In a small cemetery of a parish churchyard in Olney, England, stands a granite tombstone with the following inscription: “John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.”
This fitting testimonial, was written by Newton himself prior to his death. It aptly describes the unusual and colorful life of this man. He was one of the great profligates of his era, who—by the grace of God—was born from above, and became one of the great evangelical preachers and hymn-writers of the eighteenth century. His life is a story of amazing grace.
This morning I want to preach on God’s amazing grace and what it accomplishes in our lives.
I. AMAZING GRACE SAVES WRETCHES
- 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.
- “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV84)
- grace saved a wretch like John Newton
- if you would look up the word wretch in the dictionary you’ll see that related words include libertine, debauched, degenerate, profligate, disgraceful, and scandalous
- considering that Amazing Grace is Newton’s spiritual autobiography in verse, wretch is a word that pretty well defines his life before Christ
- ILLUS. John Newton’s father was a sea captain. His mother, a Godly woman, died of tuberculosis when he was not quite seven years of age. After several brief years of formal education away from home; John left school and joined his father's ship, at the age of eleven, to begin life as a seaman. His early years were one continuous round of rebellion and debauchery. In his early twenties he actually denounced the Christian faith. While aboard the ship Greyhound, Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. In a culture where sailors commonly used oaths and swore, Newton’s profane vocabulary exceeded them all. After serving on several slave-trading ships as well as working for a period of time on the mainland of the West African coast collecting slaves to sell to traders, Newton eventually became a captain of his own slave ship. Needless to say, capturing, selling and transporting black slaves to the plantations in the West Indies and America was a cruel and vicious way of life. On March 10, 1748, while returning to England from Africa during a particularly stormy voyage Newton began to fear the ship would break apart and sink. He began reading a book entitled, Imitation of Christ. The message of the book and the frightening experience at sea were used by the Holy Spirit to sow the seeds of Newton's eventual conversion and personal acceptance of Christ as his Savior. For the next several years he continued as a slave ship captain, trying to justify his work by seeking to improve conditions as much as possible, even holding public worship services for his hardened crew each Sunday. Eventually, however, he felt convicted of the inhuman aspects of this work, and eventually became a strong and effective crusader against slavery. He would eventually feel called to the ministry. At the age of thirty-nine, John Newton was ordained by the Anglican Church and began his first pastorate at the little village of Olney, near Cambridge, England. He became one of England’s most powerful preachers. He also wrote hymns. When Newton couldn't find enough available hymns for his congregation, he began writing his own. One of those hymns was Faith's Review and Expectation, or, as we know it, Amazing Grace. It’s Newton’s spiritual biography of his conversion experience in verse.
- grace saved a wretch like John Newton
- when it came to sin, Paul considered himself among the foremost of sinners
- “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 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. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are 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.” (1 Timothy 1:12–15, NIV84)
- Paul tells us plainly—he was a persecutor of the church; he was a violent man; and he was a blasphemer
- the word violent in this passage has as it’s root the word hubris which refers to an arrogant pride
- Paul took pride in persecuting, mistreating, and abusing Christians
- he also openly confesses to the most heinous sin a Jew could commit—he was a blasphemer
- it’s the same sin the Pharisees accused Jesus of when he claimed his oneness with God the Father
- Paul came to understand that in ridiculing the name of Christ and persecuting the followers of Christ, that he was actually belittling and besmirching the name of God—he was the true blasphemer!
- he claims that he did these things in ignorance, but that ignorance did not make him any less guilty before God
- Paul’s confession is meant to encourage others
- if Christ can save a wretch like Paul—the worst of sinners—surely He can save those who don’t measure up to Paul’s level of sinfulfulness!
- grace saved a wretch like the Apostle Paul
- like Newton, and like Paul, I too am like that young man we’re told about in John’s gospel
- born blind, he one day meets the Savior and his sight is supernaturally restored by Jesus
- when he is questioned about the miracle by the Jewish religious leaders, his response was, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” NIV
- ILLUS. “I know not why God’s wondrous grace to me he hath made known,Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love, redeemed me for his own. But I know Whom I have believèd, And am persuaded that He is able To keep that which I’ve committed Unto Him against that day”
- the hymn’s first stanza teaches us one of the rudiment theological truths of the Scriptures ...
A. WITHOUT JESUS, ALL MEN ARE WRETCHES
- “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20, NIV84)
- in his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells us that the whole world is a prisoner of sin
- it is our sin that turns us into the wretched, contemptible, debauched, degenerate, profligate, disgraceful, and scandalous creatures that we are
- outside of a relationship with Christ, men are totally depraved
- man's depravity is total in at least four senses
- FIRST: our rebellion against God was total
- apart from the grace of God no sinner delights in the holiness of God, and there is no glad submission to the sovereign authority of God
- the Bible tells us that there is none that seeketh after God
- Jesus told his disciples that the only way men will come to him and follow him is if the Father draws him
- SECOND: in our total rebellion everything man does is sin
- in Romans 7:18 Paul says, "I know that no good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh."
- this is a radical confession of the truth that in our rebellion nothing we think or feel or do is “good” as far as God is concerned
- “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. ” (Isaiah 64:6–7, NIV84)
- “But ... everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23, NIV84)
- in our sinful condition the natural man has a mind-set that does not and cannot submit to God
- we cannot reform ourselves
- in Ephesians 2:1 Paul reminds us that we were all once dead in trespasses and sins
- the point of deadness is that we were incapable of any life with God
- our hearts were like a stone toward God
- “They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Ephesians 4:18–19, NIV84)
- "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.” (Ephesians 2:1–3, NIV84)
B. WRETCHES LIKE US NEED GRACE
- “The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20–21, NIV84)
- ILLUS. Some of you are aware that earlier this month a new “app” came out for the iPhone. Designed specifically for Catholics, it’s an app to help them in confession, which—in their belief system—is one of the ways the Church administers grace. The text-based app takes the user through the Ten Commandments, with a slew of questions attached to each, a process known as an examination of conscience, which penitents are to undergo before confession. Questions range from "Have I wished evil upon another person?" to "Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?" and users can check a box next to each sin they've committed. Once that's done, the app lists the user's sins and displays a suggested written act of contrition, and a prayer to be recited by the penitent. From there, it walks the user through the rest of the steps of confession and even advises when to say "amen." When you're done, an inspirational message pops up.
- wouldn’t it be nice if we could dispose of our sin and guilt so easily?
- but we cannot fix ourselves—there is no “app for that”
- that which makes it possible to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be healed, that which makes it possible for us to receive our life back again, fresh and clean and new, is the power of God's Grace in the Cross of Jesus Christ
- amazing grace saves wretches
II. AMAZING GRACE RELIEVES FEARS
- ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!
- one of the greatest fears that all men, in all places have is “What happens to them after death and where will they spend eternity?”
- ILLUS. A Spanish Proverb “He who fears death cannot enjoy life.”
- “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28, NIV84)
- grace causes us to tremble before and fear God because the need for grace reminds us of the depth of our sin and separation from God
- “because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ” (Romans 8:14–15, NIV84)
- ILLUS. In In the summer of 1914, and amazing event took place off the coast of Canada. The ocean liner, Empress of Ireland was on her first trip of the summer. She sailed away from her berth in Quebec Harbor bound across the North Atlantic to Liverpool, England. The Empress of Ireland never reached it's port. Only hours into her voyage, she collided with a Norwegian freighter and sank in the gulf of the St. Lawrence River. Over 1,000 people died. Among its many passengers were 130 Salvation Army officers. Only 21 of them survived. Of the 109 who drowned, not one of them had a life preserver. Many of the survivors told how those brave Christians, seeing that there were not enough life belts for all the passengers, took their own and strapped them onto others, saying, "I know Jesus, so I can die better than you can!" Their supreme sacrifice and faithful words set a beautiful example, which for many years inspired the Salvation Army to carry on courageously for God.
- why? because grace relieves fears
III. AMAZING GRACE BRINGS US THROUGH DANGERS, TOILS AND SNARES
- Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; 'Tis grace hath bro’t me safe this far, And grace will lead me home.
- one of the greatest and most blessed of Psalms in the Bible reminds us of a God who brings us through even the valley of the shadow of death
- Psalm 23:1-6 /“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”KJV
- God’s grace will bring you through
- God’s grace will bring you through
- God’s grace will bring you through
- in 2 Corinthians 11:24-33 we find an account of some of the things Paul experienced in his life
- as I read this passage notice the dangers, the toil, and the snares
- 11:24-26 - the dangers
- 11:27-29 - the toil
- 11:32-33 - the snare
A. WE CAN FACE ALL THESE THINGS BECAUSE GOD’S GRACE ACTS AS OUR SHIELD
- Psalm 28:7-8 “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.” NIV
IV. AMAZING GRACE MAKES US SING GOD’S PRAISES
- When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we’d first begun
- “Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise.” (James 5:13, NIV84)
- because of amazing grace, 10,000 years will not be long enough to sing the praises of God for what He has done for us
- ILLUS. History tells us about The 40 Martyrs of Sebaste who were martyred in March of 320 A.D. According to the church historian Basil, Emperor Licinius of the Eastern Roman Empire sought to eliminate Christianity in his part of the empire. He asked one of his generals, Agricola, to carry out his plan. Agricola knew of forty Roman Soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians. They were tried and condemned by the prefect. First, the soldiers were thrown into prison to think about their fate. They encouraged themselves that night by singing psalms and praying. The next morning Agricola tried to persuade to recant their faith. They refused and he ordered them to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death. Again, they encouraged themselves by singing hymns and prayer. Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant. One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and placed himself beside the thirty-nine soldiers of Christ. Thus the number of forty remained complete. To their last breath the martyrs sang out, "Our help is in the name of the Lord," At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the martyrs, were burned and the ashes cast into a river.
- grace allowed them to sing God's praise and they’ve been singing that praise going on 1,700 years!
- and they’ve just begun!
This morning, are you a wretch who needs to be saved? Do you need fears relieved? Are you needing a hand to guide you through toils and snares? Or are you just so full of Jesus that you want to break out in joyous song?