“then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression” Psalm 19
On May 10, 1748, John Newton, the captain of a slave-trading ship got to his knees in his study and, in the roiling violence of an ocean storm, begged for mercy because he was sure he and his men and his cargo of slaves were going down. They didn’t. When he was a boy, his mother had given him early training in Christianity, but Newton had not, by his description, ever before come near unto God.
When that storm subsided, he began to speculate that God Almighty had spoken to him, and done so that night in the language of the storm. He began to believe in God, and he marked that day as the day he was brought to the Lord, the day of his “great deliverance.”
No one knows exactly when he wrote the most famous hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace,” but any rendition of that beautiful old tribute to the love of the Lord is richer by far if we know it was penned by a slave-trader, on his knees in a storm-worn cabin, begging for the deliverance he graciously received—and more.
Newton likely never had a clue about the worldwide love for the hymn he wrote. You can’t help but wonder whether he picked up the paper after the final version, looked at it on the page as all poets do, nodded appreciatively, then put it down again—you can’t help but wonder if he knew “Amazing Grace” would be beloved where’er believers worship—and even where they don’t.
He couldn’t have, but it’s a measure of the truth of the words of his hymn that it happened, because grace itself, our precious gift from a loving Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, took that sheet of paper and gave it to the little girl who will sing it in your church next Sunday.
David is closing up Psalm 19 now, shaking his head in wonder at the blessings of grace. He’s asked forgiveness for the sins he doesn’t even know he’s done, and then begged righteousness for those times when he’s been presumptuous—those which he seemingly can’t control and those that he tragically can. All of that darkness needs to go, he insists, because only then, only by a bath in grace, can he be blameless before the God he loves.
Grace is amazing, really. It made John Newton cower in his storm-tossed ship, then freed him from his own sin. Grace is the foundation of providence, the basis by which we live in God’s favor; and yet, it’s the very marrow of forgiveness, our only comfort in the darkness of our sin.
It’s grace that shows us our sin—without it we’re blind. It’s grace that acquits us—without it we would never be clean. It’s grace that restrains—without it we’d be bound for the next available garbage pit. Grace forgives and empowers. Without it, we’re nothing. It is truly amazing; and as Psalm 19 draws to a close, David seems almost to be counting the ways he loves the Lord.
“Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,” Newton wrote; “and grace will bring me home.”
It’s all grace. Truly amazing.