When it comes to the church organ and popular hymns, we are sure you have a few favorites that come to mind. However, one of the most popular hymns of all time is “Amazing Grace.” We understand why! This catchy tune perfectly depicts the need of God’s grace to save those of us on earth who have sinned. “Amazing Grace” came about from an unlikely source—a man who openly denounced God at first, and only through a long journey did he eventually find Him. We at Whitesel Church Organs are here to share the fascinating story!
John Newton’s Beginnings
John Newton, the composer of this famous hymn, was brought up as a Catholic, but his mother was more Anglican. She wanted her son to become a clergyman, but she passed away of tuberculosis when he was only six. His father remarried and was often at sea, so Newton spent much of his time at a boarding school where he was not treated well. Once he turned eleven, he joined his father at sea as an often disobedient apprentice.
Denouncing His Faith
It is known that, as a sailor, Newton denounced his faith. He wrote in a letter, “Like an unwary sailor who quits his port just before a rising storm, I renounced the hopes and comforts of the Gospel at the very time when everyone other comfort was about to fail me.” His disobedience is ultimately what forced him to join the Royal Navy, but ended up deserting to visit a family friend named Polly Catlett, with whom he had fallen in love. Soon after, he became a slave trader.
Newton used to frequently mock the captain of his ship with clever, but crude, poems and songs that the crew would sing along with him. However, he got into so many disagreements and fights with the other crewmembers that he was almost starved to death, was imprisoned at sea with the slaves, and then was actually enslaved and forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone. After a few months, his father intervened and sent a ship to find him.
Coming Back to God
His conversion was not immediate, but he had a life changing experience when he faced a serious storm. He shouted, “Lord, have mercy upon us!” during the thick of the storm, and he and the crew survived. He began to think on this moment, and how he used to mock others who openly worshipped God. After a period of time, he came to the conclusion that God had sent him a message and was ready to work through him to reach others. He ended seafaring altogether around 1755 and began studying Christian theology.
The song was published in 1779 and is known as a the true story of Newton’s experience with the Lord. The message of forgiveness and redemption still echo in the hearts of those who hear this timeless and classic hymn today. It is certainly one of the most famous folk songs to ever exist, and we still sing it today!