“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.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come; ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures.
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.”
These words, penned by John Newton in 1772, have stood the test of time. It is a beautiful, providential mystery how, and why, God preserves certain classics. It may be that they are Bible-centered, and Christ-centered, flowing from a heart that has truly experienced saving grace. Maybe after the first 10,000 years in eternity, since we have only just begun, we can strike up a conversation about this song.
John Owen was born July 24, 1725 in London. His mother died when he was only six years old, and his father was a classical, irreligious sailor, and this left Newton to fend for himself.
Many may not know, but John Newton prior to his conversion, was a depraved wretch, and the words of this classic hymn were not mere words, but a reality in Newton’s life. He said this about himself in his ‘Memoirs of the Reverend John Newton’:
“I was capable of anything; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor (so far as I remember) the least sensibility of conscience.”
I don’t think anything can damage a person more, than a wrong view of themselves. And I don’t think anything can supplement a right-view of God as much as a right view of self. The song does not sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a fairly decent person like me.” It reads, as it should in all of our cases, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
The point that I’m trying to make, and I I believe John Newton was trying to communicate as well is this: You cannot truly grasp how blessed God’s grace is, until you come to understand how truly wretched you are. We are sinners. It’s not that we sin, it’s that we are sinners at the very core of our being. It is our nature. It’s all we know how to do a apart from Him. I heard a man once say, “You don’t know how much you sin, in the same way a fish doesn’t know how wet it is.” We were conceived in sin, born in sin, and have been drinking down iniquity like it was water our entire lives. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were lost. We were blind. But God, being rich in mercy gives grace. Gives a new heart, gives new eyes, gives a new song to sing, and grace should grip our conscience, like it did John Newton. That’s why these beautiful words should delight our new heart:
“I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.”
Newton understood how wretched he was, how blessed God is, and it effected the way he treated others. He said this in his memoirs:
(The wretch who has been saved by grace), “believes and feels his own weakness and unworthiness, and lives upon the grace and pardoning love of His Lord. This gives him a habitual tenderness and gentleness of spirit. Humble under a sense of much forgiveness to himself, he finds it easy to forgive others.”
The beautiful thing about grace, is that it finds us in our sin, but it doesn’t leave us there. Newton went from a man ‘capable of anything’ to a man capable of tenderheartedness, gentleness, kindness, meekness, forgiveness, and love. All to the praise of God’s glorious grace.
May we all see the wretchedness of our condition apart from Him, the blessedness of our condition in Him, and the glorious reality of saving grace.