John Newton

Me: I have a story for y’all.

Prodigal: We are all ready.

This is from the book Stories Behind Men of Faith by Ace Collins

At the heart of most of his sermons were stories of Newton’s own battles with sin. He used examples of his own pre-salvation experiences to highlight the power of God to lift a man out of hell and into the light. Week in and week out he used the word grace in letters and sermons as he tried to explain God’s greatest and most amazing gift.

As he set aside his Bible, Newton glanced over to a stack of hymns he had recently written with William Cowper. Cowper was a genius, a man who could compose lyrics that resonated stronger than any sermon the preacher had ever penned. His songs, such as “Light Shining out of the Darkness,” were dynamic in their scope and power, and hundreds of people had been saved simply by hearing the Lord’s call in Cowper’s words. Yet the grace he wrote about was lost on the man. The songwriter was deeply troubled, often spiraling into the depths of depression, constantly moaning in spiritual pain and crying for hours on end.

A few days before, Cowper had tried and failed to end his life. This attempt was another in a long line of failed suicide attempts. Now living with Newton and his wife, the songwriter spent as much time pleading for death as he did trying to fight for life. The spiritual battle being waged over the talented man’s soul was one of the few negative elements in Newton’s world. He simply could not understand how his friend could write so brilliantly about the light but not see it in his own world. If only he could find a way to present the story of grace in a fashion that would touch Cowper’s heart and mind. The pastor attempted to tailor a message that would bring a peace to the distressed man. In truth, Cowper could not fathom the depth of Newton’s words, but the message found on that New Year’s Eve would resonate with hundreds of millions in a way nothing ever had.

Picking up a pen. Newton focused on what had become a familiar theme and direction for his sermons. First he told a home spun parable of the fall from grace and redemption.

“A company of travelers fall into a pit: one of them gets a passenger to draw him out. Now he should not be angry with the rest for falling in; nor because they are not yet out, as he is. He did not pull himself out: instead, therefore, of reproaching them, he should shew them pity…..A man, truly illuminated, will no more despise others, than Bartimeus, after his own eyes were opened, would take a stick, and beat every blind man he met.

Rereading his words, Newton wondered if Cowper or others would see themselves in the pit. Would anyone feel the need to accept God’s love and be pulled from his or her lowly state? Would this story provide the insight a soul needed to accept Christ and walk in faith?

After he finished his text, the clergyman reviewed his sermon, only to discover that while his message of salvation was strong, it was still missing something. Newton glanced back over the songs he had been writing with Cowper, then pulled out a piece of blank paper. Using his own redemptive experience, he carefully crafted lyrics that reflected his message for the January 1 service.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)

That sav’d a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas race that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears reliev’d;

How precious did that grace appear,

The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many danger, toils and snares,

I have already come;

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be,

As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease;

I shall possess, within the veil,

A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who call’d me here below,

Will be forever mine.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide they way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Jennifer Van Allen

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