Grace found me
John was only six years old when his mother died of tuberculoses. His father was a sailor and it was difficult for him to juggle a traveling career and a small child. School didn’t go well for him, and eventually the decision was made to let him serve on one of the ships that his father was captain of. He was eleven years old when he first began sailing.
His fathered owned trade ships not known for their clean and wholesome environments. At eleven this was the world into which he entered. Rubbing shoulder with rough sailors, spending nights in drunken bars, battling for a place among these men.
After six voyages with his father his father died, leaving young John an orphan in a hard and senseless environment. He himself was sold to work as a slave by heartless relatives and once again found himself on the sea in a ship. His master abused him horribly and inside this young man began to grow the hate and anger that mistreatment and exposer brings. Time would drag on as John sought a way of escape. It came and he slipped out of the cruel confines of the ship as it lay off of the harbor in Plymouth. His plan was not successful and he was forced to return to the ship and receive his punishment. One that almost killed him. When he was offered a transfer to the African he accepted whole-heartedly seeing it as a means of getting away from those who inflicted so much pain on him.
Later he would work his way up the ranks and eventually become captain of the ship which transported salves. During the height of the slave trade to England and the Americas when humans were shipped as cargo in tiny spaces filled with filth and death. Many of the slave ships would leave port in the West Indies with 600 men, women, and children only to arrive three weeks later in good weather with 300. Half would have died from disease and despair. In storms they were thrown overboard to lighten the load. They were nothing more then cargo, no soul, no life, nothing. Just material. Abuse and injustice ran rampant. John himself engaged in the misuse and abuse of these people. Perhaps it was a way to take out his anger from his past of hate and hurt, but it overtook him. Making him one of the most notorious slavers of the late 1700’s. He would transport over the next few years 20,000 men, women, and children to be sold in the slave trade. Zealous for his cause and completely devoid of sensitivity and feeling for the humanity of the slaves he continued his work of sin and devastation.
Story of Paul
There is another man who worked a work of sin and devastation, but under the name of justice. We find him in the bible in the book of Acts 8:1. We first find him at the stoning of Stephen. Which according to prophesy marked the final rejection of Christ by the Jewish people. In Acts 8:1 it simple says that Saul was on of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. His story doesn’t end there
We find Saul later on in acts 9, killing Christians, throwing them in prison, persecuting them, putting them in chains. He was a man with a mission of destruction and persecution. He seems to be hardened and cruel with no regard for men, women, or children who claim the name of Christ
John recalls a severe storm on one of his journeys to Africa, the winds were howling over the ship and the waves were crashing on all side. The ship was taking on water and it didn’t look very good for the lives of the men on board. After lightening the load as best they could and fighting a loosing battle with the water, the men sat to wait their fate. The sea was sure to claim them. John, faced with death suddenly recalled a reading he had read by chance years earlier which talked about the saving love of Jesus. He promised that if he lived he would give up his profession and follow God.
Be careful what you say, God might hold you to it. The ship was saved and upon return to Liverpool John began a life of study, even being mentored by John Wesley and others. It soon became clear to him that the life he had led was blackened and stained by the blood of the slaves he had delivered.
Unable to find peace in his life and tortured by their memory, he tried to slip into solitude. Only to find, what he describe as the 20,000 ghost of the slaves he traded and killed and hurt where there in his memory, to hunt his existence.
Sometimes when the blackness of our lives stare us in the face and the depths of our humanity glare us down, we are unable to see the grace of God.Is His grace sufficient? For the Johns, for the Sauls, for you?
As Christians we are called to repent of our sins and turn to God. We are able to find forgiveness for our sins and grace for our humanity. We say we are sorry we know that God forgives yet we cannot let go of our past, we cannot forgive ourselves, we cannot move on. Our past mistakes and choices often cripple our futures. I know this is problem, I see it in my own life, but I also see it in every church I go to. Christians who are living like they haven’t been forgiven or who cannot forgive because they do not understand that grace is strong enough they haven’t experienced grace in their own lives. Why is it that sometimes it is so difficult to simply accept grace! We walk around like Pilgrim in the famous book written by John Bunyan, Pilgrims Progress, carrying a burden of sin. It often takes such along time before we are able to give it up.
What is Grace? Grace is defined as “unmerited favor”. What does unmerited mean? Something you didn’t deserve. In the definition we find the key about grace. Would grace be grace if you did something to deserve it? No! If that would be the case then Grace would be the reward. Not an unmerited favor. So are there different levels of unworthiness? Can you do something so bad that Grace can’t wrap its arms around it, can’t cover it? Or here is a harder one, can someone do something to you that cannot be covered by grace?
I have a little baby niece named Grace, she doesn’t quite live up to her name, you see if you don’t have something good to eat, or fun to look at, or something interesting to do. She doesn’t want you. That’s not unmerited favor; she only favors you if you have something that is of merit to her. But true grace looks at you even if you don’t have anything, actually even if you are wretched and below having anything, Grace reaches up and takes you in. Grace by nature covers the insufficiency. It is not that Grace is not strong enough; it is that we are not able to accept it.
How do I know that grace is enough? Turn to our text, Roman 8:1. There is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. How much condemnation? None, nada, zippo, zilch, nothing. Does it say except for liars, or robbers, or child molesters, or murderers. No it doesn’t qualify that. It simply says if you’re in Christ, that’s enough.
By the way, who is that written by? Any guesses? Paul, who used to be named Saul, God’s grace was able to find him on the road to Damascus. Remember what he was doing? Turn back to Acts 9:1-18. In Saul’s case, he didn’t have to go looking for forgiveness, forgiveness found him. He later said in 2 Cor 12:9-10 that in his weakness, in his insufficiency Gods grace is sufficient.
When we ask for forgiveness, we are asking God to take away are sins, does he do that? He says that he will cleanse us from all unrighteousness, He evens says that he will throw our sins into the depth of the ocean. If He does that, I want to know why so many of us go deep see fishing, hauling up our past and the past of any of those who have hurt us. We cannot as Christians keep on living like we are not been covered by Christ. That means we cannot continue to live crippled by our past sins, nor can we continue to hold the sins of those who have hurt us against them. We cannot withhold grace when we ourselves are so badly in need of it. Roman 8:1.
John lived with his 20,000 ghost for 20 years in a small church in England. He felt that he had done too much. But through a private painful journey Grace found him. His story is told everyday all around the world in the famous hymn that he pinned. “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me”. He painfully wrote all that he could remember of his time as a slave trader and the abuse he had participated in, in order that the common people might know, so that the slave trade would be abolished. He gave his tract to William Wilberforce who passed the bill in parliament for the abolition of the slave trade. His eyesight was gone yet he said “I once was blind but now I see, didn’t I write that? Now at last it’s true”. He saw grace. John Newton, Slaver, Abuser, Murderer, Forgiven. Grace found him. Grace will find you. Let it. His famous words are etched as a clear epitaph to the power of Grace. “My memory is fading, but two things I remember very clearly, I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior”. My friends, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.