“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
No truer words could have been written, than those penned by John Newton as he was preparing a message for his New Year’s Day sermon on January 1, 1773. It was common for this slave trader turned minister of the gospel, to use his lyrical ‘gift’ in composing hymns and simple songs, usually to the tune of something recognizable. He would then introduce them to the people of his parish, who loved to sing. It was an effective way of teaching the Word of God and Biblical truths, since many couldn’t read a Bible.
However, in his younger years as a sailor and then slave trader, John Newton loved to take the old sea chantey’s and turn them into songs that blasphemed God and usually ridiculed his captains. Often the foul words and expressions he worked into his songs would cause even a sage ol’ sailor to blush! The result was that many a captain would rather get rid of John, then have him on his crew.
So, how in the world does a foul-mouthed, blasphemer ever become a gifted minister of the gospel, capable of writing hymns that have touched hearts for over 250 years?
It’s grace – God’s incredible, undeserved, unmerited favor. You’ve experienced it and so have I!
A STORM AT SEA
John Newton experienced it for the first time on a stormy day in the middle of the North Atlantic. He awoke to screams coming from the deck as huge waves crashed over the ship; sweeping supplies, animals, food and many of the crew overboard. The ship was being torn apart. John helped the captain and what was left of the crew pump, bail and fill every crack and hole they could. Out of desperation he cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us!” Immediately he recognized that he, of all people, did not deserve any help from God. The captain was of the same mind for he was God-fearing and was convinced that John, with all his blaspheming, had brought God’s wrath on them; even calling him a Jonah. Fortunately, John was not thrown overboard, though I’m certain it had crossed the captain’s mind. After a month the ship finally limped its way to the coast of Ireland where, upon arriving, John kissed the ground!
According to the biography, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Aitken, the storm at sea would begin John Newton’s journey of faith. Looking back he wrote, “I began to know there is a God who hears and answers prayer.” He also said, “I was quite freed from the habit of swearing, which seemed to have been deeply rooted in me as a second nature.” However, it would take many more years ‘of dangers, toils and snares’ before his course would be steered away from sin and the slave trade and into ministry.
Twenty-five years after the storm at sea, as he prepared his morning message and wrote the famous hymn to go with it, we can easily see where the words came from.
They came from a heart overflowing with thankfulness as he looked back at where he had been and where he was at that moment. A man who had been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and blessed to overflowing with the love and goodness of God.
I pray you would take a moment and remember where you were before Christ, and where you are now because of His goodness! Then pass that testimony on to someone who is now where you were.
Have you experienced God’s grace? Tell me about it!