Awestruck – Part 3

February 1, 2012

When we are awestruck by the greatness, glory, and grace of God, we are shocked by the depth of our depravity and sin. That was Isaiah’s experience. It was also what Paul experienced. His encounter with the Risen Lord led to his conversion and his call to be an apostle, a herald of the Gospel to the Gentiles. He came to see himself as a “wretched” man unworthy of the grace of God. In that marvelous passage on the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, he writes, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” (I Corinthians 15:9-10) Paul never lost sight of either the shock of his sinfulness or the awesomeness of God’s grace.

I was recently re-reading a little of the spiritual journey of John Newton, the English preacher and hymn writer, best known as the author of “Amazing Grace.” Before his mother died when he was but seven years of age, she had sown into his life the seeds of the Gospel. When he was old enough, he joined his father as a merchant seaman and quickly began to live a life of sin and godlessness. Eventually, Newton became the captain of a ship engaged in the slave trade. Although he was a hardened sinner with no use or thought of God, he picked up a religious book one night he had found on board and began to read about the sacrificial suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. The question entered his mind and haunted his soul: What if this is true? Later that night a violent storm battered the sailing vessel, and although Newton was an experienced seaman, he was frightened to death and began to cry out, “My mother’s God, the God of mercy, have mercy on me!” That was the turning point in Newton’s life, which from then on was devoted to preaching and praising his great and glorious Savior. Like Paul, he never lost the sense of shock and awe.

In one of Newton’s lesser known hymns, he wrote: “In evil long I took delight,¬†unawed by shame or fear,¬†Till a new object struck my sight and stopped my wild career.” The words, “unawed by shame or fear” captured my attention. His sin was no real shock to him. He goes on to write about seeing Jesus “hanging on a tree.” It was then that he began to feel the conviction and crush of his sin, writing, “My conscience felt and owned the guilt, and plunged me in despair, I saw my sins His blood had spilt, and helped to nail him there.” Until we truly “own” the guilt, we cannot understand grace.

Newton finishes his hymn: “Thus, while his death my sin displays in all its blackest hue, Such is the mystery of grace, it seals my pardon too.” I can’t help but believe that we need a little more shock and awe injected into our lives from a fresh visit to the cross. It is only then that we are continually awestruck by the greatness, glory, and grace of God. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”