I recently read a wonderful article by Paul Tripp in which he said, “If you are aware of your sin, you are aware of it only because you have been visited by amazing grace.”
As I read that statement, my mind was immediately taken up in a conversation I had with my neighbour. She has no Christian background, and somehow, we started talking about the well-known hymn, “Amazing Grace”. I told her that the man who wrote that hymn, had, at one time been a slave ship captain. She was surprised. I then told her this was some of what was behind the words, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” I said, the man who wrote those words indeed came to the conclusion that he was a moral wretch indeed.”
There was so much more that could have been said in that brief conversation. Most of us who know the story of John Newton will remember that initially, after his conversion, Newton had continued to work in the slave trade. As shocking as that is to those who first hear it, it would have been less shocking to his contemporaries. The idea that slavery in general and the slave trade, in particular, was a moral evil had not yet occurred to this new Christian. For Newton, the things that did occur to him were his use of profanity, as well as gambling and drinking. He was immediately aware of his sin, but the full weight of his sinfulness had not yet occurred to him.
But eventually, through amazing grace, Newton did reflect on the evils of the slave trade, as well as his culpability in it. In his book, “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade”, he wrote: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” Eventually, Newton became an ally of William Wilberforce. Furthermore, as I understand it, he was the only slave captain to ever testify before the Privy Council and at parliamentary hearings in England on the evils of the slave trade.
I write these things not to replay the amazing history of the man who experienced amazing grace. Newton’s story is surely one that Christians should read with eagerness. But I write these things because of what Paul Tripp wrote. The awareness of sin is evidence that we have been visited by amazing grace.
It is true, that the weight of our own sin leads us to seek out a saviour. But it is also true, that the awareness each one of us had of our sinfulness, was but a small representation of the fulness and totality of our sin. During my own conversion at the age of 18, like John Newton, I was aware of my sins of profanity and drunkenness. I was also given to wasting away my days, whenever I wasn’t at work, in pool halls, playing for a small amount of money at each game. These things quickly came to an end when I first experienced amazing grace.
I have been in Christ now, for well over 40 years. During that time, by the mercy of God, I have seen sins I would have discounted as a small matter when I was first saved. But now, they seem far greater than the grosser sins that once troubled me. When I finally stand before Christ, I will tell him that I am so thankful for what he has done. For all my Christian life, he was revealing to me, that my sin was far greater than I had ever imagined before. And with each awareness of sin, came a greater awareness of amazing grace. I am only now beginning to see, how far-reaching is the effect of Christ’s cross. I have been loved so much more than I had imagined. Is not the realization of the depth of our depravity, all the more reason to reflect on grace?