John Newton wrote these words in his journal on 21 March 1796, at the age of 70.
He never forgot that “great turning day” in 1748 when, as an obstreperous, rebellious young man, he was surprised to hear himself crying out during a violent storm at sea, “The Lord have mercy on us!”
For it was on that day he discovered, “How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”
Every year that followed, he kept 21 March apart as a day of remembrance, for thanksgiving, fasting and prayer.
The words of Amazing Grace were etched on his heart daily. But we assume that he first wrote this hymn for his New Year’s Morning sermon of 1 January 1773, for it fits his sermon notes so closely and the text he chose to write above it in the Olney Hymns, 1 Chronicles 17:16,17, is identical to the sermon’s text.