Last week, President Obama sang the first verse of Amazing Grace at a memorial service for those slain in the mass shooting at an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. Perhaps many of you will be aware that the song was written by John Newton, a slave trader who became a Christian. You may not know that Newton continued in the slave trade for a number of years following his confession of Christ as his savior. Newton wrote that first verse of Amazing Grace in 1848 while he waited for his ship to be repaired after a storm that so humbled him that he called out to God for mercy. Incredibly, that ship was rescuing Newton who had himself become a slave to a slave trader's African wife. Nonetheless, Newton went on to captain other slaving ships until ill health forced him to retire from the sea. Newton became a priest in the Episcopal Church in 1764. His reputation for wisdom and spiritual depth grew until he was embraced as a guide by many prominent people of his day, as well as by the church at large. Eventually, his eyes opened to the horror of the slave trade. He became active in the abolitionist movement.
The verse that President Obama sang was written by a man who had slain and tortured many African slaves while quelling revolts on his ships. Early in his career he was a notorious drunk and an enthusiastic participant in the common practice of raping the slave women. Even as he wrote "that saved a wretch like me" he was still early in the process of being redeemed and made Christlike. That process was ongoing when he died in 1807.
A Christian is not one who has turned to God and stopped sinning. A Christian is one who has turned to God because he is a sinner and needs a life time of grace from God to transform him into a likeness of Christ. Christians are aware that the transformation is not completed in this life. We are assured by God that He is glorified even in our weakness. We have been lost, found, and are still being guided home.