The amaz­ing grace of Christ­mas morn

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - Reprinted from an ear­lier Christ­mas Wesley Pru­den is editor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

The malls and the Main Streets will fall silent. The ring­ing cash reg­is­ters and the happy cries of chil­dren are but ghostly echoes across the silent cities. But the Christ child born in a manger 2,000 years ago lives, lib­er­at­ing the hearts of sin­ners and trans­form­ing the lives of the wicked.

The story of the re­deem­ing power of the Christ­mas mes­sage is nowhere more vividly il­lus­trated than in the in­cred­i­ble life of an English slaver named John New­ton.

He was born 300 years ago into a sea­far­ing fam­ily in Liver­pool. His mother was a godly woman whose faith gave her life mean­ing. She died when John was 7, and as an old man he re­called as the sweet­est re­mem­brance of child­hood the soft and ten­der voice of his mother at prayer.

His fa­ther mar­ried again, and John left school at 11 to go to sea with him. He quickly adopted the vul­gar life of sea­far­ing men, though the mem­ory of his mother´s faith re­mained. He reck­oned that re­li­gious faith was im­por­tant, he re­called many years later, “but I loved sin.” Once on shore leave, he was seized by a press gang to work on an­other ship, HMS Har­wich, and life grew coarser. He ran away, was cap­tured, put in chains, stripped be­fore the mast and flogged with­out mercy. “The Lord had by all ap­pear­ances given me up to ju­di­cial hard­ness. I was ca­pa­ble of any­thing. I had not the least fear of God, nor the least sen­si­bil­ity of con­science. I was firmly per­suaded that af­ter death I should merely cease to be.”

The Har­wich traded him to a slav­ing ship, bound for West Africa to take aboard hu­man cargo. “At this pe­riod of my life,” John re­flected, “I was big with mis­chief and, like one af­flicted with a pesti­lence, was ca­pa­ble of spread­ing a taint wher­ever I went.”

John´s new captain liked him, and took him to his home on an is­land off the African coast, where he had mar­ried a beau­ti­ful and cruel African princess. She grew jeal­ous of her hus­band´s friend­ship with John, who fell ill, and was left in her care. HMS Har­wich was barely over the horizon when she threw John into a pig sty, blinded him, and left him in delir­ium to die. He did not die, but kept in chains in a cage and fed swill from her ta­ble. Word spread through the district that a black woman was keeping a white slave, and many came to taunt him. They threw limes and stones at him, mock­ing his mis­ery. He would have starved if slaves wait­ing to em­bark on the Mid­dle Pas­sage to the Amer­i­cas had not shared their mea­ger scraps of food.

Five years passed, and the captain re­turned. John told how he had been treated and he was mocked as a liar. When he was fi­nally taken aboard HMS Har­wich again, he was treated ever harshly, al­lowed to eat only the en­trails of an­i­mals butchered for the crew´s mess. “The voy­age quite broke my con­sti­tu­tion,” he would re­call, “and the ef­fects would al­ways re­main with me as a need­ful me­mento of the wages of sin.”

Like Job, he be­came a mag­net for ad­ver­sity. His ship crashed against the rocks, and he de­spaired that God´s mercy re­mained af­ter his life of hos­tile in­dif­fer­ence to the Gospel. “Dur­ing the time I was en­gaged in the slave trade,” he said, “I never had the least scru­ple to its law­ful­ness.”

The wan­ton sin­ner, the ar­ro­gant blas­phe­mer, the mocker of the faith of oth­ers was at last driven to his knees: “My prayer was like the cry of ravens, which yet the Lord does not dis­dain to hear.” Mirac­u­lously, he was res­cued, and ar­rived back in Lon­don to re­flect on the mer­cies God had shown him de­spite his aw­ful life. He fell un­der the preach­ing of Ge­orge White­field and the in­flu­ence of John Wesley, and was born again into the new life in Christ.

Shortly be­fore Christ­mas Day of 1807, he died at the age of 82, leav­ing a dazzling tes­ti­mony to the mir­a­cle born on the first Christ­mas. “I com­mit my soul to my gra­cious God and Sav­ior, who mer­ci­fully spared and pre­served me, when I was an apos­tate, a blas­phe­mer and an in­fi­del, and de­liv­ered me from that state on the coast of Africa into which my ob­sti­nate wicked­ness had plunged me.”

His tes­ti­mony, set to mu­sic, would be­come the most beloved hymn of Chris­ten­dom:

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.

´Twas grace that taught my heart to fear And grace my fears re­lieved

How pre­cious did that grace ap­pear The hour I first be­lieved.

Through many dan­gers, toils and snares, I have al­ready come;

´Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.


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