First Larne Presbyterian Church

First Larne Presbyterian Church

Amazing Grace

AMAZING GRACE – 272 years ago in Lough Swilly

Bible reading

Psalm 102

"Hear my prayer, Lord; let my cry for help come to you. Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly."

Psalm 102: 1-2


At 23, John Newton was a foul-mouthed sailor working in the Slave Trade. Sailing back to England his ship, The Greyhound was caught in a violent storm. In desperation, Newton cried out to God for mercy but instantly thought, “What mercy could there be for me?”

Adrift in the Atlantic Ocean for four weeks, rations grew short. But Newton began to pray and to think about Jesus who died “...for sins not His own... for those who in their distress, put their trust in Him...”

When all hope seemed lost, the wind changed and on 8 April 1748, they found refuge in Lough Swilly, Co Donegal. Literally saved from death, this was the pivotal moment in Newton’s life. “About this time, I began to know there is a God that hears and answers prayer,” he wrote, vowing to be the “Lord’s and only His”. But he had a long way to go as he wrestled with his newfound faith. He continued working on slave ships for six more years, blind to the evil and injustice.

After leaving the sea, he became a clergyman and a hymn writer, telling others about God’s amazing grace!  And as he learned more of God’s grace in his own life, Newton realised his culpability in a “commerce” he described as “iniquitous, cruel, oppressive and destructive.” He mentored William Wilberforce throughout the 20-year fight for the abolition of the Slave Trade.

Like the author of Amazing Grace, many of us have cried out to God in times of distress and have experienced His help. But does that experience transform our lives and our attitudes? Are we willing to consider how we contribute to injustice in the world? Or are we blind to suffering and oppression? Does our experience of God’s grace make us more gracious towards others?



Lord, thank you that you are a God who hears and answers prayer. You are my refuge and my help in times of trouble. Open my eyes to what is happening in the world. May your grace in my own life inspire me to seek justice for those who suffer because of oppression and inequality.


Ruth Garvey-Williams is editor of Ireland’s Christian magazine - VOX ( - and organiser of the annual Amazing Grace Festival in Buncrana celebrating the historic connection between Lough Swilly and the dramatic story of John Newton (