On the long and dangerous journey back to England, Newton carelessly picked up a Christian book he found in his cabin and started reading, Suddenly, “an involuntary suggestion arose in my mind—What if these things should be true?” Horrified at the thought, he shut the book.
The next day (March 10 1748) the ship was caught in a violent storm. One man was swept overboard and waves crashing over the vessel caused serious damage.
“The sea had torn away the upper timbers on one side, and made the ship a mere wreck in a few minutes,” wrote Newton. “Taking all the circumstances, it was astonishing, and almost miraculous that any of us survived.”
After hours pumping water from the floundering ship, Newton cried, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us!” He was instantly struck with his own words. “This thought, spoken without much reflection, was the first desire I had breathed for mercy for many years. It directly occurred, “What mercy can there be for me?”
Taking the helm the next day, John had hours to reflect on his messed up life. “I thought there never was or could be such a sinner as myself; I concluded that my sins were too great to be forgiven.’
For weeks, the damaged ship was at the mercy of the sea and the crew was close to despair as rations ran short. All this time Newton was reading New Testament… desperate to find out if the God he had rejected for so long was real.