Summary: This is a Walk to Emmaus Sermon that I gave at a Men’s Walk. Various texts used throughout.
As I was preparing this talk I was reminded of someone who truly had great obstacles to grace. How many of you know who John Newton was? Well, let me tell you something about him. He was born in the summer of 1725, in the city of London, England. His mother was a devout member of the Dissenters, and she taught the young Newton to pray and filled his mind with the Scriptures. But it was John’s father, an often-absent sea captain, who captured the boy’s imagination. John dreamed of sailing ships and the wide, wild seas, of adventures and mysterious destinations.
Just before John’s 7th birthday his mother became ill and died, leaving her son a virtual orphan. Taken in by distant relatives, the little boy was mocked for his belief in God, discouraged from praying, and ridiculed for his childish faith. Unhappy and lonely, John turned again to his dreams of the sea and, at the age of 11, ran off to become an apprentice on his father’s ship.
If it was a close father-son relationship John desired, he was sadly disappointed, because like his foster family, his father also rejected him. For years, the young fellow worked the Mediterranean on sailing ships, enjoying all the experiences and immoralities offered in each exotic port. He was frequently fired for insubordination, but just as frequently hired by another ship’s master, eager for young seamen and not too particular about their character.
After a short stint in the British Navy, John deserted and ran away to Africa to seek his fortune and new adventures in the African slave trade. Signing on with an unscrupulous slave dealer, he found his situation had declined drastically. In the slave trader’s absences, John was left in the “care” of the man’s vindictive wife, who imprisoned him in her quarters, beat him, and forced him to eat his food off the floor like a dog. John thought death was better than these living conditions, so he escaped and ran into the African forests and eventually made his way to the Atlantic Coast. After lighting signal fires, John was finally spotted by a passing ship’s captain, who sent a small boat to shore to get him.
The captain had hoped the lone man had gold or ivory to offer and was disappointed to only get a penniless runaway. He was put to work as a mate, but the captain soon learned he had made an unwise choice. John became bored with his routine and broke into the ship’s supply of rum and generously shared it with the crew. John drank so much he became disoriented, and fell overboard. One of the ship’s officers either out of pity or spite, saved John from drowning by spearing him in the thigh with a harpoon and reeling him back aboard like a flailing fish.
Painfully wounded and severely disciplined, Newton was demoted to the decks below where it was thought he would be no more trouble.
Somehow, a copy of Thomas a Kempis’ book Imitation of Christ fell into his hands. Reading the book awakened his conscious to the things of God, and he began to recall some of the early lessons learned at his mother’s knee.