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Scott R. Bayles, pastor
Adapted from Capture by Grace by David Jeremiah
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, Illinois
St. Augustine once wrapped a powerful thought in vivid imagery when he said, “God always pours His grace into empty hands.” No ones hands could have been emptier than John Newton’s.
His father commanded a merchant ship and was always at sea. His mother raised him as best she could, teaching him the Scriptures and sacred songs. Sadly, his mother died just before his seventeenth birthday and it would be his father’s footstep in which John would follow. By the time he was seventeen, John Newton’s world was the open sea. The world of the Spirit, as lovingly taught by his mother, had vanished over the horizon and was lost as sea—much like Newton’s own soul.
In his own words, John’s “delight and habitual practice was wickedness,” and he “neither feared God nor regarded men.” In short, he was “a slave to doing wickedness and delighted in sinfulness.”
After a short stint in England’s wartime navy, John was dishonorably discharged and then made his way to Africa aboard a freighter. In the shadow of the Dark Continent, John Newton was finally hired aboard a slave ship, where African men, women and children were treated like cargo and shipped across the Atlantic as slaves.
Then, in March of 1748, somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic, grace arrived. The hand of God rescued a shipwrecked soul. A violent storm had engulfed the small slave ship. All hands were awake. Voices were shouting with urgency. Water was beginning to flood the hold. Newton wondered if this was how it was all going to end—entombed on the ocean floor. Then something remarkable happened—John Newton began praying. Later, he would surrender his life to Jesus and eventually become a pastor. He preached the Gospel until the venerable age of eighty-one.
Newton especially loved crafting sermons and hymns together. Reflecting on his life as a slave trader and his conversion to Christ, John Newton wrote the cherished hymn Amazing Grace. Today, shoppers at Amazon.com can choose from nearly 4,000 separate renditions of John Newton’s old hymn. It’s been around for over two hundred years. It comes in every style, crosses every border, and reaches any and every ear. When it’s announced at church, people stand a little taller to sing it. They lift their voices a bit higher. Some feel that, just for a moment, they are catching a glimpse through the gates of heaven.
Literally hundreds of hymnals have been published and gone out-of-print, yet Amazing Grace can be found in every single one of them. I believe that one of the reasons that this hymn has been so singularly loved and enduring is that every single verse conveys some powerful element of God’s truly amazing grace.
Today, I’d like to unpack this classic hymn and see if we can discover just how amazing God’s grace really is. It all begins with the captivation presence of grace.
• THE CAPTIVATING PRESENCE OF GRACE
The song, Amazing Grace, has captivated the hearts and minds of worshippers for generations, but I don’t believe it’s the melody or harmony that is so inspiring. It isn’t really the song itself; rather it’s the presence of God’s grace within it that captivates us and compels us to listen. The first words of this enduring hymn declare: “Amazing grace,
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