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“IF YOU ONLY KNEW….”

We always wonder about them.  All we see or read about are moments of greatness.  Are those truly great men really like us?  Do they sometimes find that they are clumsy or uncoordinated?  Do they really have head colds or maybe even belch on occasion?  Are their “weaknesses” ever truly evident to folks around them?  Do they have deep regrets about things along life’s way?

John Newton continued his ministry into his old age, turning a deaf ear to friends who urged him to accept retirement, as by the time he reached 80 he was almost blind and partially deaf. “I cannot stop” he replied. “What! Shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?”

But in December 1806, the end was coming. His diary recorded his prayer asking God to help him meet his end with a faithful spirit: “Oh for grace to meet the approach of death with a humble, thankful, resigned spirit becoming my profession. That I may not stain my character by impatience, jealousy or any hateful temper but may be prepared and permitted to depart in peace and hope and be enabled, if I can speak, to bear my testimony to thy faithfulness and goodness with my last breath. Amen.”  That’s the prayer that I would make my own and perhaps you as well.

Newton’s friend wrote: “I saw Mr. Newton near the closing scene. He was hardly able to talk; and all I find I noted down upon my leaving him was thus: ’My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.’”

Newton would not have been pleased by the eulogistic reference in The Times report of his death to his “unblemished life,” for he never forgot that he owed his redemption from a life of sin to a life in Christ entirely to divine mercy. He made this clear in the epitaph he wrote for himself. It was to be the inscription on his tomb at Olney and on a commemorative tablet to him at St. Mary Woolnoth:   

“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 and pardoned,
And appointed to preach the faith
He had long labored to destroy.”   
(copied).

Seems hard to believe that John Newton’s summary of his life is not the same as our memory of his life’s blessings.  We don’t dwell on the slave trader aspect.  Rather, we delight in singing the song of God’s goodness that flowed from his pen to our sinful hearts.  Same man but changed man by grace of the Lord Jesus Christ…….read again our memory of John Newton……

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.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear…the hour I first believed.