John Newton (1725-1807) is famous for being the former slave trader-turned-pastor who penned the words to the well-known and beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” He was also a mentor to the great abolitionist William Wilberforce and to the hymnist William Cowper, and for many years pastored a congregation in Olney, England, where he was noted for his outreach to the poor and for his preaching.
As this poem reveals, he was a probing contemplative as well as a gifted lyricist. He had a powerful understanding of the Gospel, and he captures well the struggle with sin and the surprising ways in which God answers our prayers for growth in holiness.
I asked the Lord that I might grow,
In faith and love and every grace,
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek more earnestly His face.
It was He who taught me thus to pray,
And He I trust has answered prayer.
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.
I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request.
And by His love’s constraining power,
Subdue my sins and give me rest.
Instead of this, He made me feel,
The hidden evils of my heart.
And let the angry powers of hell,
Assault my soul in every part.
Yes, more with His own hand,
He seemed, Intent to aggravate my woe.
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.
“Lord, why is this?” I trembling cried.
Will You pursue Your worm to death?”
“This is the way” the Lord replied,
“I answer prayer for grace and strength.”
“These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set you free;
And break your schemes of earthly joy,
That you may find thy all in Me.”