The bitter old slave-trader John Newton and his crew were caught in a violent storm on the Atlantic Ocean on this day in 1747. Their ship was in a sad state of disrepair and its sails and rigging were worn. Wakened by a crushing wave smashing against the vessel, Newton barely escaped as water filled his cabin. He hurried above where he found that timbers had been ripped away. Men pumped desperately. Clothes and bedding were stuffed into holes and boards nailed over them.
Exhausted after battling for more than an hour, Newton was lashed to the wheel to try to steer the ship. The storm raged on and on. In this desperate moment Newton cried out to the God he had been taught to worship as a child. Eventually, the ship was delivered from distress. And, of course, so was Newton.
Dramatically converted that day, he became a faithful pastor--and in the height of irony, eventually steered one of his young parishoners, William Wilberforce, to the cause of abolitionism.
Reflecting on his hard life--and the remarkable providence of God's saving mercies--he later wrote one of the world's most beloved hymns, Amazing Grace:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now, I see.
T'was grace that taught
My heart to fear,
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear,
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
We have already come.
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far,
And grace will lead us home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
When we've been here ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise,
Than when we’ve first begun.