John Newton (b. London, England, 1725; d. London, 1807) was born into a Christian home, but his godly mother died when he was seven, and he joined his father at sea when he was eleven. His licentious and tumultuous sailing life included a flogging for attempted desertion from the Royal Navy and captivity by a slave trader in West Africa. After his escape he himself became the captain of a slave ship. Several factors contributed to Newton's conversion: a near-drowning in 1748, the piety of his friend Mary Catlett, (whom he married in 1750), and his reading of Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ. In 1754 he gave up the slave trade and, in association with William Wilberforce, eventually became an ardent abolitionist. After becoming a tide… Go to person page >
As the sun's enlivening eye. J. Newton. [Parting.] Bull, in his life of Newton, p. 222, gives the following account of the origin of this hymn:—
"In November  Mr. Newton underwent an operation for a tumour in his thigh. He was mercifully brought through it, and was very soon able to resume his ordinary duties. On this occasion he composed the 71st hymn, Bk. ii. in the Olney Hymns."
As intimated, the hymn appeared in the Olney Hymns, 1779, in 7 stanzas of 4 lines, and headed "Parting." It came into use in the older collections, and is still found in a few hymnals both in Great Britain and America. The hymn, "For a season called to part," which is given in the New Congregational Hymn Book, 1859, No. 848, and other collections, especially in America, is composed of stanzas iv., v., and vi. of this hymn.