Born in England, his mother died when he was seven. His father remarried and sent him away to school for a few years. At age eleven he left school and joined his father's ship to start life as a seaman. His early years were one continuous round of rebellion and debauchery. Newton eventually became the captain of a slave ship, but was such a cruel and vicious man, that his own crew mutinied and threw him overboard. Extracted from the waters, the slave trader himself became a slave. In 1748, while returning to England from Africa during a particularly stormy voyage, when all appeared lost, he began reading Thomas A. Kemps' book, Imitation of Christ. The message of Christ contained in this book and the frightening sea around him were used by the Holy Spirit to sow the seeds of his eventual conversion and personal acceptance of Jesus Christ as his Lord and Saviour.
Eventually freed, he returned to England, married, studied for the ministry, and, at age thirty-nine, entered the pastorate. He often used the story of his own life in his services and it was so effective he became known as the "Old Converted Sea Captain." An "extremist" practice he used in his Church was that of singing Hymns that expressed simple, heartfelt faith rather than the monotonous, repetitious, and void of true worship, singing that was common place. When he couldn't find enough hymns, he started writing his own. Over a period of years he and William Cowper produced the famous Olney Hymns Hymnal which contains 349 hymns, 282 written by himself. He pastored for a total of 45 years.
At age eighty-two this man went home to be with his Father. Until that time he never ceased to marvel at God's mercy and grace that had so dramatically changed his life. In the last years of his life while preaching he proclaimed in a loud voice, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: "That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour!" In the Churchyard in Olney, England, you will find his name on a tombstone. On it also you will find the following inscription written by him before his going home. I think it says all required to know of the faith of this man, a man who transformed thousands of lives by his very presence.
John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.
As wicked a man as John Newton was, the Bible says "There is none righteous, no not one" Romans 3:10 It is hard for us to admit that ,in God's eye, we are all no better than this man. We all deserve Hell, but, like Newton, we must all say "That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savious!"