We’ve Probably Been Here Before
During this window of racial sensitivity, protests, and riots, it may serve us well to look at a few historic figures who learned of the relevance of Christ’s love and sacrifice for mankind’s lostness.
The Bible is our textbook for man’s condition and God’s abundant provision to redeem any of us from our own bondage to cruel and senseless sin. In our despair over unfolding events, no one needs feel overlooked by a sovereign, compassionate God. The good news is, no matter the details of each story, any individual can partake of His amazing grace for all time.
Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound
“Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.” Those were the words John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace,” used to describe himself, which appear on his tombstone.
His life testifies to God’s transforming power of a “wretch” who turned his life over to the God he’d abandoned. “I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind but now I see…” That hardened slave trader who eventually became captain of his own slave ship, turned to the God his mother had taught him about before she died.
After that event, while still in his youth, his father encouraged him to put out to sea. Years of abuse in this life followed, while at one point, being held in bondage himself.
For the rest of his life he surrendered to ministry and the call to tell others of his God who works wonders through His amazing grace. At age eighty-two, some suggested he retire due to ill health, but his response was, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior!”
Near His death he is credited by saying, “I am still in the land of the dying. I shall be in the land of the living soon.”
From White Privilege to Abolitionist Champion
John Newton was known in his new life as a fierce abolitionist and mentor to William Wilberforce. Wilberforce’s own tireless fight achieved a milestone in England with the passing of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Bill in 1807, the same year Newton died.
A man of wealth and privilege, Wilberforce used politics as a tool to effect righteous justice in his time. In 1833, the year of his own death, the final piece of legislation that abolished slavery in the entire British Empire was accomplished.
Consider the shift in his viewpoint expressed in his own words: “The first years in Parliament I did nothing -nothing to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling project…
It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power.”
John Newton’s life and message of God’s grace impacted William Wilberforce to effect this change of heart. Think of what might not have occurred in Wilberforce’s life and work had the sovereign plan of God not been allowed to unfold. By using Newton and his contemporaries, grace spread.
Tragedy Births New Life and Hope
The revered British poet, hymn writer, and troubled soul who faced his share of tragedy, William Cowper was also a close friend of Newton’s. They both shared the idea of their unworthiness God’s grace and forgiveness bestowed on them.
Intellectually Cowper knew God’s mercy applied to him, but emotionally he was still trying to grasp it. After three suicide attempts and a couple stays in institutions for the insane, Cowper met Newton, whose kindness and caring helped pull him from his melancholy.
“I found my heart at length so powerfully drawn towards the Lord…I kneeled down and poured forth my complaints before Him. It pleased my Savior to hear me so that the oppression was taken off and I was enabled to trust in Him that cares for the stranger, to roll my burden upon Him and to rest assured…the God of all consolation would still be with me. But that was not all. He did for me more than either I had asked or thought.”
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
Two poignant quotes of his that speak to the purpose of our suffering are as follows: “Grief is itself a medicine.” and “Trials make the promise sweet. Trials give new life to prayer. Trials bring me to His feet, and trials lay me low and keep me there.”
His confidence in God’s supernatural power are in his famous hymns: “God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm…” and “The Spirit breathes upon the Word and brings the truth to sight…His truths upon the nations rise; They rise, but never set…”
On his deathbed, his nephew observed Cowper’s face, “which had been wearing a sad and hopeless expression, suddenly lighted up with a look of wonder and inexpressible delight”…as if he saw his Savior and realized the “blessed fact, ‘I am not shut out of heaven after all.'”
Grace, Truth, and Love Throughout Time
“Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; ‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.” -Amazing Grace
Because of his association with John Newton, Cowper is remembered for poems in support of the Abolitionist campaign. “The Negro’s Complaint” (1788) was often quoted by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement of the ’60’s.
These three contemporaries who found solace together and strength in their God, learned the rewards of faith in the unseen reality of a Creator whose plans are good. When these gifted men, though flawed and subject to sin, availed their lives to God’s unique call, all of us became richer as a result.
Thank you, Lord God of the ages who made our very form, any of us can be pardoned, restored, and transformed to be all we can be in this life and the next. by His design.