I couldn't resist myself from posting this:
John Newton was born in 1725, and died in 1807. It seems that the only Godly influence in his life, was his mother, who died when he was only seven years old. When she died, John was virtually an orphan. His father remarried, sent him to a strict military school, where the severity of discipline almost broke his back - he left in rebellion at the age of ten. One year later, deciding that he would never enter formal education again, Newton became a seaman apprentice, hoping somehow to step into his father's trade and learn at least the ability to skillfully navigate a ship.
By and by, through a process of time, Newton slowly gave himself over to the devil, determining that he would sin to the fill without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of his life had gone out. Later drafted into England's Royal Navy, he deserted, was captured like a common criminal and beaten publicly several times at the mast, and dismissed from the service. After enduring the punishment, Newton again fled, entertaining thoughts of suicide and made his way to Africa, deciding that would be the place he could get farthest from anyone that knew him. Again he made a pact with the devil to live for him.
Somehow, through a process of the events, Newton got in touch with a Portuguese slave trader, and lived in his home. He was married to a wife who was brimming with hostility and took a lot of it out on John. She beat him, making him eat like a dog on the floor of the home. If he refused to do that, he would be whipped with a lash.
From there, penniless, and owning only the clothes on his back, Newton fled to the shoreline of Africa where he built a fire, hoping to attract a ship that was passing by. A skipper took him on thinking he had gold or slaves or ivory to sell and was surprised because the young man was a skilled navigator. It turned out to be a slave ship, and John lived on this ship for a long period of time. It was not uncommon for as many as six hundred blacks from Africa to be in the hold of the ship, down below, being taken to America.
During these years, on a number of occasions, Newton went through all sorts of narrow escapes from death. One time he opened some crates of rum and got everybody on the crew drunk. The skipper, incensed with his actions, beat him, threw him down below, where he existed on stale bread and sour vegetables for an unendurable amount of time. When the skipper brought him above for another beating, Newton fell overboard. Because he couldn't swim, the skipper harpooned him to get him back on the ship, and John lived for the rest of his life with a large scar in his side. On board, inflamed with fever, John was enraged with the humiliation. A storm broke out, and he wound up again in the hold of the ship, down among the pumps. To keep the ship afloat, he worked as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused, bleeding, diseased, he became the epitome of a degenerate man. It was then that John Newton remembered the words of his mother, and cried out to God, calling upon His grace and His mercy to deliver him, and upon His Son to save him. The only glimmer of light he could find was in a crack in the ship's floor above him - he looked up to it and screamed for help.
Soon afterwards, while reading "The Imitation of Christ", Newton's heart was softened. At first he tried to justify his work by improving conditions on his ship, and even holding worship services for his crew. Later he served as a clerk at the Port of Liverpool and became a strong crusader against slavery.
Newton married a childhood sweetheart, entered the ministry and was ordained in 1764. Everywhere he preached, rooms had to be added to the building to handle the crowds that came to hear the presentation of the Gospel and the story of God's grace. At age 39, he became Pastor in Olney where one of his "extremist" practices was the singing of hymns which expressed simple heartfelt faith rather than the staid singing of Psalms. Not finding enough hymns of this nature, Newton began writing his own. In 1780 he began a long pastoral ministry in London. When advised to retire, Newton replied, "What, shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can still speak?" His epitaph, which he wrote himself, reads:
Once an infidel and libertine,
A servant of slavers 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.
First entitled "Faith's Review and Expectation", this hymn, was sung to the plantation melody known as "Loving Lambs".