John Newton (1725 – 1807) wrote the words to one of the most beloved hymns of all times, between 1760 and 1770, while working as an evangelical pastor.
Son of the commander of a merchant ship, Newton was captain of a slave ship for many years, until he underwent a dramatic religious conversion while steering his vessel through a storm.
Repenting and regretting the misery he had inflicted on the thousands of human cargo he had transported across the Middle Passage for many years, he devoted his life to the Church, and wrote the lyrics to many hymns which are still popular today, including How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds and Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.
After being ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln, Newton accepted the curacy at Olney in Buckinghamshire. When the poet William Cowper moved to the area, the two began a series of weekly prayer meetings, for which their goal was to write a new hymn for each one. These were published as the Olney Hymns, which achieved lasting popularity, particularly Amazing Grace.
In 1780 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth Church, in London. There he drew large congregations and influenced many, among them William Wilberforce. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807.
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav'd a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev'd;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ'd!
Thro' many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis'd good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call'd me here below,
Will be forever mine.