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John Newton

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey
The Truth Network Radio
November 18, 2021 12:00 am

John Newton

Wisdom for the Heart / Dr. Stephen Davey

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November 18, 2021 12:00 am

It's often been said that God brings us to the breaking point so that we can see our need for Him, and that was certainly the case with this slave-trader turned Pastor known as John Newton. His beloved and inspired hymn, "Amazing Grace," is merely a personal recounting of his own astonishing conversion.

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John Newton. God saved him from the midst of an extremely wicked lifestyle and went on to use him as an important figure in our Christian history. Close to his death at 82 years of age, he was completely blind, unable to read his text. A friend suggested to him, well it's time to give up preaching. He responded, what shall the old blasphemer stop while he can still speak? In one of his last sermons, he summed up his life by saying, I am a great sinner and Jesus Christ is a great Savior. When you read the New Testament, one of the most astonishing conversions is the Apostle Paul. He was persecuting the church and killing Christians when God saved him. Today as we continue looking at the biographies of some Christian heroes, we see another astonishing conversion. John Newton was trapped in an extremely wicked lifestyle. He was a blasphemer and a slave trader, but God saved him and used him as an important figure in our Christian history. This is Wisdom for the Heart and Stephen Davey continues through his series called Legacies of Light by looking today at the life and ministry of John Newton. Here's Stephen with today's lesson. Well, of all the biographies we have uncovered thus far, this one sounds, comes across more like a novel, a movie, dramatic.

It is action packed and it is surprising. His nickname was the Great Blasphemer. His birthplace was London, England, 1725. His father was an unbelieving sea captain who commanded a prosperous trading ship, but his mother was a godly woman who dedicated her life to training this, their only child. Her favorite source of curriculum was Isaac Watt's book entitled Preservatives from the Sins and Follies of Youth.

I don't think that's in print anymore, but it sounds really good, doesn't it? Early in life, her son, John Newton, would quote and sing the hymns of Isaac Watt's written especially for children. In fact, there was a book just for kids.

Like the one that sang and he would sing it, why should I join with those in play in whom I've no delight, who curse and swear and never pray, who call ill names and fight? Tragedy struck early on, however, when at the age of seven, John Newton's mother died and everything would change. Well, when his father returned from a voyage, he remarried and found that his new wife didn't like John, little John, so he was shipped off to boarding school where a brutal headmaster made life absolutely miserable. His father finally intervened and brought John on board his ship at age 11. You can imagine after several voyages and the surroundings of these ungodly influences surrounding his impressionable spirit, his mother's lessons and Isaac Watt's hymns were soon forgotten. By the time John turned 16, he had nothing to do with religion, as they called it. His profanity and his wicked spirit equaled veteran sailors who sailed with him.

He would write of those days, and I quote, I often saw the necessity of religion as a means of escaping hell, but I loved sin and was unwilling to forsake it. When he was 17, his father decided that he should set sail for the West Indies and become involved in independently of his father and involved in managing a Jamaican plantation owned by one of his friends. It was a plantation run by African slaves, and his father figured that over the next five years, John would be able to amass a small fortune managing the plantation and be set for life. But a week before that ship set sail, John was invited by close friends of his deceased mother to visit them for a day or two. When he arrived, he wrote that he found an affectionate family that he had not had, and it reminded him of his mother. They had a daughter, too, which didn't hurt.

Her name was Mary. She was 13, but he literally fell head over heels with her. He would write that she was sweet and kind and fun. She probably, though, never knew his true feelings because he wrote, I was struck dumb whenever she entered the room. John so enjoyed the time of the family and Mary that he never mentioned to them that he had to leave to board a ship, and in fact, he purposefully missed the deadline so that this ship sailed away without him. His father was furious, of course, and determined that he would set sail on another ship, this one bound for Italy. During that voyage, now without his father, with no one he knew, surrounded by an incredibly pagan environment, he only deepened his hatred for God.

He felt abandoned and alone. Yet at the same time, he would often write in his journal, all he could think of was getting back to Mary. About a year later, he returns to London after that voyage and his father had quickly planned another job on yet another trading vessel.

John had just a few days to get back to this family and visit Mary's house again and her and enjoy their hospitality, which he did. And once again, he purposefully missed the deadline to get back to port and the ship sailed without him. And again, his father was furious, but who cares?

He saw Mary, right? Only this time, things didn't turn out so well. When he returned to London while his father tried to figure out where to place him, he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The shipping industry, if I can stop for a moment, starting these days from what I've learned, was primitive, dirty, the treatment even of the crew, inhumane. But nothing, evidently, was more inhumane than the Royal Navy.

In fact, it was so bad, they could never supply warships with volunteers. So the authorities turned a blind eye while gangs went out and literally captured young men to serve below deck. They just so happened to capture John Newton. Fortunately, his father found out eventually what happened and wrote the ship's captain. And the captain agreed to promote John as an officer, which brought him on deck. His conditions improved dramatically, of course, and he actually writes in his journal that he begins to enjoy sea life, but he was as foul-mouthed and as atheistic as all of the unbelieving criminals and officers that sailed with him. But still, he had this one goal in mind. He wanted to get back to London and win the hand of Mary, and that occupied all of his thoughts. After a short voyage, John learned that his ship was next slated to sail to India and the West Indies, and that he would be gone for the next five long years. He had just one day's leave to rent a horse from Enterprise, probably, and right off to see her before the ship took sail. He planned this time to display his feelings, to ask Mary's father for her hand in marriage to tell her of his love.

The visit was a disaster. Mary's father denied his request. They wanted their daughter marrying a man with better prospects. They actually forbade John from ever visiting their home again or contacting Mary Cartlet.

But Mary was somewhat undecided, and so John was in turmoil. How could he sail away without knowing her answer? And so in desperation, he jumped ship and deserted, determined to stay behind and find out how she felt for him. Two days later, he was captured, returned to his ship in shackles. Two days after that, all 350 of the crew were assembled on deck to witness John Newton's court-martial and flogging. He was given 96 lashes with a cat of nine tails, a beating so brutal that even one of the experienced members of the crew fainted.

He would bear those scars for the rest of his life. 19 days after that flogging, they encountered a ship, the ship of a slave trader heading for the West Indies who needed one more crew member. The captain gladly handed over John Newton. On board this ship, John gave full vent to his depravity, his foul mouth, his insubordinate spirit, his hatred for God, and he began to love to torment anyone who showed any sympathy for religion. On board that ship was a wealthy trader from West Africa who convinced John that the best way for him to win Mary's hand would be to amass a fortune by following in his footsteps.

And John agreed. And so they disembarked at this man's plantation on an island just off the coast of West Africa. Now this man's mistress was an African woman who immediately decided that she didn't like John Newton at all. And it wasn't long before John succumbed to fever and was unable to set sail with the merchant on his next voyage and John was left in the care of this mistress who had already decided to let him die. So here he is on an island off the coast of West Africa and he writes in his journal, I had not a little difficulty to procure a cup of water when burning with fever. My bed was a mat spread upon a board and a piece of wood was my pillow. Sometimes when the mistress was in a good humor she would send a slave to hand me her plate with whatever food was left on it after she had died.

End quote. It was interesting though I discovered that on this island he would write that if it had not been for the kindness of some of the chained slaves on that plantation who took pity on him and secretly gave him food of their own he would have starved to death. But then shock of all shocks a ship put anchor near his island after seeing some smoke from the island and some men came ashore asking the locals have you heard of a white man named John Newton?

We're on an island off the coast of West Africa. His father had sent out a party looking for him. That was in 1747 when he was rescued.

John was not quite 21 and God one biographer wrote was about to close in on the great blasphemer. It would take a year of business before this ship called the Greyhound sailed back to England and again you know the drama just continues. I need to let you know that in route it encountered a storm so violent that it began to sink. John was assigned to the pumps and he worked them from 3 in the morning until noon and then he slept for an hour and then took the helm and steered the ship till midnight. Men and provisions were being swept into the sea. The rigging was torn.

The hold was filling with water. Everyone assumed they would die. In fact some of the men thought that John was Jonah and they all agreed that they'd throw him overboard because God evidently wanted him dead. Literally. The captain didn't agree and they didn't throw him overboard.

But there at that helm he's literally tied to it. For the first time since he was a little boy John Newton began to pray. He began to evaluate his life. His hatred for God. His blasphemy.

Thought of his mother. Those early hymns of Isaac Watts. He would write in his journal and I quote I decided then and there to attempt to reform my life to quit swearing for one and to think of the Lord's mercy often and to resolve to do better. That's not salvation. That's self reformation. But at least he was turning a little corner and he also had found a Bible and other Christian literature which he began to read. But he would write that he would have no Christian to talk to.

No Bible believing pastor to talk to about the true gospel and saving faith in Christ alone. But God was at work. In fact when John arrived back in London he discovered that his father had actually gone to the cartlets on his behalf to speak to Mary's father. And in the meantime John is given another assignment on a slave trading ship.

He's only twenty three years of age. During that voyage another life threatening fever. John would come to terms with sin. And he would write this my sin. It was my sin that put Jesus on the cross and I would trust in Christ alone for my forgiveness. That's salvation. He viewed that by the way it's his moment of genuine conversion. In fact of the more than 300 hymns that John Newton will go on to write eventually the one that he thought we'd be singing the one that he claimed to be his testimony him.

I've read some of the lyrics in past days but maybe you'll recognize some of it but we don't sing it. The lyrics read this. In evil long I took the light on the odd by shame or fear till a new object struck my sight and stopped my wild career. I saw one hanging on a tree in agonies and blood who fixed his languid eyes on me as near his cross I stood.

Sure never till my dying breath could I forget that look. It seemed to charge me with his death though not a word he spoke. My conscience felt and owned the guilt and plunged me in despair. I saw my sins his blood had spilled and helped to nail him there. Alas I knew not what I did but now my tears are vain where shall my trembling soul be hid for I the Lord have slain. A second look he gave which said I freely all forgive. This blood is for thy ransom paid.

I died that thou mayest live. Less than two years later he was able to propose and Mary Cartlett accepted and everybody said a man. By now he was twenty five and she was 19 almost immediately John is given the command of a slave ship and soon after marrying his bride he makes two voyages. Now as a new Christian it's interesting he struggles with the slave trade and he would begin keeping a detailed journal that journal would become the earliest known document recording the details of the slave trade.

It would contain minute information about the conditions on board the insurrections and the suicides of the slaves. The journal that journal would later be used as evidence by his good friend a good friend that Newton had yet to meet a man by the name of William Wilberforce right with him John would later encourage. In fact historical accounts seem to indicate or imply that that John Newton actually leads William Wilberforce to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I'll read from his journal in a moment but you can only imagine the irony of John Newton's profession of his new found Christianity and slave trading. Keep in mind his profession was endorsed by the church.

It was supported by the state. It was paid for by virtually every public industry but yet he's torn. Can you imagine the irony in the effort of John Newton. He attempts on that slave ship to hold Sunday worship services for the slaves and the crew. The crew didn't care and neither did the slaves. He began battling ever more of this growing sense that this occupation was wrong no matter what the clergy and what Parliament and what the public said. A year later he's given command of another slave trading ship called the African that voyage is a disaster. There are numerous insurrections among the slaves. Many of them died or committed suicide in this horrific conditions.

A number of his own crew deserted several others had to be shackled below deck. At one point he thought he would die from yet another illness with high fever. And he writes in his journal at this moment I just want to live.

And since my former wretched apostasy has been known to hundreds I want to live to show at least as many of them how I have been changed for the glory of God. When Newton was about to embark yet again on another voyage from Liverpool England he suddenly unexpectedly suffered an epileptic seizure. He'd never had one before. He will not have another one again. And that was all he needed. He considered it an act of God's hand and the immediately resigned his commission.

But now what. He's only twenty nine years of age. He takes a job as a field or in the field of surveying. The following year he's invited to go hear a man preach by the name of George Whitfield. George Whitfield was preaching nearby outdoors of course because he wasn't allowed to preach indoors.

No pastor would have him. And he was preaching that morning at get this five a.m. five a.m. four thousand people showed up just like our eight o'clock service here. I mean Newton was profoundly affected and returned to hear Whitfield preach that afternoon.

In fact he was able to to get a private conversation with Whitfield and they talked for hours in fact began a friendship that would last our lifetime. John began studying on his own the doctrines of grace which Whitfield so clearly preached. He began studying the scriptures he began teaching himself Greek and Hebrew for the next 10 years. He works as a surveyor and he studies the Bible.

Finally and there's a series of events we don't have time to get into but he's ordained and he begins 40 years of ministry. His first pastor it was in a village named Olney and three years into that ministry a poet by the name of William Cooper who struggled on and off with depression moved to Olney and joined this church and together they began a Thursday evening prayer meeting where they decided that they would exchange weeks and write a hymn for that Thursday night prayer meeting. William Cooper's most famous hymn would be there is a fountain filled with blood drawn from the manuals veins.

During this ministry the church would become so crowded there would be 2000 people attending and they had to build a balcony. Newton and Cooper eventually published a hymnal of their original hymns. Now one of the hymns that Newton included is taken from First Chronicles 17.

The Bible reads at First Chronicles 17 verse 16. This is actually the foundation and the backdrop to the famous hymn Amazing Grace which is a rather different kind of text than you would imagine. Then David the king went in and sat before the Lord and said Who am I oh Lord God and what is my house that you have brought me this far. This was a small thing in your eyes oh God but you have spoken of your servant's house for a great while to come and have regarded me according to the standard of a man of high degree oh Lord God but what more can David still say to you concerning the honor bestowed on your servant for you know your servant. In other words Lord you know what kind of man I am and you know what kind of nation we are. You know what kind of house I have yet you and your grace have done amazing things for us all.

It's the backdrop. It's actually a national hymn and testimony. Certainly his own biography interwoven. John was eventually called to another church in London where he would serve for 20 years. In fact one December it's obvious why God brought him to London because one December Newton receives a note from a 26 year old member of parliament and a personal friend of the prime minister asking for an opportunity to have quote some serious conversation but it must be in secret. A 26 year old member of parliament was William Wilberforce and he wasn't wanting to talk to John Newton about slavery. He was wanting to talk to John Newton about his own sense of sin and he met with him.

He had only recently begun reading the Bible for himself. In fact Newton would witness to Wilberforce and give him the gospel of grace that only looking to Christ would bring salvation. Wilberforce left the meeting and wrote in his journal I called upon old Newton and I was much affected in conversing with him and I have come away looking up to God. Well that friendship began between this old former slave trader and the young reformer who would eventually bring the slave trade to an end.

The wonderful mystery of the work of God in lives. Close to his death at 82 years of age he was completely blind unable to read his text. A friend suggested to him well it's time to give up preaching.

He responded what? I cannot stop shall the old blasphemer stop while he can still speak. In one of his last sermons he summed up his life by saying two things are clear to me I am a great sinner and Jesus Christ is a great savior. After he died the words he dictated for his tombstone were carved just as he ordered and they read John Newton clerk once an infidel and libertine a servant of slaves in Africa was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preserved restored pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.

Period. What a wonderful illustration of grace. There's no heart so hard. There is no case yet closed which the grace of God cannot reach and save and turn a blasphemer into a believer and a worshipper of the glory of God.

Nobody is beyond the reach of God's amazing grace. You're listening to Wisdom for the Heart with Stephen Davey. I wonder if someone comes to your mind who could be helped by listening to this message. If so please consider sharing it with them. It's posted on our website and you can share the link with your friend. That website is If we can help you in any way today call us at 866-48-Bible. Please make time to tune in next time for the next edition of Wisdom for the Heart.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-21 15:52:03 / 2023-07-21 16:00:50 / 9

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