Summary: As we move closer to Easter, this sermon explores the place of repentance in the life of faithful Christians
Bibliography: Finding Christ, Finding Life, Repentance
Do you know the story of John Newton?
Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. When John was eleven, he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. In 1744 John was impressed into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. Finding conditions on board intolerable, he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.
Finally at his own request he was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant - a slave himself - of a slave trader and was brutally abused. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John’s father. John Newton ultimately became captain of his own ship, one which plied the slave trade.
Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, who had died when he was a child, he had long since given up any religious convictions. However, on a homeward voyage, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.” He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him.
For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion.
He continued in the slave trade for a time after his conversion; however, he saw to it that the slaves under his care were treated humanely.
By 1755, after a serious illness, he had given up seafaring forever. During his days as a sailor he had begun to educate himself, teaching himself Latin, among other subjects. From 1755 to 1760 Newton was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, where he came to know George Whitefield, deacon in the Church of England, evangelistic preacher, and leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. Newton became Whitefield’s enthusiastic disciple. During this period Newton also met and came to admire John Wesley, founder of Methodism. Newton’s self-education continued, and he learned Greek and Hebrew.
He decided to become a minister and applied to the Archbishop of York for ordination. The Archbishop refused his request, but Newton persisted in his goal, and he was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln. Newton’s church became so crowded during services that it had to be enlarged.
At 82, Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.”
Newton’s tombstone reads, “John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” But a far greater testimony outlives Newton in the most famous of the hundreds of hymns he wrote:
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 the weeks ahead, we will be looking at different aspects of the Christian faith as we move closer to Easter. These aspects are ways in which we move and act within our relationship with Christ, such as coping with temptation, continual faithfulness and promise keeping, relationships within a body of believers, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the place of humbleness and remembering in the Christian walk.
We turn our attention now towards repentance. I don’t like the word. Those with little Christian experience aren’t sure what it means. Even those with greater church experience misinterpret it and in some ways I believe rebel against it. For many there is a negative connotation to it.
I hope this evening we can clear up a few of these issues concerning this word.
The words I bring you come from Paul. He writes to the church located in Corinth. In his day Corinth is a bustling metropolis and is one of those cities that is located in the perfect place for a booming trade environment. Corinth has a lot to offer.
But Corinth also has a lot wrong with it. In the letters we have that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, we have glimpses of the uphill struggle Paul has with the Corinthian believers. The Corinthian Christians, from what we can tell, were torn between the Christian faith and the pull of the culture they lived in. First, the Corinthian Christians fought with one another, trying to best each other. And then, some of them engaged in less than Christian behaviors, immoral behaviors within the church it appears - and others tolerated it, even condoned it.