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John Newton’s Conversion

Category Articles
Date June 1, 2001

“Depth of mercy! can there be Mercy still reserved for me?”

John Newton was born in 1725 in London. His mother who was a godly woman and who taught him to pray as a child, died when he was only seven years old. He had only two years at school and at the age of eleven his father, who was a Sea-Captain, took him to sea for the first time. His sea-faring life is well known….and included being wrecked, becoming the Captain of a Slave-Trade Ship, and also a slave himself to a black woman on the Guinea coast. He was rescued by a friend of his father who was a ship’s captain as well. Newton lit a fire of driftwood on the shore to attract the attention of any passing ship. In the providence of God, this friend of his father, who was searching for him, sent a long-boat ashore to investigate, and John was rescued. He was on this ship returning across the Atlantic, when it encountered a great storm which was threatening to engulf it.

This took place on the 10th March 1748. ‘That 10th of March’, says Newton, “is a day much to be remembered by me; and I have never allowed it to pass unnoticed since the year 1748. For on that day the Lord came from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.”

The storm was terrific: when the ship went plunging down into the trough of the sea few on board expected her to come up again. The hold was rapidly filling with water. As Newton hurried to his place at the pumps he said to the captain, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us!” His own words startled him. “Mercy!” he said to himself in astonishment, “Mercy! mercy! What mercy can there be for me? This was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for many years!” About six in the evening the hold was free from water, and then came a gleam of hope. “I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour. I began to pray. I could not utter the prayer of faith. I could not draw near to a reconciled God and call him Father. My prayer for mercy was like the cry of the ravens, which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear.”

“In the gospel,” says Newton, “I saw at least a peradventure of hope but on every other side I was surrounded with black, unfathomable despair.” On the peradventure of hope Newton staked everything. He sought mercy – and found it.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me…..

When I’ve been there ten thousand years Bright shining like the sun, I’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when I first begun.

This earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun no longer shine But God who called me here below Will be forever mine.

John Newton’s Testimony. “By the grace of God I am what I am.”

“This is my testimony. This is my confession of faith. This is my hope –

‘It is certain that I am not what I ought to be. But, blessed be God, I am not what I once was. God has mercifully brought me up out of the deep miry clay and set my feet upon the Rock, Christ Jesus. He has saved my soul. And now it is my heart’s desire to extol and honour his matchless, free, sovereign and distinguishing grace, because ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.’ It is my heart’s great joy to ascribe my salvation entirely to the grace of God. 1 Cor.15:10

The six volume Works of John Newton including hundreds of his letters and a biography of his life is published by the Banner of Truth.

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