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“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.”

John Newton wrote the words to this song when he was 70, standing, as it were, at the pinnacle of what had been a life full of “dangers, toils and snares.” As he looked back, one thing remained first and foremost in his life – the undeserved gift of forgiveness and salvation that God had bestowed upon him.

He wrote those beloved words as an illustration to a sermon he preached on January 1, 1773. The text was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17. In this passage, the ark of the Covenant is being brought back to Jerusalem and David is lamenting the fact that the Ark, that symbol of God presence among His people, is in a tent and he is in a palace of cedar. He promises God that he is going to build a house for Him and God says, “No, I am going to build a ‘house’ for you.”

What God did was promise David a dynasty, starting with Solomon, and culminating with the Messiah. David would never lack an heir sitting on the throne.

David was floored. He immediately recognized how undeserving he was of this gift. He remembered his humble family and his inauspicious choice to become King, coming from behind, as it were. True. He was so far behind that his father didn’t even bother to bring him back from the field when he paraded his tanned, strong, and handsome sons for the prophet to spot the one who would soon lead them. Samuel had to look deep in the bench to find David.

Before his conversion Newton was the worst character you would ever hope not to meet. Foul-mouthed, impervious to authority, angry, and just about failing at everything his father had him do. Even the hardened sailors couldn’t stand him. He was a cut below the rest, so to speak. As a child, Newton had some Christian teaching from his mother, but she died when he was only a child and he went on to reject God and malign anyone who claimed to believe in Him. Newton was a rotten character and that is why he used the word “wretch” to describe himself.

God reminded David in that passage: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader over My people Israel.” (1 Chronicles 17:7). Newton asked the question: “Where were you when the Lord found you?” The answer for him is found in the words of the song: “I was a wretch. Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me!”

When he realized what God was promising him, David was so overwhelmed, he sat down before the presence of the Lord and said, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house that You have brought me thus far?” (1 Chronicles 17:16). Newton reflects on this and says that if that is how he was like before he came to Christ, how then did he get to where he is now? Again, the answer: Just like David, it is grace that brought me thus far.

We know that it was snowing on the day Newton wrote this song. As he looked from his study across the field to the church where he served for sixteen years, we can imagine his puzzlement as to how he was going to finish the song. So he penned the famous words, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun…” No, he didn’t. This verse was not written by Newton and thus it was not part of the original song. In fact, only a cursory look will tell you that it doesn’t belong to the style and force of the rest of the song. Instead, Newton wrote: “The earth shall soon dissolve like snow/The sun forbear to shine/But God, who call’d me here below/Will be forever mine.” Newton knew what he was talking about. Eight times in 1 Chronicles 17 that word “forever” appears in reference to God’s everlasting Kingdom. Newton knew that God’s plan for mankind was permanent and that it included him.

March 21 marked the day when John Newton began to experience a storm at sea that would force him to cry out to God for help. He observed that day for the rest of his life (“the hour I first believed”), a time to give thanks to God and reflect on where he was when God met Him. That was the hour he first believed. And he savored it every year. The sound that heralded his salvation would forever remain with him – that sweet sound of grace which is nothing short of amazing. I hope you can savor it too, every day for sure, but once a year, on a special day, when you remember how God saved you.

I have also written a separate piece to illustrate the practical side of this amazing grace. I did it because I am afraid many of us have forgotten what grace really means. We are glad to receive grace at that hour we first believed, but once we get it, it is so hard to remember that we too are supposed to bestow grace – that unmerited gift – to those around us who need it.

Here is a radically different perspective. How many times have you been to a restaurant and received some really poor service? Well, when it comes time to tip, you may give a 10% tip instead of 20%. Listen, I am all in favor of excellent service, especially the services we are paying for, but do you even consider the reason someone may be so unhappy at work? And are we missing an opportunity to bestow upon someone a gift that is patently undeserved?

Let me remind you, though in a capitalistic sense tipping has everything to do with merit and retribution, in a Kingdom sense nothing could be more untrue. The word “gratuity,” a synonym for “tip” comes from the same word we get the word “grace.” You see the connection now? So next time, give somebody something they don’t deserve and you will begin to look at the transaction that took place when God saved you.

The same is true of the humanitarian crisis that is happening on our border. Everyone is quick to politicize the issue while forgetting about the plight of children who are here alone and whose stories deserve at least to be heard. I put together a guide that will be in your bulletin on Sunday. It will help you pray for some of the children who are in crisis today. We will pray for them in our services this Sunday. While we recognize that ultimate solutions will not be easy, can we at least agree that these children should be loved and tenderly cared for just because they are human beings at risk? Yes, it may not make sense and they may not even deserve it, but isn’t that true about my salvation as well?

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

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