Sunday, 16 June 2013

John Newton and Amazing Grace

John Newton and Amazing Grace.
(Grace: the free and undeserved favour of God.)

Many people have heard or even sung the hymn 'Amazing Grace' but not many know the remarkable story behind the song. It was written by a clergyman named John Newton, nothing so remarkable about that, I'm sure lots of clergymen write hymns but this man had come on an amazing journey from atheism to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

John Newton was born in 1725, as a child he was taught the teachings of Christianity by his mother, he had a very retentive memory and learned extensive passages from the Bible. However by the time he reached his teenage years he had turned away from these teachings and by the age of 17 he had become a confirmed Atheist.

Newton's father was a sailor by trade and John had spent years aboard ship since the age of 11. He followed his father into the trade and eventually became a slave ship captain. He developed many bad habits aboard ship, his particular hobby was to invent swear words and blasphemous sayings, these weren't the usual sailor's swear words but carefully thought out expressions of rebellion against God,  against the very idea of His existence.

Eventually Newton's rebellion was to come to a sudden and most unexpected end. Newton's ship was caught in a terrible storm, many sailors had been swept over board and the ship looked in danger of sinking altogether when Newton found himself calling on the mercy of God. He had no idea why he was even thinking about the mercy of a God he didn't even believe in. Hour after hour he toiled, pumping water out of the stricken ship but his mind was now recalling many Bible verses he had learned as a child, he became convinced not only that he was not alone but that his sins were too great to be forgiven, the mercy of God was not for him.

By the time the storm blew itself out, unknown to everyone else, John Newton had quite simply ceased to swear or blaspheme, it was not a pre-meditated decision, it just happened. He was no longer asking if there is a God but 'how do I get to know Him'.

Unfortunately John Newton had a very unclear grasp of the good news of salvation as found in the Bible and for some while after this he had periods of his life when he fell back into bad ways and other times when he tried hard to follow after the Lord.

Thankfully in the providence of God he met with an experienced Christian who started studying the Bible with him and answering many of his questions. After this period of study and searching he knew his faith rested in Jesus and His works and not in his own works, that he was forgiven because Jesus took the punishment for his sin when he died on the cross, there was nothing left for him to do. It was all done by God's 'amazing grace'.

John Newton became a Minister and in later years he and his friend William Cowper wrote many hymns, sometimes writing as many as a hymn a week. Amazing Grace was written during this period of time.

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.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The world shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.


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