by Christian Penn

Have you ever actually seen something for the the first time which was about the thousandth time you had seen it? Well, I had that happen to me this weekend. Sunday in church the choir and orchestra performed a moving rendition of Amazing Grace complete with a bag piper. It was beautiful, However since then I have not been able to escape the “familiar” words of that second verse. It may be the most obscure one of them all, yet has been haunting me with its message.

T’was grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

Look at that first line. It was the one that first captivated me. “T’was grace that taught my heart to fear.” Think about that very carefully. Grace teaches me to fear? How could that be?

Several years ago I read a book called, The Life of Pi. It was a very interesting book about a family who owned a zoo. One day the young boy of the zoo owner went into the place where a live tiger was living.  Over and over again his father had warned him of the danger of the wild animals in the zoo, but the curious boy had no fear of these seemingly innocent and genteel animals. The tiger looked nonthreatening as he walked calmly inside the cage, so the young boy approached the cage hoping to pet the tiger. The tiger approached very slowly and deliberately. The boy had no fear for him. Suddenly the tiger leaped at the boy. Fortunately his father came in just in time to grab his son and pull him away from the vicious tiger. The son still had no idea the danger of that tiger so he had no fear. The father did something that seemed very harsh. He brought a goat and and tied it just outside of the tiger’s cage. He made his son watch the ensuing events even over the objection of the boy’s mother. Slowly and non threateningly the tiger approached that goat just as he had the boy earlier. Finally, almost at warp speed he lunged and grabbed that goat, dragging him into the cage. In a split second the goat was dead and the tiger was making a meal of him. It was at that moment the boy learned to fear that tiger.

That is what John Newton was saying when he wrote, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” For years he lived in the perilous grasp of sin with no fear. One day God, in His mercy, brought the terror of John Newton’s sins clearly before his eyes. In that moment he saw the dangers, the toils and the snares that he wrote about in another stanza. It is grace that brings us to the point of terror or fear that he speaks about in that phrase. Ah, but the next line says, “and grace my fears relieved.” Have you ever been so afraid that every fiber of your being was shaken? Then, somehow the fear is replaced by the fact that you are safe. What a relief.

One morning we awoke in our Florida home to the sound of a freight train coming through our back yard. We looked outside and saw a tornado approaching our home. It was terrifying. Then, miraculously it rose up above the house, and landed a couple of blocks over. It was silent and we were all fine. That feeling of relief was amazing. Trees were down and the fence in the back yard was a splintered mess, but we felt such a relief because we had been spared. That is what John Newton was saying. Grace taught him the horrifying end of his sins and then that same grace lifted him out of the ruins and saved him. Grace mercifully brought fear to his wicked heart and then grace brought him relief. Grace had worked in his life but had not yet made its appearance.

Notice how he described it. “How precious did that grace appear.” When did it finally appear? “The hour he first believed.” Our Father lets us get a vision of how awful our sins are and the horrible price it brings. He brings a lamb and ties it to the outside of the cage. He lets us watch the sins of our lives snatch that lamb and rip Him to pieces. “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. (Is 53:5-7) However we still do not yet actually see the grace. Then we believe our Father by faith because of the lamb and that fear brought by His grace is turned into relief by His grace. Finally by faith we see it all for what it is…GRACE!!!!

Grace has made its grand appearance. Grace was there working all the time but we could not yet see grace for what it is. We are not spared by the sight of grace but by the work of grace. Then after we have been spared by the work of grace it shows itself for what it is. The longer we live in His grace the more it shows itself to us. “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
(Ephesians 2:7, 8) John Newton saw that tiger of sin bearing down on his wicked life and then grace brought him relief. In the moment he believed, grace made its glorious appearance. It had been grace all along that had taught him fear and grace that had brought the relief. He lived the rest of his life by faith in what Christ by grace had done for him. He saw the exceeding riches of God’s grace that many have never seen.

Read that stanza again, no sing it …right now…slowly and become aware of the extent of sight God gave John Newton, the old slave trader, of the glorious riches of God’s grace.

T’was grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed.

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