It is estimated that the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” is sung 11 million times each year. It has been performed by Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Andrea Bocelli, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, President Obama, and millions more.
The song was written by John Newton in 1772. At age 11, Newton was taken to sea by his sea-captain father.
After a few years of heavy drinking and severe punishment by the British navy, Newton found himself working on slave ships transporting slaves from Africa to destinations in the British Empire.
In a powerful storm off the coast of Ireland, Newton prayed a desperate prayer that God would rescue him and the ship on which he traveled.
The ship, though heavily damaged, was miraculously saved. Newton took this as a sign from God and marked this date as the time of his conversion.
This moment in his life was the beginning point, but there was more to be done with the man whom God rescued.
He wrote about the day of his salvation, “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterward.”
As he began reading the Bible and praying, God transformed his inner self until he eventually was ordained as an Anglican priest. He wrote nearly 300 hymns, with “Amazing Grace” being the most memorable.
Thirty-four years after his conversion Newton wrote a pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.” His pamphlet was the turning point in the horrific business of slavery.
The Theology of Grace
Newton’s experience of God’s amazing grace was described by Paul in worshipful tones. God’s grace starkly contrasts with the darkness of sin in verses 1-3.
— Ephesians 2.4-5 – But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us
Even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved.
Mercy, love, and grace dominate the message of verses 4 and 5. These three words reflect God’s essential nature.
If God ceases to be merciful, loving, and gracious, then he is no longer the God whom the world knows.
The chaotic forces of the world are unreliable and capricious. When John Newton was tossed by the waves of the sea, he knew better than to rely on world forces.
Even though he was distant from God, he called out to receive mercy from the One Trustworthy God.
God responded to Newton, just as he did with Paul and millions of other people. His amazing grace “saved a wretch like me.”
Newton – A Good Model of Grace
John Newton is a good model to help us understand God’s amazing grace.
(1) Newton moved from “lost” to “found” the moment he called on God to help and responded in faith to God’s gracious activity.
A man and woman are pronounced “husband and wife” on their wedding day and are legally married at that moment.
Marriage is far more than being legally married. Love, communication, and sharing life contribute to the experience of marriage.
The same was true for Newton and everyone who follows Jesus in faith. There is much more to be experienced with Jesus beyond the first moment of grace and faith.
(2) God did not wave a magic wand over Newton and instantly transform his character.
Newton had the good spiritual sense to begin reading the Bible after his experience with God’s saving grace.
Bible reading and prayer led him to a fuller realization of his life with Jesus.
God has given us “tools” that help us develop our relationship with him and other people, just like there are excellent means to a fulfilling marriage.
It is up to us to use the gifts God has given us to deepen our experience of living with him.
(3) Spiritual progress should be a part of everyday life until the day we head for heaven.
Newton’s journey included ordination and writing nearly 300 songs of love to God until at last he realized the depravity of the slave trade.
It took 34 years of a relationship with God for Newton to recognize how the slave trade was wrong.
Spiritual growth is a life-long process. We never reach a point where we have “arrived” and no longer need to ask for God’s grace and spiritual growth.
YouTube Video and Prayer
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
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