Posted by: rcottrill | March 10, 2010

Today in 1748 – John Newton Converted

JGraphic John Newton in Stormohn Newton was converted in the same year that Isaac Watts died. It almost seems as though the Lord, after taking one great English hymn writer home to be with Himself, prepared another to take his place.

I have given March 10th as the date of Newton’s conversion, and so it is considered by some historians. However, it may have marked the beginning of a process in which the light gradually dawned over a number of days. (Some use the date March 21st.) The earlier day referred to was a significant milestone on the way. On that day, God used a dreadful storm to get the attention of a wicked, blasphemous sailor. The picture here is taken from the cover of Newton’s autobiography, Out of the Depths, as published by Moody Press some years ago. Here is the fateful day, as described by Newton himself.

Now the Lord’s time was come, and the conviction I was so unwilling to receive was deeply impressed upon me. 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 us. Much of it came below and filled the cabin where I lay with water. This alarm was followed by a cry from the deck that the ship was going down….The ship was filling very fast. The sea had torn away the upper timbers on one side, and made the ship a mere wreck in a few minutes.

The crew began pumping water as best they could, and tried to make a few of the most urgent repairs to the vessel.

I said, almost without any meaning, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us!” This–though spoken with little reflection–was the first desire I had breathed for mercy in many years. I was instantly struck by my own words….What mercy can there be for me?…Indeed, I expected that every time the vessel descended into the sea she would rise no more. I dreaded death now, and my heart foreboded the worst, if the Scriptures, which I had long since opposed, were true.

That was the beginning. The Lord was gracious, and so patient with this wayward sinner, and in spite of the storm, it was the beginning of a new spiritual day. He was just 23 years old. And when the truth finally dawned, John Newton was gloriously saved. He went on to become a pastor and a hymn writer, preaching and singing about the “Amazing Grace” of God, and the wonder of having a personal relationship with Him. In one of his lesser known hymns, Newton talks about the difference the presence of Christ makes to one’s perspective.

How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus no longer I see;
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers,
Have all lost their sweetness to me;
The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay.
But when I am happy in Him,
December’s as pleasant as May.

His name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music His voice;
His presence disperses my gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice.
I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal as happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.

More of John Newton’s hymns, his birth (see Today in 1725), and his death (see second item under Today in 1849) reveal the tremendous contribution he has made.

The tune for Newton’s most famous hymn, Amazing Grace, had its origins not in Britain, but in the southeastern United States. Found in song books as early as 1831’s Virginia Harmony, the tune has sometimes been called Little Britain. The intervals in the melody suit a pipe band, and here it is played on the bagpipes.


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