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« It’s Not Easy, But It Sure Is Good | Main | Kept From Christ »

Amazing Grace

Who Am I?

I was born in 1725, and I died in 1807. The only godly influence in my life was my mother, whom I had for only seven years. When she died, my father remarried, sent me to a strict military school. I rebelled and ran away at the age of ten.

A year later, I renounced school forever and became a seaman apprentice. I hoped to step into my father's trade and learn to navigate a ship. Gradually, I gave myself over to the devil. And I determined that I would sin to my fill without restraint, now that the righteous lamp of my life had gone out. I did that until I entered the military service, where discipline kept me in check. Still, I rebelled. My spirit would not break, and I became increasingly more and a rebel.

I despised so many things in the military that I finally deserted, only to be captured and beaten publicly several times. After enduring the punishment, I again fled. I entertained thoughts of suicide on my way to Africa, the place I could get farthest from anyone that knew me. And again I made pact with the devil to live for him.

Somehow, through a process of events, I met a Portuguese slave trader and lived in his home. His wife hated me. She beat me, and made me eat like a dog on the floor of the home. If I refused, she would whip me with a lash. I fled penniless, with only the clothes on my back, to the shoreline of Africa where I built a fire and attracted a ship that was passing by. The skipper was surprised to learn that I was a skilled navigator. I lived on board for a long period of time. It was a slave ship it was not uncommon for as many as six hundred Africans to be in the hold of the ship, being taken to America.

I went through all sorts of narrow escapes with death only a hair breath away on a number of occasions. One time I opened some crates of rum and got everybody on the crew drunk. The skipper, incensed with my actions, beat me, threw me down below, and I lived on stale bread and sour vegetables for weeks. He brought me above to beat me again, and I fell overboard. I couldn't swim so he harpooned me to get me back on the ship. I lived with the scar in my side, big enough for me to put my fist into, until the day of my death.

On board, I was inflamed with fever. I was enraged with humiliation. A storm broke out, and I wound up again in the hold of the ship. To keep the ship afloat, I worked alone as a servant of the slaves. There, bruised and confused, bleeding, diseased, I was the epitome of the degenerate man.

Remembering the words of my mother. I cried out to God, calling upon His grace and mercy to deliver me. The only glimmer of light I found was in a crack in the ship in the floor above me, and I looked up to it and screamed for help. God heard me. Thirty-one years passed, I married my childhood sweetheart. I entered the ministry. In every place that I served, rooms had to be added to the building to handle the crowds that came to hear the Gospel that was presented and the story of God's grace in my life. My tombstone above my head reads:

Born 1725, died 1807. A clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he once long labored to destroy. I decided before my death to put my life's story in verse. And that has become this song.

My name . . . John Newton…The song? Amazing Grace.

Amazing Grace

Knowing this story, the words to the beloved hymn become much more meaningful:

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!

Thro' many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
'Tis grace has 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.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below, Will be forever mine.

Titus 2:11-13 says, 11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; 13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;

When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day’s pay for his time, that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award—yet receives such a gift anyway—that is a good picture of God’s unmerited favor. This is what we mean when we talk about the grace of God.

Amazing grace.

GRACE = God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense

The one commodity that allows God to be what his holiness would never let him be.  The spiritual Golden Gate between man’s sin and God’s goodness.  The horizon that melds the infinite sky to the finite earth.  The impossible juncture between the irresistible force and the immovable object.  The mystery of godliness; the magnificent obsession, the triumph of life over death.  Ps 85:10 “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

Amazing grace.

Grace = God’s unmerited favor.

Salvation = nothing less than the Lord Jesus Christ himself, because the very name of Jesus = “Jehovah has become our salvation.”

Isaiah 12:3 says, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.

It literally means, “With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of Jesus.”

And, this grace “…hath appeared to all men.”

“The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men.” Another translation says, “The grace of God hath been made to shine from above.”

The meaning of this phrase, "hath appeared to all men," is the same as the saying in the song of Simeon, "Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people" (Luke 2:30,31; Col 1:6).

The grace of God was embodied in Jesus, "the brightness of the Father's glory," the manifested "Sun of righteousness," "the Word made flesh." When you see Jesus Christ, you see the personification of grace.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of the earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.

Amazing grace.

Astonishing, astounding, remarkable, wonderful, magnificent, breathtaking, incredible, startling, surprising, shocking, beyond belief, marvelous, miraculous grace.

" Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that will pardon and cleanse within; Grace, grace, God’s grace, Grace that is greater than all our sin.”

Grace could have stood by itself. But, whatever God does, he multiplies its effect.

John 1:14-16

“14 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 15 John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. 16 And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.”

Grace: Amazing in its fullness. When Satan went before God in Job 2:4, we read, “And Satan answered the LORD, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life.” Skin for skin is skin after skin, even all that a man has. Grace for grace is grace after grace, the abundance of grace, grace upon grace, one grace heaped upon another. It is a blessing poured out so that there shall not be room to receive it, extreme redemption: one grace a pledge of more grace.

Grace: Amazing in its promises. In the Old Testament we often find mercy and truth put together, that is, mercy according to promise; so here grace and truth speak of grace according to promise. 1 Kings 8:56 “Blessed be the LORD, that hath given rest unto his people Israel, according to all that he promised: there hath not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by the hand of Moses his servant.”

Grace: Amazing in its person. Grace is the substance of all the Old-Testament types and shadows. There was something of grace in the ordinances given to Israel and the providences granted to Israel. But, the very best blessings that God heaped upon Israel were only shadows of good things to come to the church. They had the law, but we have grace revealed in Jesus Christ. He is the true paschal lamb, the true scape-goat, the true manna. They had grace in the picture; we have grace in the person.

Amazing grace.

I submit to you tonight that this grace is far more amazing than we have imagined.  It is so amazing that it strips the judge’s robe and gavel off of every one of us.  It turns our pride and arrogance inside out.  It makes all our righteousnesses as “filthy rags”.  We have no right to criticize any recipient of God’s grace.  We have no justification to deny God’s grace to anyone who seeks it.  We have no power to take away God’s grace from anyone who gets it.  Every minister is charged with preaching and teaching the Word, but also of the stewardship of the grace of God. 1 Peter 4:10 “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”

Grace is our only claim to salvation.

Grace does not come by believing. Believing comes by grace.   Grace does not come by repentance. Repentance comes by grace.  Grace does not come by baptism. Baptism and remission of sins come by grace.  Grace does not come by the Spirit. The Spirit comes by grace.

Eph 2:1-9 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;  2 Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:  3 Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.  4 But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.

We think of heaven as a place of vast, untold wealth.  Streets of gold, walls of jasper, gates of pearl.  But if heaven had a vault where God kept his greatest riches, you wouldn’t find gold bars there. You wouldn’t find diamonds or rubies or platinum or silver.  You would find stacks and stacks of mercy and grace.

Micah 5:7 says that God delights in his mercy!

God is rich in mercy and exceeding rich in grace.  God is not counting his gold. He is counting his redeemed.

5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)  6 And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:  7 That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:  9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

Grace may be wonderful, but it does not leave us to wonder; it is real, measurable and evident.

Acts 11:18-23 When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life.  22 Then tidings of these things came unto the ears of the church which was in Jerusalem: and they sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch.  23 Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.

When you see someone repenting, you are seeing God’s grace in action.  When you see a soul baptized in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins, you are seeing God’s grace at work.  When you see God fill someone with the Holy Ghost, you are seeing the grace of God.

Grace is a place.

Rom 5:1-2 Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:  2 By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Grace is not a license to sin. It is a refuge from sin.  We cannot drag grace to places which subvert its purpose.  If we want grace, we must come to grace. We need grace, but grace doesn’t need us.  Come to grace. Stay in grace. Live in grace.

Grace is not weak; it teaches aggressivly, effectively.

Titus 2:11-12  For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, 12 Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world;

Grace has standards, principles and boundaries.  Grace loves righteousness, godliness and temperance.  Grace knows how to say no to sin. Grace despises the sin even as it loves the sinner.  Grace ever leads us along a safe and protected pathway.  Grace is not a laizze-faire, whatever, “do it your own way” option.  Grace teaches, guides, coaches and influences us in every aspect of our lives.

Grace is the shadowing response of God to the sinfulness of the world.

Rom 5:20-21 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.

What are we going to do about the sinfulness of the world?  What about the perversion, the violence, the infidelity?  What about the blasphemy, the idolatry, the lust and the pride?  We are going to respond with grace.  We will not despair at the sin, we will rejoice in the savior.  It’s always “greater grace, greater grace.”

Grace is the last resort for the hurting and helpless.

2 Cor 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

We talk about the heroes of faith, and well we should.  But let us not forget the recipients of grace who make God the hero.  Noah found grace in the eyes of Lord. Joseph found grace in the sight of the Lord.  Moses found grace in the sight of the Lord.   A remnant of Jews found grace in the sight of the Lord.  The lowly receive grace from the Lord. The humble receive grace from the Lord.  Paul received grace from the Lord.   All of the above were people we expected to be on the list. 

There is a name, however, whom no one would expect to make the list: Lot.  Yet, the Bible says, “Lot found grace in the sight of the Lord.”  Foolish, materialistic, proud, permissive, self-justifying---Lot reeked with sin.  But grace doesn’t find you on the mountaintop. Grace finds you in the valley. 

Don’t brag about your goodness. Brag about God’s grace.  Don’t tell us how deserving you are. Tell us how undeserving you are.  Don’t build yourself up. Build up the Giver of Grace.

They Call Him the Savior

Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother’s heart. Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero.

Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture—taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.

It wasn’t too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village. It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina’s eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. “Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn’t matter. Please come home.” She did. Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, Multnomah Press, 1986, pp. 158-9

Mayor LaGuardia

A story is told about Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids.

One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges.

“It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

Brennan Manning, The Ragmuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp. 91-2

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