John Newton (1725-1807) penned "Amazing Grace" in 1779. It is perhaps the world's most well known Christian hymn, an anthem to the forgiveness of sin offered to man through Christ. But, Newton came to understand that grace the hard way.
Around age 18, Newton became a sailor for the Royal Navy, and eventually worked aboard British slave ships. His life at sea was rough, and throughout his years, he endured lashes from cruel captains, and was even abandoned by his shipmates in West Africa. He was taken captive by a slave trader there and Newton described himself then as "an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in West Africa."
He was finally rescued in 1748 (after about 3 years enslavement) and, while journeying back to England, Newton was dramatically converted to Christ. In 1764, he became an Anglican priest and, eventually, a dear friend of William Wilberforce, the most influential abolitionist in Britain.
Newton understood grace. He understood shackles, both literal and spiritual, and he wrote and preached often of the true freedom found in Christ. This hymn, "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," was penned by John Newton in 1774, five years before he wrote "Amazing Grace."