Summary: This is the second in a 4 sermon series adapted from David Jeremiah’s book, Captured by Grace. Each point is derived from a verse of Amazing Grace and tells the story of John Newton. Powepoint available.
AMAZING GRACE: VERSE TWO
Scott Bayles, pastor
Based on Captured by Grace, by David Jeremiah
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL
The story of John Newton is one of the greatest before-and-after stories ever told. As Captain of a slave ship, John Newton dealt in human cargo. He sailed the African cost, traveling from one slave factory to another, loading the shelves of his cargo hold with human beings whom he had bought and intended to sell. He had a sailor’s mouth and a slave trader’s morals. Until, that is, one fateful night when his ship nearly capsized and he came face to face with his own mortality. That moment became the turning point for his life. Once lost, John Newton was now found. He gave his life to Jesus and eventually abandoned the slave trade to become a pastor. Not only did he preach the Gospel for over forty-five years, but he gave Christianity one of its most beloved hymns. John Newton died at the age of eighty-one. His melody, however, lingers on.
Last week we looked between the lines and the notes of John Newton’s famous hymn—Amazing Grace—and discovered that each phrase is jam-packed with the grace of God. The first verse reveals the captivating presence of grace, the compassionate plan of grace, and the changing power of grace. As I said last week, 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, we’re going to pick up right were we left off. We’ll dig into the second verse of Amazing Grace and see, once again, if we can discover just how amazing God’s grace really is. Let’s get started.
The second verse of Amazing Grace expresses two wonderful elements of God’s grace; the first of which is the confusing paradox of grace.
• THE CONFUSING PARADOX OF GRACE
The second verse of Newton’s classic hymn begins with these intriguing words: “’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved...” This stanza is, as I said, somewhat of a confusing paradox. It seems puzzling that Newton would credit God’s grace with both instilling fear in his heart and relieving his heart’s fears in the very same breath. But sometimes that is just what grace does.
The Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death” (Proverbs 14:27 NIV). That’s exactly what happened to John Newton. His life had become a living metaphor: life as a tempest. His days merged into one long voyage through turbulent waters, pounded by storms approaching from any and every point of the compass. He was a man without a country, a vessel wandering with no port.
On March 21, 1748, the young slave trader dozed fitfully in his bunk, uncertain whether it was the sea or his soul that propelled him from one nightmare to the next, when suddenly he was awakened by a fierce storm engulfing the ship. They were taking on water and every sailor on board, including John Newton, was afraid for his life. His sailor instincts kicked in and he rushed for the deck to work the pumps. Just then he felt a rough hand on his shoulder. “Bring me a knife,” yelled the captain, shouting to be heard above the chaos.
Newton left his position to run the errand and, while he was gone, the man who took his place on deck was washed overboard. “That was meant for me,” thought Newton as he returned to his station. He threw all his strength into the task at hand and whispered, almost without thinking, “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy upon us!”
The Lord—it had been years since Newton had uttered God’s name as anything but a curse word. But as he and his shipmates worked through the night, John felt long-suppressed thoughts and emotions spilling over his soul. As morning broke and hope of survival began to take hold among the crew, Newton felt something happening within him. He couldn’t explain it. He couldn’t give logical reasons. He only felt a rising certainty that no mere accident had threatened and spared his ship in the night. For the first time since his childhood, Newton could actually feel a purpose to the fabric of the universe and he began to pray.
Before that night, John Newton had given little if any thought to life-after-death, judgment, or eternity. But, terrified by the prospect of a watery grave, Newton learned the fear of the Lord and he learned it by grace.
Seventeen centuries earlier, another group of sailors were caught in a similar storm. Jesus and his disciple were one the Sea of Galilee, when the Bible says, “a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water” (Mark 4:37 NLT).