Everybody has had this thought at some point: I've wasted too much time already—it's too late for me to use the gifts God has given me to the full. Though John Newton's mother had taught him Christian faith as a boy, he repudiated it as a teen and spent his young adult years in "riotous living," destroying the faith of others with his arguments and example.

Then God got hold of him and began, albeit gradually, to him his heart back to Him. This was amazing enough to Newton. But more amazing still was the realization that, far from disinheriting him as a prodigal, his Lord now had work for him to do. Like Paul before him, he who had once persecuted Christ would now become his ambassador.

From his thirty-ninth year on, Newton preached the gospel at every opportunity; visited and prayed with distraught parishioners; wrote wise letters of spiritual counsel; and composed and published hymns resplendent with gratitude and praise to God. Through a long, full life of pastoral ministry, his wasted years were more than redeemed.

Blaspheming, ribald scoffer at religion. Self-sacrificial, eloquent minister of the gospel. Both were one and the same person. The difference was conversion—and the "new life" that comes with it. Doing this issue has been a reminder to me that when Jesus gets hold of a person—at no matter what age—he does wonderful things with the years that follow. The new life he brings is abundant—more than we can ask or imagine.

A stammering start

As I got to know John Newton, I felt I was in the presence of a quintessential pastor. He had known the misery of sin at close hand and delighted in bringing what the Puritans termed "soul cure" to all around him. That he strove for seven years to enter ...

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