John was not a pleasant person to be around. He was young, a spoiled brat, haughty, conceited and horrible. He invented some of the worst blasphemous language one can imagine, he dabbled in witchcraft, was grotesquely lustful, and gave meaning to the term “cusses like a sailor.” He was unhappy, wrapped up in his own sorrow in a job he did not like, far away from home, and with no friends to speak of. In fact, had he died, few would miss him, and many would think “good riddance.” One night, he was binge drinking with some fellow ruffians, alternating rum and gin to see who could get the drunkest quickest, and still hold his liquor. At one point in the drinking game, he began to dance around wildly, but not steadily and was about to fall off the boat, when one intoxicated buffoon had just enough wherewithal to grab his coat just before he would have plunged many feet into cold, murky water where he most certainly would have perished. Had that drunk guy not responded to his reflex, then the despicable twenty year old would have drowned, and would not have lived to look back on his life and write these words:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
The young man was John Newton, who, after seeing a great deal of life in sin, would one day return to the Grace of God that he had learned as a younger man. He would go on to pastor, to write songs, and to even be influential in the abolition of slavery in Great Britain. At the end of his life he would say, “I am old, and my memory fails me, but two things I remember: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.”
Perhaps there is someone you have given up on (even yourself), someone that you should be praying for, someone that you should care for. Even if they “curse like sailor” they are in need of a great Savior, and that need may yet be met!
( I am indebted to biographer Jonathan Aitken and his book From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, Crossway Books, 2007. – for greater details to this story see pgs. 70-71).