Pastoral Articles

AMAZING GRACE

The well-known and much-loved hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by Isaac Newton. This is remarkable. Newton was a blasphemer and anti-religious slave-trader. What changed him and resulted in him writing this beautiful hymn was conversion and personal experience of the grace of God.

Isaac Newton was born in London in 1725   He joined his father at sea.  It was when he was at sea involved in the slave trade that Newton was caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of  Donegal that Newton called out to God.  This marked his conversion.  However, it was not until later (1754) that Newton abandoned the slave trade.  He began studying theology and became a curate in the Church of England.  He started writing hymns.  Amazing Grace was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day 1773. The third verse reflects the experience of many of us. “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares I have already come. ‘Tis grace that hath brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.”

Amazing Grace, yes indeed. The heart of Christianity is grace – the undeserved goodness of God.  God coming to our rescue time and time again. God putting us right with himself. God forgiving our wrongdoing.

The Bible’s diagnosis of the human dilemma makes it abundantly clear that ít is only God who can help us. Amazing grace – all undeserved and unearned on our part.  We cannot justify  ourselves and we do not need to go on trying to do so.   In his great love for us God comes to our rescue and does this for us.

Think of how this of the greatest possible significance for us and our relationships.

At the inner core of our being we are at peace with God.  What is more important, the apostle Paul could not be clearer: “since we are justified by grace we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”(Rom.5.1). The enmity that harmed our relationship with God has been replaced by peace.  Peace with God and peace with ourselves.  We can live with ourselves because we are loved and accepted by God. We don’t need to resort to all sorts of devices in order to feel good or to impress God.

Moreover, God’s justifying us has important consequences for our relationships with one another.  We don’t depend upon our achievements or possessions to justify ourselves in the eyes of others. We don’t envy them or don’t do them down in order to feel good ourselves. Nothing depends upon our winning admiration or building a power base for ourselves.  What matters is what God confers on us.  Each one of us is the same in God’s sight.  That was why, at a very crucial point when the future of Christianity was being determined, Paul fought so hard to have non-Jews (Gentiles) included in the church on the same basis as Jews, and that is what should determine our attitude to others, when we have to relate to “them” – whether they are bothersome so-and-soes, or people of a different faith, asylum seekers or whoever.

As we reflect on grace we see how amazing it is.  In fact, we become aware that life is a gracious gift, completely gratuitous. None of us earned the right to be here. And throughout our lives many things that come our way are unearned or unsought.

All we can do is simply to acknowledge this and live thankfully.

Jack