Summary: John Newton was a sinner. He didn’t deserve to be saved. It was only because of the Amazing Grace of Jesus he had a prayer.
OPEN: In 1776 the great patriot Thomas Paine, wrote the following words about freedom:
“What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly;
’tis dearness only that gives everything its value.
Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed,
if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.”
APPLY: Thomas Paine was saying that our Freedom as a people should always be highly prized, and likewise, the Bible tells us that our freedom in Christ should never be taken lightly either.
Jesus said that He had been sent to “…preach good news to the poor. (The Father) has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, Luke 4:18
Hebrews tells us that Jesus “… shared in (our) humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death— that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” Hebrews 2:14-15
Our freedom in Christ is a powerful thing and it has been bought at great price… the price of Christ’s death on the cross. And those have made the greatest difference for God have often been those who have understood how precious their freedom in Christ actually is.
Back in the late 1700’s, there was a preacher named John Newton. Before he died he preached a sermon where he said: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember 2 things. That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!”
Now ordinarily, those are the kind of words you’d expect out of preacher. Any preacher worth his salt would be proud to come up with a line like that one. But John Newton was not your ordinary preacher. He had indeed been a GREAT sinner.
In fact, on his gravestone in Olney, England are engraved these words:
“John Newton, clerk [preacher], once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior JC, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.”
In other words - on his gravestone – John Newton declared before God and everyone that he had been an immoral man. He had engaged in an impure activities that would make your hair curl (that’s what the terms “infidel” and “libertine” refer to).
In addition, he was declaring that he had bought and sold human flesh for profit and that he had actively belittled, ridiculed and tried to destroy faith other people had in God.
He was not a nice man.
But we don’t remember him because of the terrible things that he did in his life as much as we do the song that he wrote. It’s one of the most popular songs ever written and has been recorded by more artists than any melody ever written. Does anybody know the name of that song?
It’s called “Amazing Grace”, and I’d like you to sing the first verse of that song with me right now.
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.
In that song, John Newton was declaring that he had no right to be saved.
He was a wretch of a man
And it was only by the AMAZING grace of Jesus that he even had a prayer.
He’d once been horribly lost, rejected by anyone who had even a sense of decency.
But now… like the sheep that had gone astray… God had found Him and cleansed Him and made part of His family.
John Newton lived the words of the song he wrote.
In fact, John Newton lived the life of the Scripture we read at the opening of this sermon.
He had lived a life that was very much like that of a man named Saul (we know him as Paul) who was an early enemy of the church.
Read Again With Me from I Timothy 1:13-16 Saul (Paul) writes:
“Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
In the book of Acts we’re told that: