Read His Words Before Ours!
We often think of those who write hymns, especially famous ones, as being faultless. Yet, each writer was human, and therefore deeply flawed, none more so than John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace.”
John Newton’s mother was a believer and instilled learning Scripture in John as a young boy. Motherless at 7, he joined his father, a ship captain, at sea for several voyages. As a young teen, he often found himself in trouble aboardship, and eventually, a moment of free time away from the ship put him into the path of a press gang. John was kidnapped to serve in the British Navy for several years, but all the hard work requirements didn’t stop him from creating havoc aboard the ships.
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.”
Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us the grace and salvation John Newton wrote about do not come at our own hand. Instead, like the apostle Paul, we can only see the truth of our sin and God’s grace when the scales fall from our eyes. Paul’s temporary blindness was physical, but it also represented his spiritual blindness to Who God truly was. We, like Saul, are blinded to Who He is, and to the ugliness of our sin, when we are mired in our self-serving sin and lifestyles dishonoring to God.
When John was free from the Navy, he was given the opportunity to assist a plantation owner and slave trader on an island off the African coast. Though slave trading was a legal business and he had success, John discovered himself chained in spiritual bondage, just as the slaves he traded were locked in physical chains.
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.”
Rescued from life on the island, John joined another trade vessel. A fierce storm arose, causing the ship to take on water and begin falling apart. After helping to bail water, he was assigned to the helm. It was in this moment, facing almost certain death, John remembered the faith of his upbringing and started praying.
Three hours later, the storm abated. John spent several more hours at the helm, giving him plenty of time to pray and reflect on his life. He began to realize God was very real and did, indeed, still hold him. Titus 2:11-13 aptly describes the call of God, which settled on John’s spirit, although he did not yet fully grasp it yet:
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come,
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.”
Eventually, John became captain of his own vessel, making several voyages to Africa and back. Over the course of these trips, he made time for prayer and devotions with his crew. Before one trip, John was overcome with a fever and forced to remain behind; later, tragic news came that the ship sank. Once again, he was reminded of God’s divine protection over his life.
John retired as captain and eventually chose to go into ministry. He became active in the abolitionist movement, denouncing, and working to end, slave trade. God had continued to make John’s heart new and increasingly more like Christ’s!
“The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures,
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.”
“Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.”
John spent many years writing sermons and poems, often collaborating with fellow poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” is one of the many poems produced by Newton. His past became the focus of many of the verses, but he concluded this famous work with his gaze fixed on eternity:
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.”
Grace was the theme of a wretched man like John, who gave himself over again and again to the Amazing God who died to free him from his chains of slavery to sin. Our sin gives us each the moniker “wretch,” and yet, when we turn to Him in repentance, even the most wretched heart is transformed by His amazing grace! Come, be amazed at the gracious kindness of a God who sacrificed Himself for you!
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!