5/6/2020 – Pastor Brian’s Blog –
On the first Monday of each month, we are looking at Christian music as I highlight the story behind a well-known song. This month we are looking at probably the most famous hymn of all time. It has been sung by and for the rich and famous, it has been sung at the funerals of the down and out. It has been played in churches around the world both great and small. It is a hymn that is full of sound doctrine, and was lived out by the author. It is a hymn that is known by countless people, the hymn, “Amazing Grace.”
One of my go to cookies when I travel is also one of the oldest cookies known to mankind, the “Fig Newton.” But I do not want to talk about Fig this morning, but about John. John Newton, who almost died living out his passions, but was transformed and wrote a song that is still being sung today, 213 years after his death.
At the age of 7 John Newton’s mother died. Instead of finishing school he decided to go out to sea with his father. While there, John shares that he fell into rebellion and degradation. His diary says that he disregarded all that was right. He would go on to say that because of his choices, he was plagued with despair, was abused, and was flogged publicly. He became destitute and fell into depression.
John Newton left his father’s ship to go work for a slave trader. There he recklessly spent his money so that he nearly starved to death. Newton said that things got so bad that the slaves felt so sorry for him and that they actually shared their food with him.
Yet in spite of all of this, Newton confesses that he remained stubbornly wicked and tried to get others to live as he did. The amazing thing about sin is it can become so strong, even to the point of killing you, and you still won’t give it up.
Later on in his career Newton would become a captain of a slave ship. As the captain his downward spiral only becomes worse. Newton writes that he was so mean, so despicable, that one time he fell overboard, and the crew, instead of throwing him a lifeboat or something to save his life, they threw a harpoon at him. Because of the life he had lived, Newton confesses that the crew regarded him as little more than an animal.
What changed his life? What changed Newton from a depressed drunkard, from someone that people despised, from a person that lived wickedly, to a person that could pen a hymn like Amazing Grace? In his own words, Newton said the thing that changed His life was when he responded to the Grace of God.
During that experience Newton said the he became acutely aware of four things taught in the Bible:
1. I must realize that in my present condition I am a sinner before God.
“All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23
2. I cannot save myself from eternal punishment in hell.
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
3. Christ has paid for my sins and my punishment with His death on the cross.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him (Jesus) should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
4. I must accept His crucifixion as payment for my sins, personally.
“But as many as received Him (Christ), to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” John 1:12
One of the verses to this great hymn… “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home,” was also written from pain. When Newton penned this promise, it came on the same day he buried his wife Mary. John loved Mary dearly and like me, John Newton prayed his death would precede his wife’s. But his prayer was answered differently than he had wanted.
John Newton died in 1807 at eighty-two years of age. Before his death he left with his executors his epitaph—written some time before—to be etched on a plain marble slab and mounted near his burial place. The first portion is as follows:
“John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”
Can I encourage you to allow God’s amazing grace to control your life? Let it drive away your fears and your worries. Presidents come and go; we have wars and rumors of wars and economies act up. Disease, poverty, calamity, struggles, and pain may fill your world, but they don’t have to control it. Let God’s grace control you, your life, and your circumstances. Then allow God to put a song in your heart, just like he did John Newton’s.
John knew exactly what he was writing when he wrote this hymn because he lived it.
“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.”
May John’s Newton’s hymn bless your heart today…