God’s Amazing Grace

I am sure you have heard preachers say that mercy is not receiving the punishment we deserve, and grace is receiving the blessings we don’t deserve. This time of year, thinking about the birth of Jesus, we see both His mercy and grace.


John Newton was a former slave ship captain who died on December 21, 1807. You will remember that Newton composed the famous hymn “Amazing Grace.” Nearly all Christian people know the song because it touches on the depth of our need for and dependence upon God.


John’s mother died when he was eleven, and he went to sea with his father. Years later, Newton fell in love with Mary Catlett, and while on shore leave visiting her, he overstayed his visit and missed his ship’s departure. The British Navy pressed him into service on the HMS Harwich.


John Newton’s undisciplined behavior caused the Navy to trade him to a slave ship. Eventually, slave traders enslaved HIM on a plantation in Sierra Leon, West Africa. Newton learned what it was like to be enslaved and abused by a master. Eventually, he was rescued, yet continued in the slave trading business in an incredibly immoral lifestyle, scorning Christians with profanity that shocked sailors.


John prayed for the first time during a storm at sea that nearly sank his ship. That storm and that prayer changed his life. Someone gave him a Bible and Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ, which he read regularly. He left the slave trade and became a minister, preaching for the rest of his life against slavery.


He encouraged William Wilberforce to end slavery in England. Wilberforce eventually accomplished abolition through astute political means (If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to watch the movie, “Amazing Grace” to see this story). Newton’s anti-slavery and pro-Christ tombstone reads, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.


John Newton’s first pastorate was in Olney, England. In 1767, poet William Cowper moved to Olney, and with his help, Newton composed songs for their weekly prayer meetings. Among these songs were:

  • “Oh! for a Closer Walk with God.”
  • “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”
  • “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood.”


We may forget that God has initiated our salvation. Yes, He wants us to seek Him in response to His seeking us. When you think about Adam and Eve in the Garden, God sought them after they sinned. When Pharaoh imprisoned Israel in Egypt, God came to them and brought them to Himself in the wilderness (Exodus 19). Jesus said in Luke 19:10 (NKJV):

10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”


Jesus came to earth to seek the lost. That includes all of the tax collectors and sinners we read of in the gospels. It also consists of a reprobate like John Newton. God didn’t give up on John. Through an “almost catastrophe,” God wanted to rescue him and change the essence of his life, which He did.


We live in a dark world; sometimes, we long for Christ to return and end the wickedness. Have you wondered why God has delayed sending His Son to judge us? Peter gives us the answer in 2 Peter 3:9-10 (NKJV):

 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 


God is not willing for people to perish, but at some point, God will bring this world to an end, and some people will be lost. That means there is hope for you and me. We might not be as bad as John Newton, but all sin separates us from God, and all of us have sinned (see Romans 3:23; 6:23). God is more significant than our sins, no matter how big they may be.


Newton’s epitaph seems to indicate that he identified with the apostle Paul. Paul persecuted believers as “Saul of Tarsus.” He was zealous for God but missed the Messiah. As a result, he attacked the innocent followers of Jesus. Newton probably carried the guilt of his slave trade for the rest of his life, feeling that he, too, persecuted the innocent. Listen to Paul in Acts 22:4 (NKJV):

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women,

Jesus confronted Saul on the Damascus Road and brought Ananias to share the gospel. While Paul may have carried the memory of harming the believers, Christ forgave him. Paul referred to himself as “Chief of Sinners” in 1 Timothy 1:15. Yet look at our admiration of him today!


Jesus extended that hope to John Newton and you and me. Believe it or not, Jesus wants us in His kingdom and to work through us, broken vessels, to accomplish His purposes. We might want to abandon our walk with God and quit on God, but God won’t leave us! Philippians 1:6 (NKJV) reads:

being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;


God didn’t give up on Paul or John Newton, nor will He give up on you and me. The sweet sound of His amazing grace saves us! Remember John 1:14 (NKJV):

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.


Let’s Keep The Light of God’s Amazing Grace Burning!