While serving as the captain of a slave ship, John Newton was awakened one night by a violent wave crashing against the vessel. Hurrying above, he found some of the ship’s timbers ripped away. He and his crew were in terrible danger as the ship plunged through a furious storm. Men began to pump water out desperately. Clothes and bedding were stuffed into holes and boards nailed over them. John joined those who were manning the pumps.
Too exhausted to pump any longer, he was lashed to the wheel to try and steer the ship. The storm raged on and on. In this desperate moment, John turned his eyes back over his life. Raised to the age of seven by a Christian mother, he had sought the Lord with fasts and prayers, but failing to find God he had become embittered.
In his heart he believed Christianity was true. This brought him no consolation. “I concluded my sins were too great to be forgiven. I waited with fear and impatience to receive my doom.” But soon he heard the glad news that the ship was freed of water. “I began to pray... to think of the Jesus that I had so often derided; I recollected His death: a death for sins not His own, but, as I remembered, for the sake of those who should put their trust in Him.” On this day, March 21, 1747 (new calendar) a day he ever after observed, John realized he needed a Savior to intercede for him with God.
Though the storm raged on for days, John spent every free moment in the Scripture praying for guidance. Finally his ship reached Ireland. Later he would come to know that slavery was wrong and became both abolitionist and minister. Reflecting on his hard life, John wrote one of the world’s most beloved hymns: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”