When the Reverend John Newton, an English preacher of the eighteenth century, in his old age could no longer read his texts, he was urged by his colleagues to give up preaching. "What!" said he, "shall the old converted blasphemer stop while he can speak?" Thus Newton characterized himself as he had been before his conversion. He could never forget how the "Amazing Grace" of God had rescued him from sin. His godly mother had taught him about God, but she died when he was just seven, and at the age of eleven he went to sea. His life as a sailor, sea captain, and slave trader was "filled with wickedness and debauchery."
One frightful night, at age twenty-three, his waterlogged vessel was lost. Facing death all night long he was prompted to surrender his life to Christ and turn from his sin. Miraculously the craft drifted to shore, where he immediately came under the influence of Whitefield and the Wesleys. Shortly he entered the Christian ministry and lived a life of rare usefulness in the service of God. His influence lives today in the numerous hymns he wrote, many of them first published with those of Cowper in the Olney Hymns.
In the corner of the churchyard of Olney Parish Church of Saints Peter and Paul, almost overgrown with tall weeds, can be found a tombstone with this inscription:
"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 has long laboured to destroy."
(From "Hymns We Sing" by Gerald E. Benson)