Pastors explain it. Hymns proclaim it. Seminaries teach it. The Bible is filled with it. But, do we really understand grace?
Grace is God meeting your rebellion with His rescue, your sin with His salvation, and your guilt with His grace. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. Grace declares that you are much less than you thought you were, even as it assures you that you can be far more than you ever imagined.
Grace is Jesus defeating Satan on the cross and on your behalf. Jesus then placed a term limit on sin and danced a victory jig in a graveyard. Grace.
A man named John
His name was John. He knew a thing or two about grace. Like a cold wind that chilled the land, John’s mother died of tuberculous when he was the young age of 6. This painful experience clung like a garment to John. John would years later say, “My dear mother often commended me with many prayers and tears to God; and I doubt not, but I reap the fruits of these prayers to this hour.”
His father remarried quickly and “John’s stepmother was at first attentive, but she soon bore more children of her own and lost interest in John, excluding him from family life.” The result was John joined his father at sea when he was only eleven. Numerous voyages on slave trading ships created a stone-hardened heart that revealed gross and wicked immorality. John said, “I sinned with a high hand.” He prided himself on leading others into temptation and blasphemy.
John was pressed into naval service against his will at the age of eighteen. John says about himself, “I was capable of anything; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor (so far as I remember) the least sensibility of conscience.”
When he was twenty years old, he was kicked off his ship on an island near West Africa. He lived for a year and a half as a slave in poverty-stricken conditions. Later in life he marveled at the seemingly accidental way a ship dropped anchor near his island and the captain knew John’s father and managed to free him from slavery.
A day to remember
He was almost twenty-one, and God was about to close in. March 21, 1748 as the Greyhound battled a violent and tempestuous storm in the North Atlantic, God acted to save the “African blasphemer.” The winds raged. The waves crashed. Canvas sails ripped. The sea seemed angry. Panic seized the men of the ship. John didn’t realize, but the storm was from God. John was assigned to the pumps and heard himself say, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us all.” The next few hours would decide if the men would live or be cast into a watery grave. John realized that his life seemed as ruined and wrecked as the battered ship. The storm passed and the sun burst from behind the clouds offering hope and life. John spent the rest of the voyage in deep seriousness reading and praying over the Scriptures.
John never forgot March 21, 1748. He would write, “On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” Fifty-seven years later he wrote in his journal, “Not well able to write but I endeavor to observe the return of this day with humiliation, prayer, and praise.” It is only amazing grace that would take a sinful slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of the King.
John writes these words, “I stood in need of an Almighty Savior; and such a one I found described in the New Testament.” Later, as a more mature Christian, John believed he was not actually saved at sea, but about six months later.
God’s transforming grace
He continued sailing on slave trading ships for six years until a seizure ended his sailing career. Later he realized the wickedness and vileness of slavery and in 1787 wrote a tract condemning it. Through his friendship with William Wilberforce, Newton encouraged the abolitionist efforts in the Parliament of England.
In his last will and testament, John said the following:
“I commit my soul to my gracious God and Savior, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a blasphemer, and an infidel, and delivered me from the state of misery on the coast of Africa into which my obstinate wickedness had plunged me, and who has been pleased to admit me (though most unworthy) to preach his glorious gospel.”
God would bless John with the love of his love, Mary, and they would spend forty years together and adopt two orphaned nieces.
The Lord would richly bless his ministry. John pastored two churches over forty-three years. His mornings were filled with study and afternoons he visited and cared for his congregation. John was a preacher and a pastor.
John found that he was gifted at writing hymns. In 1779 a hymnal was produced with Newton writing two hundred and eighty and his close friend William Cowper penning sixty-eight. Included in this magnificent collection of hymns was Amazing Grace by John and There is a Fountain filled with Blood by Cowper.
Near his death John spoke these striking and truthful words: My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.
This is the man, John Newton, who penned those words that we all have sung:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me I once was lost, but now I am found Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear And grace my fears relieved How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed
Through many dangers, toils and snares We have already come 'Twas grace has brought us safe thus far And grace will lead us home