The most famous hymn in the English language is “Amazing Grace,” written by John Newton in the 18th century.
But what exactly is the grace of which Newton speaks?
One of the ways he describes the impact of this grace is how it transforms a person’s spiritual vision: “Was blind, but now I see.”
Consider some of the ways this grace moves a person from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.
First, apart from the grace of God, we are blind to the true meaning of scripture. Many people who have read the Bible confess that they do not understand what it means. One of the main reasons for this is spiritual blindness.
The Bible is the very Word of God given to us from apostles and prophets who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21b). But as the Apostle Paul explains, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
When John Newton began to read the Bible for himself, he recognized that he could not understand it on his own, but he found help when he read the words of Jesus in Luke 11:13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Newton wrote in his journal concerning this verse: “I have need of that very Spirit, by which the whole was written, in order to understand [the Bible] aright. He has engaged here to give that Spirit to those who ask: I must therefore pray for it; and if it be of God, he will make good on his own word.” The grace Newton experienced was the grace of the Holy Spirit enabling him to understand the scriptures.
Second, apart from the grace of God, we are blind to the reality of our sin against God. John Newton described his life of sin and rebellion against God in these words: “I was capable of anything; I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor (so far as I remember) the least sensibility of conscience.”
In this state of blindness, a person may experience bad feelings at being caught in their sin (such as lying or sexual immorality) or having to face some of the consequences of their sin (such as public shame or having to leave public office), but there is no genuine sorrow over having offended God, the creator and sustainer of all life.
But when God in His grace gives spiritual sight, such people see that heinousness of their offense against the Holy God. As Newton states in the second stanza: “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.” The grace of spiritual vision opens the eyes to see the glory and awe of Almighty God that leads to a holy terror that exclaims with the Prophet Isaiah “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).
Third, apart from the grace of God, we are blind to the only way of salvation in Jesus Christ. In their spiritual blindness, people try to save themselves from the coming wrath of God by their own efforts and good works, but all to no avail. They do not see the only way to be saved from the ravages of sin and its eternal consequences is through the work of Jesus Christ. As Paul states, the devil “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).
But when God in his grace opens blind eyes, Jesus Christ is seen for who he truly is: the only savior of sinners. This was Newton’s experience while reading the scripture at sea: “Thus far I was answered, that before we arrived in Ireland, I had a satisfactory evidence in my own mind of the truth of the Gospel, as considered in itself, and of its exact suitableness to answer all my needs ... I stood in need of an Almighty Savior; and such a one I found described in the New Testament.” The grace Newton experienced was the grace of faith in the Lord Jesus, a “grace my fears relieved.”
The grace of spiritual vision truly is amazing grace, a grace still available to be experienced today to all who like John Newton ask the Lord for it.