A long time ago, on a regular day in England, an old sailor sat down to pen some words.
Children were coming to his church that night to learn from the Bible, so he composed the weekly song for them to sing.
The old sailor is John Newton, born in 1725, and he’s writing “Amazing Grace.”
In his song we hear an echo of his past: “Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come.”
Were you to peer deep into this man’s history, you’d see his mom’s early death, you would agree with his fellow sailors that he had altogether lost his moral compass, you’d hear the creak of wet wood on slave ships, you’d hear the grisly moans of human cargo, you’d taste salt and smell sweat, and you’d wish what you saw were only a dream—
You’d see Newton trading slaves.
Continue looking and you will be surprised to see a changed man, a new man tendered by mercy, broken and reformed by remorse.
See, God set this slave trader free.
You will learn that in a violent storm God awakened Newton’s conscience with a Bible verse from Proverbs. You will find that during that storm, a new love for God was born in the heart of Newton and that once he picked up the Bible again, he could never put it down.
Newton found forgiveness and hope in “the incomparable riches of his [God’s] grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:7 NIV).
He left the slave ships to set other guilty souls free. He realized that God sent his own Son to die for the sins of men, so that people like himself might not suffer hell for their crimes. And that Son, Jesus, rose from the dead, giving new life to all who believe in him and turn from their sin.
Forgiveness and new life of peace with God, Newton knew, was free and undeserved, open to any “wretch” who believe in the promise of God.
For the forgiveness of Jesus Christ depends not on our work, but on his work and his word.
Before God, we are all criminals. But this song, bled out of Newton’s burdened heart, would offer us a wonderful truth—that God delights in chasing after and transforming sinners.