought this lost sheep, this lost coin, this lost son, and this lost soul to Him. God sought me out and when He called I finally listened! I am sure that God had called me before. I know that in the past in my self-centered world I was too busy to listen to God, I was too busy chasing money. God called Samuel three times before Samuel realized it was God calling him. When God calls we need to follow Samuel’s example and say, “Here I am.” 1 Samuel 3:1-21 The Lord Calls Samuel.

You also realize that even though you have turned to God you are still very imperfect, you are still a sinner! You are grateful that “Good Deeds” do atone for sin, BUT you are not fooling yourself. You review your “Ledger of Sins” in life and you clearly understand that there is “NO WAY” you can atone for all of your sins. It is humanly impossible for man to atone for all of his sins! The only way we can approach God is through God’s love and forgiveness. You also find that once God has forgiven you, it makes it much simpler and easier to forgive others. When the Lord fills your heart with “Love” there just isn’t any room in your heart for hate and vengeance. When you are with God, EVERYTHING CHANGES, you are a new creation, you are born anew.

41"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

43Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.
Luke 7:41-43

Jesus Savior, Pilot Me
Hymn 509

Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea;
unknown waves before me roll,
hiding rock and treacherous shoal.
Chart and compass came from thee;
Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

Words: Edward Hopper, 1871
Matthew 8:23-27
Mark 4:35-41
Luke 8:22-25

Music: John e. Gould, 1871

Recommended Books and Videos

Amazing Grace The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song
By Steve Turner
Foreword by Judy Collins

Amazing Grace The Story of the Hymn
By Linda Granfield &
Illustrated by Janet Wilson

Amazing Grace Hymn by John Newton
Introduction by Judy Collins

Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers PBS Home Video #102
Bill Moyers is an ordained Baptist minister and he has a degree in theology.

YouTube Video: Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace the Hymn

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