Perhaps one of the most well known hymns for the past 250 years. Isaac Newton was born in 1725, and after his mother died just before his seventh birthday, his father took him to sea with him at the age of eleven. He grew up on the boat, drinking and carousing and was ultimately enlisted in the British navy. Hating the service, he attempted to desert and was whipped with eight dozen lashes and lost his rank. He then served on a slave ship but did not get along with his counterparts, and they left him as a slave to a slave trader in Africa.
John’s father sent a rescue mission to retrieve him and the ship suffered damage during a storm, nearly sinking. Miraculously, some of the cargo shifted into the hole in the ship’s hull, and John understood this to be the intervention of God. He continued to work in slave trading, though he began to have more compassion on the slaves.
He left the slave trade and became an Anglican priest, and thirty-four years after leaving the profession, John began fighting against slavery and wrote a pamphlet “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”. His efforts ultimately led to the outlawing of slaver in 1807 under the leadership of William Wilberforce.
John wrote the first verse of Amazing Grace while his ship was being repaired after the storm:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound,
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
While hunting in Londonderry, Ireland, Newton was climbing up a steep embankment and was pulling his gun behind him. The shot gun went off, he describes it thus:
“As I climbed up a steep bank, pulling my shotgun after me, in a perpendicular direction, it went off so near my face as to burn away the corner of my hat.”
He understood this to be God’s intervention yet again, teaching him to fear – and finding fear’s only true hope: Jesus Christ.
Grace indeed is amazing. But what makes it so amazing is that which it counteracts, and that is the wrath of God. Without the “bad news”, there can ultimately be no “good news”. We often diminish the Gospel by placating ourselves and believing that we are good people at the core, that God loves us because of who we are, and that admittance into Heaven is just the icing on the cake.
The Gospel, however, teaches us that we are hopelessly wicked and deserve damnation. Unless we believe in Jesus and are transformed by the Spirit, we will perish. We have already been judged and the wrath of God is poured out upon us (John 3.18). We must grasp this reality in order to understand and appreciate grace. Otherwise grace is not amazing.
Grace is us receiving what we do not deserve: eternal life. The more deeply we understand Hell, damnation, and the wrath of God against ungodliness, the more fully we can appreciate the magnitude and glory of grace.
And it is grace itself which teaches our hearts to fear. Did you go through a season where your heart feared damnation and a godless eternity? Did you come to a point where you understood your sin and wickedness? That was grace revealing your true state. And grace turns around and relieves our fear by giving us hope through salvation.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!
How amazing is God’s grace to you today? Let us embrace the holiness of God and His wrath against ungodliness so that grace can be all the more sweeter and glorious in our lives today.