“Of Whom I am the Worst”, John Newton and Amazing Grace

John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace” was written from personal experience, for Newton himself was among the worst of sinners. At the age of eleven, he took to the sea, where he had many adventures: he was press-ganged into the navy; he was captured and flogged for desertion; he despaired almost to the point of suicide. Eventually, Newton became a slave-trader, a hard and wretched man. But he was shown mercy. As he feared for his life in stormy seas, he threw himself on the grace of God, which he found in abundance. Later he testified, “How wonderful is the love of God in giving his Son to die for such wretches!”

Even after he was saved, Newton continued to confess his need of God’s amazing grace. He wrote in one of his letters, “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if a toad or a serpent was put in my food or in my bed. Ah! how vile must the heart (at least my heart) be.” Newton did not despair, however. Before closing the letter, he quoted Paul’s words to Timothy: “I embrace it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

Every Christian knows how to complete Newton’s quotation in the quietness of a believing heart: “of whom I am the worst.”

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you see yourself as the worst of sinners?

Resources

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This post is an extended quote by Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 29.

On God’s Grace

Isaac Watts wrote a hymn in which he takes up our Lord’s image of salvation being like a great banquet. Picture yourself coming into a grand banqueting hall where a marvelous feast is spread out for you.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast
Each of us cry, with thankful hearts, 
“Lord, why was I a guest?”

Does this not amaze you? Lord, why me? Why am I in Christ? Why did you bring me in? Why has your grace laid hold of me?

Why was I made to hear thy voice
And enter while there’s room
When Thousands make a wretched choice
And rather starve than come?

‘Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste
And perished in our sin

Apart from God’s grace, you would never have come to Christ, and neither would I. Our sinful hearts would have taken us away. We would be outside, like thousands of others, still refusing to come.

So let God’s grace lead you to worship. Once you taste God’s grace, you will spend the rest of your life coming back to this question: ‘Why me?’ The staggering answer is that He loved you simply because He loved you.

Question for Reflection

  1. Does your unworthiness of God’s grace drive you to worship Him?

Resources

Colin Smith, Jonah: Navigating a God-centered Life, 99.

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A Right View of God’s Grace

Wash

Are we able to clean ourselves up enough so that God would say,

“I see you have put some effort in. You have cleaned yourself up a bit. Since you have worked so hard, I will now extend my grace and mercy to you.”

The Crowd and the Blind Men

In Matthew 20:29-34, Jesus is walking by two blind men, who call out for healing. The crowd, not thinking they were deserving, tells them to be quiet, to quit calling out to Jesus. They did this because they wrongly understood God’s grace and mercy.

What They Thought

They thought God only extended His grace and mercy to those who were deserving. Since they saw these two men as unholy sinners who were being punished by God, they didn’t think they deserved God’s grace or mercy.

Many Think That Way Today

Many people today think they they have to clean themselves up before they come to Jesus. Or they believe they don’t deserve God’s grace and mercy because of who they are or what they have done in the past. That, however, is simply not true.

No One is Deserving

According to the Bible no one is deserving. No one deserves God’s mercy and grace. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23:

We all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.”

So according to Paul, no one is worthy of God’s mercy. No one deserves His grace, which is why it is called grace – it is a gift God gives to us. Since God’s grace is a gift, it is something we don’t earn or deserve.

A Gift Open To All People’s

Even more, it is a gift open to all peoples. It doesn’t matter what you have done in the past, or who you are right now. God’s grace is open to you.

A Return To Our Initial Question

Returning to our initial question, the answer is that we can’t clean ourselves up enough for God to extend His mercy and grace to us. No, God’s grace and mercy is extended while we are still unholy sinners deserving of His wrath. So then, it is God who cleans us up, not the other way around.

Question for Reflection

  1. Why do people often think they have to make themselves presentable to God?

Resources

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Post adapted from my most recent sermon: How should we think about and act toward the disabled?

On Christmas

On this side of eternity, Christmas is still a promise. Yes, the Savior has come, and with him peace on earth, but the story is not finished. Yes, there is peace in our hearts, but we long for peace in our world.

Every Christmas is still a “turning of the page” until Jesus returns. Every December 25th marks another year that draws us closer to the fulfillment of the ages, that draws us closer to…home.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you long for peace in the world this Christmas?
  2. Do you long for home?

Resources

Joni Eareckson Tada, A Christmas Longing, 137 via Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus edited by Nancy Guthrie

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On Isaiah 9:6 & Jesus’ Incarnation

The Son of God did not want to be seen and found in heaven. Therefore he descended from heaven into this humility and came to us in our flesh, laid himself into the womb of his mother and into the manger and went on to the cross.

This was the ladder that he placed on earth so that we might ascend to God on it.

Question for Reflection

  1. What should our response be to Jesus’ incarnation?

Resources

Martin Luther on Isaiah 9:6 via Stephen J. Nichols, Peace: Classic Readings for Christmas, 56-57.

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On Church Discipline

Discipline is not the “final straw” where judgment is pronounced.

Biblical church discipline is a culture of accountability, growth, forgiveness, and grace that should permeate our churches.

Each member of the church has a responsibility to help others as they struggle with sin – not through judgment and criticism, but rather with gentleness and an eye toward restoration, knowing that he too is subject to temptation (Gal. 6:1).

Matthew 18 does not describe some kind of alternative to litigation; it is a primer on how we lovingly engage one another, patiently exhausting lesser steps (for example, going in person) before moving to greater ones (for example, taking it to the church).

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you think of Church Discipline? Does it have a negative connotation to you?
  2. Do you have a culture of accountability, growth, forgiveness, and grace in your church?

Resources

Table Talk Magazine, August 2013, pg 25.

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