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JOHN NEWTON (JULY 24, 1725-DECEMBER 21, 1807)
Anglican Priest and Hymn Writer
JOHN NEWTON, CLERK
ONCE AN INFIDEL AND LIBERTINE
A SERVANT OF SLAVES 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 LABOURED TO DESTROY
–from John Newton’s epitaph, which he wrote
John Newton (1725-1807), famously the author of “Amazing Grace,” wrote much more than that. He did write, for example, the splendid hymn, “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” which I prefer to “Amazing Grace.” (I do tilt toward Anglo-Catholicism.)
Newton’s father was a ship master; his mother was a devout Calvinist who raised him to become a minister. Yet she died when our saint was just seven years old. Newton, educated formally only from ages nine to eleven years, went to sea with his father at age eleven. Six years later our saint joined the Royal Navy, from which he deserted in time. Then he joined the ranks of slave traders.
Our saint came to realize eventually that grace was free yet not cheap; it did require much of him. In 1748, at age twenty-three, he converted to Christianity after reading The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. Yet our saint did not abandon the slave trade immediately. In 1750 Newton, aged twenty-five years, married Mary Catlett, whom he had known since he had been seventeen years old and she fourteen. And finally, in 1754, our saint’s conscience forced him into a different line of work.
The reformed man started his new life as a tide surveyor at Liverpool, yet he studied for Anglican Holy Orders. He, ordained, served as Curate of Olney (1764-1780) then as Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807). Toward the end of our saint’s tenure at Olney he and neighbor William Cowper, also a hymn writer, collaborated on Olney Hymns (1779).
Newton, blind at the end of his life, died in London in 1807, having been born there also.
A partial list of Newton’s published works follows:
- Cardiphonia: or, The Utterances of the Heart;
- Letters to a Wife, Volumes I and II,
- Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade (1788);
- Works, Volume I;
- Works, Volume II;
- Works, Volume III;
- Works, Volume IV;
- Works, Volume V; and
- Works, Volume VI.
Newton wrote many laudatory and generally excellent hymns, some of which I have added to my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog. Here is another:
Though troubles assail and dangers affright,
Though friends should all fail and foes all unite,
Yet one thing secures us, whatever betide,
The Scripture assures us, the Lord will prevail.
The birds without barn or storehouse are fed;
From them let us learn to trust for our bread;
His saints what is fitting shall ne’er be denied,
So long as ’tis written, “The Lord will provide.
His call we obey, like Abram of old,
Not knowing our way, but faith makes us bold;
For, though we are strangers, we have a good guide,
And trust, in all dangers, the Lord will provide.
No strength of our own or goodness we claim;
Yet since we have known the Saviour’s great Name,
In this our strong tower for safety we hide,–
The Lord is our power, the Lord will provide.
And here is another:
Now may He who from the dead
Brought the Shepherd of the sheep,
Jesus Christ, our King and Head,
All our souls in safety keep.
May He teach us to fulfill
What is pleasing in His sight,
Perfect us in all His will,
And preserve us day and night.
To that Redeemer’s praise,
Who the covenant sealed with blood,
Let our hearts and voices raise
Loud thanksgivings to our God.
Perfection, as in “be perfect as God is perfect” in the Gospels, as I have read in commentaries, indicates being suited to one’s purpose. John Newton became suited to God’s purpose for him. May each of us become suited to God’s purpose for each of us also, if we are not that already. If the latter scenario is our reality, may we remain in it.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JANUARY 24, 2014 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF THE ORDINATION OF FLORENCE LI-TIM-OI, ANGLICAN PRIEST
THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES DE SALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GENEVA
THE FEAST OF THURGOOD MARSHALL, ATTORNEY AND JURIST
THE FEAST OF WILLIAM BARCLAY, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN THEOLOGIAN
Dear God of beauty,
you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to
John Newton and others, who have composed hymn texts.
May we, as you guide us,
find worthy hymn texts to be icons,
through which we see you.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK
THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR
THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH