Monday, October 1

Reflecting on the Remarkable and Interesting Particulars in the life of John Newton

by Frank Jarboe

To the officers and crew of HMS Acasta,

It is little surprise to those of you that have listened to either my conversation or my sermons that I am deeply influenced by the life and writings of Reverend John Newton, late Rector of St Mary Woolnoth, Lombard Street, London. It is – in part – through his handling of doctrinal matters that my own serious attachment to Christ has grown. If you would permit me, I would like to share a portion of a letter Rev. Newton wrote recounting an eventful time at sea... particularly concerning a day which found him forever changed. His age at the time of the event was two and twenty.

“The 10th, that is, in the present style, the 21st of March, is a day much to be remembered by me, and I have never suffered it to pass wholly unnoticed since the year 1748. On that day the Lord sent from on high, and delivered me out of deep waters.”

With the ship that had rescued him from a life of slavery in Africa having been heavily damaged in a storm in the North Atlantic, Rev. Newton wrote: “We soon found the ship was filling with water very fast. The sea had torn away the upper timbers on one side, and made the ship a mere wreck in a few minutes… We had immediate recourse to the pumps, but the water increased against all our efforts : some of us were set to bailing in other parts of the vessel… we had but eleven or twelve people to sustain this service … notwhithstanding all we could do, she was full or very near it… We expended most of our cloaths and bedding to stop the leaks – over these we nailed pieces of boards, and at last perceived the water to abate…”

“I continued at the pump from three in the morning till near noon, and then I could do no more. I went and lay down upon my bed, uncertain, and almost indifferent whether I should rise again. In an hour’s time I was called; and, not being able to pump, I went to the helm, and steered the ship till midnight, excepting a small interval for refreshment. …I had here [while at the helm] leisure and convenient opportunity for reflection. I began to think of my former religious professions,—the extraordinary turns of my life,—the calls, warnings, and deliverances I had met with,—the licentious course of my conversation,—particularly my unparalleled effrontery in making the Gospel history (which I could not be sure was false, though I was not yet assured it was true) the constant subject of profane ridicule. …Thus, as I have said, I waited with fear and impatience to receive my inevitable doom.”

“But —When I saw, beyond all probability, that there was still hope of respite, and heard, about six in the evening, that the ship was freed from water, there arose a gleam of hope. I thought I saw the hand of God displayed in our favour. I began to pray: I could not utter the prayer of faith; I could not draw near to a reconciled God, and call him Father: my prayer was like the cry of the ravens, which yet the Lord does not disdain to hear. I now began to think of that Jesus whom I had so often derided: I recollected the particulars of his life, and of his death; a death for sins not his own, but, as I remembered, for the sake of those who, in their distress, should put their trust in him…”

This is the day Rev. Newton wrote of in that hymn introduced on January 1, 1773 when he spoke of the amazing grace of God. His words were, “How precious did that grace appear, The hour I first believed!” … March 10, 1748 – old style. 

Leaving the contents of this discourse to your reflection,
I remain &c. 
Rev. John P Griswold


  1. Thank you for sharing this letter from a sinner saved by grace, whose changed life influenced my faith as well. Consider that we all live on borrowed time, and should not wonder why God allows some lives to be spared, but rather why He doesn't immediately cast all into death and Hell the first time they sin, as He warned the first parents ("The soul that sins shall die."), but rather is merciful to many. See Luke 16:1-4.

  2. The verses I meant to reference are Luke 13:1-5. Mea culpa.

  3. One day you and Rev. Newton will get to have some great conversations!