GodReflection: Breathing Grace
John Newton was a grace saved scoundrel.
His early story is a great exhibit of life with the unfair. Although his mother dreamed of John becoming a clergyman, she died when her son was six years old. His next five years were spent with a disconnected stepmother and as a resident of an abusive boarding school.
At age eleven he joined his father at sea where he passed from ship to ship and port to port until he was thirty. From a vile sailor with profanity that exceeded that of the most wicked to work within the slave trade it was hard to find a sin that was not his companion.
After survival of a storm at sea in 1748 he began a journey toward God—with bouts of regression—that culminated in a job as a customs agent in Liverpool in 1756 where he began to study Latin, Greek, and theology.
While in Liverpool he started to attend church with his wife.
By 1764 he was ordained and began his work in the village of Olney. In keeping with the times it was common to teach by verse. So Newton and a writer friend attempted to pen a hymn for each weekly prayer meeting.
To illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773, John Newton shared his autobiographical words in a song estimated to be sung 10 million times annually:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) that sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
So what does John Newton’s story and his song have to do with me? I’ve never sold slaves nor majored in wicked behavior.
I think of my world as quite and sanitary in contrast to the world of a drunken profane sailor.
The truth is I participate in the membership of all humankind. That makes me a sinner. I fall within the ranks of Jesus’ reality check, “No one is good—except God alone” (Mark 10:18).
Any context without Jesus and God’s breath of grace is not a sanitary world. I would live and remain far from God were it not for His breath of grace.
Why is it that John Newton’s song strikes such a cord around the globe as 10 million men and women annually reflect upon line after line?
Could it be that like John Newton we know who we are and as a result thirst for grace?
Could it be that once we’ve found grace in God’s gift of His son we like John Newton long for words to thank our gracious God?
And so we sing, Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) that sav’d a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
Dr. Gary J. Sorrells
A GodReflection on Amazing Grace.