Summary: Based on Isaiah 1:15-17 and James 2:14-26 this sermon was prepared for "Amazing Grace" Sunday 2007. The thesis is that we are saved to be agents of God’s Grace in the cause for social justice for God’s oppressed children in our modern society.
A Mission of Amazing Grace: Seek Justice, Rescue the Oppressed
Today North American Christians are celebrating “Amazing Grace Sunday,” but do you realize the significance in our celebrating the most beloved hymn of all time? On Friday, 23 February 2007, the movie “Amazing Grace” will be released in theatres throughout the world. This date marks the 200th anniversary for passage the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in the British Parliament. That historic event forever abolished the horrific slave trade of African men, women, and children throughout the British Empire.
Final victory came after a twenty-one year courageous fight by British philanthropist, politician, and abolitionist William Wilberforce. The bill finally cleared the House of Commons at 4:00 a. m. by a vote of 283 to 16. Wilberforce was mentored in his efforts by his boyhood pastor John Newton, the former captain of a slave ship now turned Anglican clergyman, and his good friends the evangelical evangelists George Whitfield and the Wesley brothers John and Charles, all of whom had positively influenced William Wilberforce to become a Christian and thus leave a lasting impact on the field of social justice in our world. We also celebrate the 228th anniversary of John Newton’s composing “Amazing Grace.” January 1, 2007, marked the 144th Anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declaring “That all persons held as slaves within the rebellious States are, and henceforward shall be free.” [SOURCE: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation].
The movie “Amazing Grace” tells the powerful story of William Wilberforce and John Newton in the fight to abolish slavery around the world. Methodism was always at the heart and center of the Abolitionist Movement during the 18th and 19th centuries. John Newton himself was nurtured as a Christian through the Spirit filled ministry of George Whitfield and the Wesleys.
The first vote to abolish the slave trade came before the House of Commons in 1796 and failed by only 4 votes when several Members of Parliament attended the opera instead of staying in the House to vote on the bill. As a result, Wilberforce suffered a nervous breakdown along with deteriorating health. His friend John Newton encouraged him by comparing him to the situation faced by the Old Testament prophet Daniel when he was thrown into the Lion’s Den. Newton’s encouraging words were, “The God whom you serve continually is able to preserve and deliver you, He will see you through,” words reminiscent of those King Darius spoke to Daniel as he was thrown to the lions, “May your God whom you serve continually, rescue you!” [SOURCE: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/people/williamwilberforce_print.html].
The last letter ever written by John Wesley on February 24, 1791, was to Wilberforce. Wesley encourage his friend:
“O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name
Of God and in the power of His might, till even American
slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish
away before it.
“Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor
African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance
that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or
outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it
being a “law” in our colonies that the oath of a
black against a white goes for nothing. What
villainy is this?
“That He who has guided you from youth
up may continue to strengthen you in this and
all things, is the prayer of, dear sir,
“Your Affectionate Servant,
John Wesley” [SOURCE: http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/wesley/wilber.stm]
By the power of God’s Amazing Grace and without a drop of blood shed, Wilberforce, Newton, the Methodists, and their allies succeeded in abolishing slavery in the British empire.
The Lord called John Newton home to be with him on 21 December 1807. William Jay, of Bath, visited him shortly before his death. Newton never ceased to praise God for His “Amazing Grace.” He testified to Mr. Jay: "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things — that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a Great Saviour." [SOURCE: http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bnewton4.html].
We are always conscious of the fact by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour and Lord and never by any works of righteousness we have done. Although we are not saved by works, we are saved to do good works for God’s Kingdom in like fashion as did William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Abraham Lincoln.
Evangelical Christianity usually falls short in proclaiming only Ephesians 2:8-9 in relating the story of God’s Amazing Grace. We dare not forget verse 10 which follows. Our mission of grace becomes clear when we read the three verses together in their context: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of god— not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Our salvation is a free gift, that’s grace; but once we are born again we are “created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The Holy Spirit calls us to be agents of “God’s Amazing Grace” by ministering to the hurts and needs of others.