As we preached the Gospel in the shopping mall in Carnegie, a mocker sang this melodic hymn from across the street intending to disrupt our preaching. The writer of these lines noted that this mocker knew the words to “Amazing Grace”.
This Hymn became a top tune in 1972. The music is stirring and has brought tears to many an eye. But of the millions who have been moved by the pipes and drums and even know the words of this hymn, how many have experienced the truth of the words of the hymn writer’s message? The glorious theme of “Amazing Grace” is still as fresh and vital today as it was to the soul of John Newton over two hundred years ago.
At a young age of twelve, Newton was on the high seas. The lad stood on the threshold of a careless life with no concern for spiritual things. He wrote, “Instead of prayer, I learned to curse and blaspheme, and was exceedingly wicked.” Experiencing many struggles between his conscience and horror of his sin, he later testified that, “These struggles between sin and conscience were often repeated, but the consequence was that every relapse sank me to still greater depths of wickedness.”
After a notorious career in the Navy, Newton finally deserted, making his way to the coast of Africa where he became actively engaged in the cruel and degrading slave trade. Eventually, while returning from Africa to England aboard the British vessel Greyhound, a furious gale struck and the ship began to break up. With the storm raging and the sails mostly destroyed, Newton penned, “… we were ready to give up all for lost, and despair was taking place in every countenance”.
Yet, the eyes of God were upon this great sinner. With the ship foundering beneath his feet, Newton had time to think as he laboriously worked at the pumps hour after hour or clung helplessly to the helm.
After years of sin, moral depravity and spiritual darkness, his thoughts were taken up with God, and he discovered that common sense and reason without faith were not enough with which to face eternity. As the storm eased and the Greyhound drifted helplessly in the balmy breeze, he began to read the New Testament carefully. The Holy Spirit led him to see that the matter of his sins and their awful penalty was fully answered for by the suffering death and precious shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the Cross of Calvary. He passed from death unto life (John 5:24).
Thus with thankfulness and praise in his soul, John Newton proclaimed:
Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
When Newton was an old man, he complained that his faculties were failing him. “My memory”, he said, “is nearly gone; but I remember two things—that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour”. Shortly thereafter, his body was laid to rest while his soul passed to the realms of perfect day, but not before he had written his own epitaph which in part reads:
Once an Infidel and Libertine:
A servant of Slaves in Africa:
by the rich mercy of
our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,
Preserved, Restored and Pardoned,
and appointed to preach the Faith
He had long laboured to destroy.
Dear reader, do you know the Saviour of whom John Newton was writing when he inscribed on paper the words of “Amazing Grace”? Do you have the conscious assurance that you will be in Heaven when your soul bids farewell to your body? Is not this precious truth exactly what Newton meant by the words:
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 first began
You may not be such a great sinner as the author of “Amazing Grace”. It may appeal to your thoughts as you read these lines that your life is upright and your character beyond reproach. But, God clearly says that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Before the eyes of Him to whom all must give account, you are an ungodly sinner who has never pleased God (Hebrews 11:6, Romans 14:12). You stand on the edge of a great precipice, about to fall into burning flames of a real Hell (Luke 16:19-31). Yes, all this, if you pass into eternity without a Saviour.
But God loves the sinner, and manifested that love clearly when He gave His only Son (John 3:16). John Newton discovered this great truth, and I shall meet him in Heaven. Will you be there?
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.