Two Sides of Grace

John Newton, the author of the well known hymn, Amazing Grace, was born in London in 1725. During his early years his mother filled his mind with the Scriptures; however, his mother died when he was seven and John was taken by distant relatives who had no fear of God.

Later in life, after deserting the British Navy he joined himself with an unscrupulous slave trader in Africa. During the years that followed John had no interest in the things of God, but God miraculously preserved him through many "dangers, toils, and snares." Eventually he came to know Christ as personal Savior, married a devout Christian woman, and became a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The hymn makes it clear that the grace of God reveals to man his true condition before a holy God. John Newton was amazed that God would save a "wretch" like himself. (Sadly, in a day when "self esteem" is so stressed some hymn books remove the word "wretch.") He saw himself as lost, hopeless, and blind. However, by the grace of God he was found and given spiritual sight which allowed him to see his true condition before a holy and righteous God.

In the second verse of this hymn, Newton presents to us one side of God’s grace mentioned too infrequently today. "‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear." How this is often missing today in those who profess to know Christ. Often there is no real sense of their sin and the awful judgment that awaits the sinner. There is no repentance and a sense of urgency to be saved, such as seen in the Philippian jailor who cried, "What must I do to be saved?" John Newton feared God’s judgment, and he knew that it was the grace of God that taught his heart to fear.

In the epistle to the Romans, which presents the Gospel of God, we do not read of the love of God until the fifth chapter. The apostle Paul first develops the need of man to be saved, and in those early chapters he speaks often of the "judgment of God." We need to present this aspect of the Gospel more often. We need to place before the hearer the black cloth of their sin and God’s judgment before placing before them the brilliant diamond of the Gospel of the grace of God. The blackness of man’s condition only makes the Gospel of Christ shine more brilliantly.

Newton then gives us the second side of God’s grace, as he writes, "And grace my fears relieved." The same grace that taught his heart to fear, relieved him of those fears. The heart that trembled before God was given absolute peace through faith in the finished work of Christ. (Rom. 5:1) A heart tossed and fro by fear is now at perfect peace with God. So it is with those who have experienced God’s saving grace.

How wonderful to know that God’s grace exceeds all our sins. Another has penned those words, "Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt." With this thought in mind the Spirit of God led Paul to write, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." (Rom. 5:20) Super-abounding grace!

Amazingly, not only is the believer in Christ forgiven of all his sins, but he now "stands in grace." (Rom. 5:2) He stands before God in all the loveliness of His beloved Son, in Whom is all His delight. (Eph. 1:6)

Truly we can sing, "Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but am found, Was blind, but now I see."