His mom was a “Dissenter” who taught him Scripture before she died. His father married his stepmother, a woman in whose home he never felt welcome. He became an angry young man. Following in his father’s footsteps, he also became a sailor. His father was a man of reputation and integrity. He was not. He was insubordinate, a blasphemer, and a deserter from the British navy. He served on slave trading ships, even serving as captain seeking to buy his African slaves for the lowest possible price and sell them back in England at the highest possible price.

He also wrote one of the greatest hymn of the faith — “Amazing Grace.” His name was John Newton, and one night he became convinced that God had protected him “while he was yet a sinner.” He should have died, along with everyone on his ship. Instead he and his fellow shipmates lived. And John Newton became convinced of the reality of God and of His great love for sinners.

John Newton became a man with one purpose — serving God and helping others come to know Him. He also became a Dissenter. Dissenters were those who met outside the sanctioned Church of England. They were known for lively, non-traditional worship services. They preached a personal relationship with Christ. Eventually John became ordained in the Church of England and served church members, Dissenters and seekers alike for more than forty years.

He wrote hundreds of songs and books. He was innovative in finding new ways to help believers lead transformed lives. He continued to pastor and preach into his eighties. As age began to take its toll, his eyesight, hearing and memory began to fail. “Near the close of his life,” writes biographer Anne Sandberg, “he told a friend at his bedside, ‘My memory is nearly gone, but I can still remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.'” (John Newton, published by Barbour and Company, Inc., Uhrichsville, OH)

We complicate it so much. John Newton got it right. We are great sinners. And Christ is a great(er) Savior.

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