Sunday, June 3, 2018

Saving a Wretch

“Forgive as the Lord forgives you." ~ Colossians 3:13
Nurtured by a Christian mother, he was raised in his father's image after she died weeks before his 7th birthday.  Young John joined his father at sea and quickly took to the bottle; often drinking whiskey or rum for breakfast.  Due to his reckless behavior, the boy was forced to join the Royal Navy, a pattern that would persist for years.
After attempting to desert, he received 100 lashes and demoted to common seaman.  To add further insult, the disgraced sailor was exchanged to the crew of a slave ship.
Disliked by the crew for his rebellious and drunken ways, they left him behind in West Africa with a ruthless slave trader and was brutally abused along with the other slaves.  John was rescued by a sea captain who’d known his father and eventually became captain of his own slave ship.
Ships like his would anchor off the African coast where tribal chiefs delivered pens full of men and women captured in raids against other tribes.  Buyers would select the finest specimens, which would be bartered for weapons, ammunition, metal, liquor, trinkets, and cloth.
The purchased captives would be loaded aboard for sailing. They were chained below decks to prevent suicides, laid side by side to save space, stacked row upon row.  Captains sought fast voyage across the Atlantic hoping to preserve as much as their cargo as possible, yet mortality sometimes ran 20% or higher.
During one voyage home, his ship was caught in a horrendous storm off Ireland’s coast and nearly sank.  Captain John prayed to God.  The cargo miraculously shifted to fill a hole in the ship’s hull and the vessel drifted to safety.  He took it as a sign from the Almighty and thus began his conversion to Christianity.
Captain John started reading the Bible and began to view his captives with a more sympathetic view.  He eventually left the slave trade and studied for the ministry.  John Newton was ordained into the Anglican Church, and in 1764 took a parish in southeastern England.
Newton’s church became so crowded that it had to be enlarged.  They held not only a regular weekly church service but also began a series of prayer meetings, for which he wrote a new hymn each week.  Among his many contributions is probably the most famous hymn in history: “Amazing Grace.”
For the last 43 years of his life, Pastor Newton preached the gospel in one of the most prestigious parishes of London.  By 1800 no evangelical clergyman had gained more fame or exercised more spiritual influence than Newton.  At 82, Newton said, "My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."
"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!"  ~ John Newton