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John Newton (1725-1807) received godly instruction from his mother as a young child, but she died when he was seven, and after the unwholesome influences of a stepmother and boarding school, he followed his father's influence and became a sailor. Onboard ship, he became an infidel of the most ungodly sort. Of his condition in those days, he writes, "My breast was filled with the most excruciating passions; eager desire, bitter rage, and black despair"; "I was capable of any thing; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes" and "I was tempted to throw myself into the sea ... But the secret hand of God restrained me." According to one biographer, "It is reported that at times he was so wretched that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal." He fell into the hands of a slave-trader in Africa, and suffered all manner of hardships there, being continually insulted and almost starved. He survived to make several voyages to Africa in that shameful occupation of slave-trader, but after being influenced by the reading of a devotional book, followed by a "great deliverance" from a violent storm, he experienced a life-changing conversion to Christ in 1748, at the age of 23. He was ordained to the Anglican ministry about fifteen years later, but the intervening period brought intense biblical study and influential friendships with men of God such as George Whitefield and John Wesley. His 16 years as pastor at Olney brought about his longtime friendship with poet and hymnwriter William Cowper, during which Newton himself wrote the hymns for which he is most famous: "Amazing Grace," "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken," "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," and nearly 300 others. When asked to give up preaching because of the infirmities of old age, he replied, "What! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he call speak?" He remained throughout his life a convinced Calvinist in his theology, and a loving shepherd of souls. Shortly before his death he said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour."


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