John Newton knew something about guilt. It shackled his heart. And young John had seen plenty of shackles as the captain of a slave ship from 1750 to 1754. He once witnessed one hundred sick slaves thrown overboard and a baby tossed to the waves because he wouldn’t stop crying. At least one of Newton’s voyages included delivering slaves to the shores of Antigua. There he learned that slaves rarely lasted nine years before they were worked to death.
Two centuries later, I worship with descendants of those slaves. We frequently sing a hymn that Newton wrote after turning his back on the slave trade and becoming instead an Anglican priest and abolitionist: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
Does your heart call you a wretch? A wretched, impatient mother? A wretched, cheating husband? A wretched, thankless child? We are wretches, despite our best efforts. We thrash in a sea of guilt. And Satan, our slave master, loves to hold us underwater. But there is rescue! Newton was saved. We are too—when we cling to the plank of wood that is Christ’s cross, trusting in him as our Savior.
“If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything” (1 John 3:20).
God knows our sins better than we do. He paid for them with his Son’s life. Every day he hauls us ashore and pulls us to our feet to follow him anew. God is greater. And his grace is amazing.