John Newton was born in London nearly 300 years ago (on July 24th, 1725). His father was the commander of a merchant ship and as a boy John went to sea with him often. By the age of nineteen he had joined the navy but in the course of time he left and went on to captain his own ship, which he then plied exclusively in the slave trade.

On May 10th 1748, whilst on a return journey from Africa with his ship fully laden with hundreds of slaves, Newton almost lost everything, including his own life. His ship was caught up in a violent storm and in a desperate bid to save himself, his ship, his cargo and his crew, Newton cried out to God to have mercy on him. His prayers were answered and the storm miraculously broke. Everything was saved and the events of that day changed John Newton’s life forever.

As a direct result of this experience, Newton gave up his life as a slave-trader and, instead, he dedicated his life to serving God. He went on to become a Christian minister in England and he also became very close friends with John Wesley (founder of the Methodist church) and also William Wilberforce, the man who went on to lead the campaign for the abolition of slavery.

John Newton, the once notorious slave trader turned Christian minister, wrote many wonderful hymns. By far the most famous of which, is this one:

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.

Suppose you go to the doctors with red spots all over your body and he diagnoses measles. Imagine he then tried to cure you by covering all the spots with band aids or plasters. You’d say, ‘Hang on a minute, that’s no solution. The spots are only the symptoms – the real disease is within; it’s in the blood stream!’ So it is with our sin – it’s a heart issue and we can’t fix the problem by doing good works to try and impress God or cancel out the bad stuff!

Adapted from Christianity Explained, New Malden, Surrey: The Good Book Company, p.52

Grace is when God gives us the things we don’t deserve.

Mercy is when God does not give us the things we do deserve.

Do you know people who are not (yet) Christians – they’ve not accepted Christ – but they think they’re good people and they’ll go to heaven when they die? They think God will let them in. If they’ve done anything wrong, they think God will forgive them because of their good deeds or because they have always tried to live a good life.

I used to think like this: I used to think that to get in to heaven God will weigh up your good deeds and your bad, like on a pair of scales, and if the good outweighs the bad, well then you’re in! And I’ve met loads of ‘self-righteous’ people in my time; people who think that God is actually rather pleased with them; they think they are worthy and God will certainly accept them… why wouldn’t he? I’ve had people say things to me like, ‘Ok, I might not be perfect but I’ve never murdered anyone; you know I’m a law abiding citizen; I’m honest – I don’t cheat, don’t steal; I’m a nice person (well, most of the time) and I always try to do what’s right – might not always succeed, but on the whole I’m a decent good person: I’m kind, I’m generous… I give to charity, go to church occasionally… and, I give blood! For heaven’s sake. Of course, God will accept me!’

Now, these are all very worthwhile things, certainly… but there’s a major problem with that kind of philosophy: It’s self-reliant; it depends on us earning favour with God, or doing a deal and trying to work things out so the balance is in our favour. But the Bible nowhere teaches that God judges us like on a pair of scales. In fact, the Bible teaches the opposite! God’s standard is 100% perfection and so none of us can ever be good enough; none of us can be perfect or completely righteous… and yet that’s God’s requirement; the qualification to get into heaven – we have to be perfect, without sin, completely righteous just like Jesus… Or… we have to be made righteous; we have to covered with the blood of Christ. How are we made righteous? Only in accepting – by faith – what Jesus has done for us.

It is by God’s grace that we are saved. Salvation is a gift that comes through faith, not a recompense for our good works! Ephesians 2v8-9 (NIV1984) says: It is by God’s grace that we have been saved, through faith, and not by works so no one can boast… (thinking that they’re good enough).

R. Ian Seymour

A man, who died, arrived at the pearly gates of heaven and is met by St. Peter:

Peter says: “I don’t know if you realise that we have a points system before you can get into heaven; you need 100 points from your life on earth.”

The man replies: “Well I lived with my wife faithfully for 50 years and never looked at another woman. Does that count?”

“Very good. Three points,” says Peter.

“And I went to church every week and tithed my income.”

“Well done. Two points,” said Peter.

Getting frustrated the man said, “And I organised a gift of clothing to AIDS orphans in Africa.”

“Excellent, three points,” nodded Peter.

“But I’ve only got eight points. At this rate I’ll never get into heaven but for the grace of God.”

“Excellent, 100 points” Peter beamed. “Come on in, brother!”

Source: John Pritchard, Going to Church, 2009, London: SPCK, p.57

Imagine a competition to jump across the English Channel. The first competitor, a 70-year old alcoholic, manages three feet. His rival, a 20-year old decathlon champion, manages 25 feet; he is vastly superior to his fellow competitor. But this difference pales into insignificance compared with the 22 miles they would need to jump to get all the way across! God’s ‘goodness standard’ is Jesus Christ. Compared with him the very best of us fails abysmally.

Stephen Gaukroger

Stephen Gaukroger, It Makes Sense, p.108

You know, the amazing thing about Christ’s love for us is not just that he knows and forgives all of our past sins, but that he knows and has decided to forgive all of our future ones too. On the eve of his crucifixion Jesus washed his disciple’s feet saying: “You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:37)… Jesus knew that shortly afterwards he would be betrayed and be deserted by all of them, for a time… He knew that the disciples would shortly hang their heads in shame and look down at their feet in disgust! And when they did… Jesus wanted them to remember that He’d washed their feet. “You don’t realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Incredible, wonderful grace! He provided mercy before they even needed it and forgave their sin before they had even committed it.

Adapted from The UCB Word For Today, 3/11/2012

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