How did John Newton come to understand “amazing grace?”
By: The John Ankerberg Show
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Copyright: 2003, Number of Programs: 4, Cat. No. YBS1
Keywords: John Newton, Amazing Grace, Grace, Ephesians 2:8, Proverbs 1:23-27
Ankerberg: Our topic today is “why is grace so amazing?”
We all know Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith, that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” Now, Erwin, I think the best way to get into this topic of why grace is so amazing is, let’s talk about the guy that wrote the song.
Lutzer: Everybody knows the song, “Amazing Grace.” What they might not know is the context in which it was written. First of all, John Newton was a notorious sinner. As a matter of fact, he was willing to give people a prize if they could think of some way, some sin, that he had as yet not committed. So here he is. It’s 1748, and he’s on a ship called the Greyhound. And a tremendous storm comes up. I mean, they were being battered. It’s almost certain they’re going to go under. And Newton says to the captain, “If God does not have mercy on us, we’re going to go under.” And the captain is shook, because here’s this hardened, swearing, hard-drinking, slave-driving person saying, “If God doesn’t have mercy on us, then what?”
So, all of the men were trying to man the pumps to keep the vessel afloat. Newton had a Bible his mother had given him, and even on the ship he read these words. Now, just think of the context. This is actually from the book of Proverbs, but he’s reading this, and he reads, “If you had responded to my rebuke, I would have poured out my heart to you and made my thoughts known to you. But because you have rejected me when I called, and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you – when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind” [Prov. 1:23-27].
So the guy’s scared to death.
Ankerberg: Hit you right in the face with that one!
Lutzer: He’s scared to death. So eventually, as we might guess, the storm subsided and the sailors were spared. But, Newton began to read the Bible. Could I take time to read his words exactly as I quote them in my book?
Lutzer: He said, “I needed someone to stand between me and a holy God who must punish my sins and blasphemies. I needed an Almighty Savior who would step in and take away my sins. I saw that Christ took my punishment so that I might be pardoned.” Little wonder he wrote, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
But John, even so, there are many people who do not really understand how amazing grace is. I remember in Chicago there was a news commentator who was quoted in the newspaper as saying this: “Someday I’ll do something about my spiritual life and my walk with God, if I get serious about it.” Now, he said, in fact, “I am not in a state of grace, but I can do something about it if I get serious about it.”
Well, the simple fact, John, is that that shows that man still did not understand. He did not understand the nature of grace. Because there’s nothing we can do about our condition, no matter how serious we get about it. As long as we are still thinking that we can do something about it, we still do not understand grace, which is God’s unmerited favor toward us.