That Jonah, Newton...


"I tell ya Chester, that Newton's a Jonah, he is. Temper quick as mercury. Wicked tongue ta shame even my drunken Uncle Tammas. He's no good for tha ship, I fear. Be lookin' fer whales, boy. Be lookin' fer this storm to roise."

The other, moving his pipe to the opposite side of the large jaw, mumbled, "Mmmm... Why is it d'ya think that Captin shows 'im such peticular favour? Even afore I came belowdecks he had turned over the helm to John. I've had no fearsome grief from the lad, ceptin' for his dour looks betimes. But still ye could be right, old friend."

And above, John Newton gripped the wheel these past forty minutes and noted the coming screech in the rigging. The plaintive growl and roll of the big hull. The wash of water being taken in. The pounding of his own heart.

He had overheard a litle of the "Jonah talk". Had seen the increasing scowls on the faces of men without guile. Men who were loyal and brave, but gravely superstitious. Was he near the end? Were all of them?

After ninety minutes, relief came to peel the rigid hands from the wheel and to slap the back and to push toward the staircase. A dozen paces from his station, a giant surge soaked the deck and hurled John to the rail.

He thought, 'Oh wretched, lost, vile, friendless man that I am'. Hurried below.

In the closeness of his bunk, the others elsewhere on duty, he felt as condemned as the black cargo of despairing souls he had sometimes transported; as far from the love of God or man as that rebellious prophet at the bottom of the sea. Though Newton had never received theretofore any message or mission from on high. But now words and petitions were issuing from his innermost person, and a sense of the presence of God was leading him on and driving the storm from his consciousness.

That night of May 10, 1748, one godless sea-farer received the quickening realization and release of "Amazing Grace". His subsequent message, music and ministry would help end the slave trade in the British Empire; would help many souls of all colours to cast off the shackles of unbelief and trespass.

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.


(See our earlier post entitled "Let Tears Begin")

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