John Newton was a wretched man. He was born in Britain in the 1700's. His mother died just before he turned 7, and he later joined his father at sea at the age of 11. After his father retired, he began sailing with a merchant ship. He was later pressed into service for the Royal Navy, was caught attempting to desert and was flogged in front of the crew. He later transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa.
While on the slave ship, John was such a problem for the crew that they left him in West Africa with a slave dealer. The dealer gave him to his wife, who abused and mistreated him along with her other slaves. He was later rescued by a sea captain sent by John's father to find him.
John Newton was a wretched man. But while sailing back to England, his spiritual conversion began when the ship he was sailing on was miraculously saved from sinking after he called out to God. Although he began reading the Bible and avoided gambling and profanity, it took several years before he finally renounced the slave trade and apologized for being an active instrument in that business.
He later became an evangelical lay minister, and he was eventually ordained as a priest. He was a popular speaker and was sought out for advice by young churchmen on religious matters. While serving in Olney he wrote several hymns that were later published. One hymn, "Faith's Review and Expectation" as it was called at the time, began with this familiar line:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
John Newton was a wretched man. But despite the wickedness of his youth, he was saved by God's amazing grace. He knew the depths he had sunk, and he knew the gift of that grace. He didn't write that it saved a wretch like you. He wrote that it saved a wretch like him.
"Amazing Grace" became one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world, performed in one form or another an estimated 10 million times each year. And each time it is performed the same words are sung: That saved a wretch like me.
And that is the sweet sound of grace.