(1725 – 1807)
After his dramatic conversion at sea on 21st March 1748, John continued with his seafaring trade for the next six years as he saw no conflict between his new-found faith and slave trading. According to his biographer, Bruce Hindmarsh, “Newton has sometimes been accused of hypocrisy for holding strong religious convictions at the same time as being active in the slave trade, praying above deck while his human cargo was in abject misery below deck.”
However, God’s transforming power was slowly moulding the life of the recalcitrant seafarer. He started to study the Bible and held Sunday worship services for his crew. Concerned that the slaves should be treated humanely, he now used his position as captain to protect them and to relieve their sufferings. Any crew member found guilty of abusing slaves would be severely dealt with.
John married his sweetheart, Mary on 1st February 1750 when he was 24. After his marriage, he had to be separated from his new wife for months at a time. Despite his frequent absences, they spent forty happy years together. Always amazed at God’s grace in his life, Newton often confessed that God had, in His providence, used his deep love for his wife Mary, to mould and transform his life.
“In 1793, three years after Mary’s death, John published a two-volume collection of letters he had sent to Mary over the years. He wanted to give public testimony of thanks to God for such a treasure as his wife, ‘for uniting our hearts by such tender ties, and for continuing her to me for so long.’ Newton published his letters (to her) as a memorial to her and as an example ‘that marriage, when the parties are united by affection, and the general conduct is governed by religion and prudence, is not only an honorable but a comfortable state’”
As he grew in his faith, John became more and more disillusioned with the slave trade. But he had been a seaman all his life – was there anything else he could do for a living?
Unknown to John, God was quietly directing his life. As he prayed for a more humane calling, the Lord answered in an unexpected way. In 1754, while at home with Mary, John suffered a convulsive fit. The seizure was followed by constant headaches and giddy spells. He was thus forced to give up his maritime trade.
In August 1755, John found a job with the civil service as a tide surveyor in Liverpool where he came to know the great revivalist preacher, George Whitefield. “Newton became his enthusiastic disciple, and gained the nickname of ‘young Whitefield.’”
Later, when John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, visited the town, John also became closely acquainted with him. Deeply influenced by his two preacher friends, John adopted Calvinistic theology. He actively participated in religious meetings and missions, and occasionally accepted invitations as a lay-preacher.
Call to the ministry
At about this time, John began to feel God’s call to the ministry. Before this, he had, in his later voyages, prepared himself by devoting his leisure to the study of theology and Latin. To further equip himself, he also learned Greek, Hebrew and Syriac.
In December 1758, John applied to the Archbishop of York to become a minister, but was rejected probably because he was “considered a Methodist” (http://spartacus-educational.com/SnewtonJ.htm). Two years later, he was given temporary charge of an independent congregation in Warwick. With the support of William Legge, the 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, John was ordained a deacon on 29th April 1764. In June, he was ordained curate-in-charge of Olney in Buckinghamshire. (… to be concluded)