THE writer of the most popular religious song in history was a blasphemous loser.
British sailor James Newton deserted the Royal Navy twice, and was flogged for making up disrespectful songs about his captain.
He was a profane man who particularly hated Christians and frequently drowned his sorrows in grog.
According to legend, Newton was a cruel commander of a slave ship in 1748 when an epiphany struck.
During one tumultuous night at sea, Newton began to read The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas Kempis, and was touched by a phrase about “the uncertain continuance of life”.
As a fierce storm rocked his boat in the Atlantic, Newton called on God to save him.
The incident was a turning point in Newton’s life and he immortalised his passage from darkness to light in the words of Amazing Grace.
Newton became a powerful evangelist. But his words, set to an old folk tune, became even more powerful.
Amazing Grace is a common link — perhaps the only common link — between Rod Stewart, Andy Stewart, Elvis Presley, Judy Collins, the Kronos Quartet and the Royal Scots Dragoons.
Theirs are among 1000 or so recorded versions of Amazing Grace.
The song was heard not only in churches but in the fields of rural America and in prisons.
It became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.
Somehow, the simple and honest words are instinctively comforting.