And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 1 Timothy 1:12-13
As a crew member on several slave ships, John Newton helped scour the African coast in search of human cargo. He was even thrown into chains once, forced to work as a slave on a small island off the coast of Sierra Leone. Eventually released from his captivity after about a year, the Great Blasphemer, as he called himself, went on to live a life so depraved that even his rough shipmates found it shocking.
Finally, on March 21, 1748, Newton experienced what he would call his “great turning day.” In the middle of the night, the 22-year-old was awakened by a violent storm. Their ship, the Greyhound, was about to sink. As Newton scrambled up the ladder to the deck, the man directly above him was hit by a wave, swept overboard, and never seen again. Finally , making it to the wheel, the Great Blasphemer lifted his voice – not to curse God, but to pray. In words he had not used in many years, John Newton pleaded, “Lord, have mercy on us.”
Hour after hour, sustained only by his call upon God’s mercy, Newton attempted to steer the battered ship through the violent seas. Down below, the crew sought desperately to stop the holes with bedding and strips of clothing.
For eleven hours, as the storm raged, Newton remained at the ships wheel, not knowing if he would live or die. Gradually the winds lessened, and the storm began to calm. Newton’s desperate prayer for God’s mercy had been answered.
For the rest of his life, Newton would mark each March 21st as a day of humiliation, prayer, and praise for his great deliverance from the sea and from the life of sin he had been living.
“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!”
Devotional by Jim Scudder, Jr.