Wednesday, April 27, 2016

God Uses A Foul Mouthed Slave Trading Atheist.

Many times we feel like the things that have happened in our past can disqualify us from God's service. I can think of no better story to illustrate the fallacy of this thinking than the story of John Newton.

Newton was born in 1725 in England. His mom died just before he turned 7 and he lived a very tough early life before being enlisted in the British Navy.  Newton was part of the most profitable mission the British Navy had at the time; transporting slaves. Newton wasn't popular with his fellow sailors; he attempted to dessert and was treated to a public lashing. He was known as "the Great Blasphemer"  because of his coarse language and profanity. 

He was so unpopular with his fellow sailors at one point they left him behind in Africa where he became a servant to a tribal princess. He was treated violently and with complete disregard by his captors. Despite his treatment, once he was rescued he returned to the slave trade and seemed to have no regard for the lives he was hauling across the Atlantic Ocean like they were nothing more than cargo. He took thousands of slaves across the Atlantic. 

It was while he was at sea in the middle of a huge storm that Newton, who until that point had been a staunch atheist, came to find faith in Christ. He still struggled for many years to reconcile his faith with what he was doing for a living. A man who had been part of one of the great blights on all of humanity and who was struggling with his faith had trouble believing God had a purpose for him. Newton had previously rejected the teachings but now began reading the Bible and other religious works, he also began to seek out a mentor to help him grow in his faith.

Finally after wrestling with his conscience for many years Newton left the slave trade to become a tide surveyor and at age 39 became an ordained minister. Newton's faith and passion grew. He spent the next 40 years preaching and teaching throughout England becoming a mentor to many great missionaries including William Carey. Newton's faith changed him and he became a strong abolitionist voice and one of the leaders in England abolishing it's slave trade in 1805.

Despite his troubled past God used John Newton in an amazing way. His legacy lives on today. Even if you have never of John Newton before, you have heard a hymn he once wrote about his redemption. While he wrote over 280 hymns, one has touched hearts for centuries. It was sung by both sides during the U.S. Civil War, it was seminal during the Civil Rights movement. It was sung to help our nation heal after 9-11. It has been recorded by Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Cash, Joan Baez and countless others. Amazing Grace is one of the most recognized and moving songs in the world. 

The Lyrics of "Amazing Grace" capture Newton's heart at the time he accepted Jesus and have touched many hearts since then.

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now I'm 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.

John Newton could have believed that his checkered past disqualified him from God's service, but God filled him with grace, using him to touch millions of lives with the words written by a unworthy, former slave trading atheist.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

God  gave this word to the nation of Israel while they were in rebellion. The same words were true for John Newton and they are true for us as well. 

In Newton's last days he was still amazed by God's grace. 
 "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember 
two things: That I am a great sinner, and that
Christ is a great Savior."

We can't let the things we have done convince us God can't use us. He can and will. His Grace is greater and more amazing than anything we could ever do. We are not disqualified by our past, we are qualified by His grace. 


  1. Great read, thanks Eric :-)

    1. Thanks for reading Carol. I appreciate the feedback!

  2. I have tears streaming down my face. What a great testimony to the mercy and grace God has given, gives and will continue to give.

    1. Thanks for reading and for the kind comment. It is truly only by his Grace!