Last night, at the Ash Wednesday service, we sang the old hymn, Amazing Grace. Amazing Grace was written by the Anglican Clergyman, John Newton, in 1779. Since that time, it has become one of the best known and most beloved hymns of all time.
A less known fact is that John Newton, before his call to ministry, was a slave trader, as a ship captain in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Newton’s is an interesting story. He experienced a spiritual conversion in 1748, but continued as a slave trader until 1755. He became a priest in 1764, but did not publicly renounce slavery until 1788!
I wonder how many people suspected that Newton was actually talking about himself when he penned the line,“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.” And, yet, it would take him nearly 10 more years to take a public stand against slavery, acknowledging the sin of his former profession.
Undeniably, as Newton grew in his relationship with Christ, he grew more and more ashamed of his previous life and work, and increasingly opposed to the evil of slavery. Newton’s does not appear to be an instantaneous or total conversion, but a journey from one life to another, from one way of thinking to another, from spiritual blindness to spiritual clarity. That journey of transformation didn’t happen over days. It happened over decades.
Last night, as we sang Amazing Grace, we added a chorus by Chris Tomlin, “My chains are gone. I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood His mercy reigns; unending love, amazing grace.”
In Christ’s work on the cross, the chains that us enslaved to our former life have been broken. By, God’s grace, we are set free. We are no longer slaves to sin. And, yet, as I sang that chorus last night, I realized that I am a bit like Newton. I’ve been set free AND I continue to battle to be the man God has called me to be. I am forgiven AND have much still to be forgiven for. I have received amazing grace AND I am desperately in need of more. Thank God, God’s not done with me yet.
I don’t know when he wrote this, but I can completely relate to Newton, when he said, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”