This story is about John, a young man in England, who grew up with a tremendous spiritual potential. At ten years of age he had already memorized the entire catechism of the Church of England.
While still in his youth his beloved mother died, and he never really got over this tragic experience. John could not understand how a God of love and kindness could allow this to happen. It wasn't long before he was shaking his fist at God. Finally he said, "I will have nothing more to do with God." And from that moment John turned his life totally against Him. Oh, he believed there was a God out there somewhere, but he was through with God forever.
John continued to rebel and hate God, until his father finally said, "I've got to do something with this young man. Maybe the sea will be good for him." So his father took John on his own great flag ship and set sail on one of his trade routes. It wasn't long, just a matter of days, when the sailors aboard ship began to sing dirty little songs about John's father, the captain. He immediately made inquiry and learned to his horror that these songs originated with his own son. The father said, "Son, we can't have such a thing at sea. It is of utmost importance to maintain authority."
A year later the ship returned to England. The captain knew he could not take his son out again unless there was a change in his behavior, so he left him behind. John all too quickly sank to the life of a drunkard. He spent much of his time in the pubs at the waterfront. He drank until he passed out. Then late at night he'd wake up and stumble to his father's palatial home. For John this type of life became a regular thing. He had no other purpose for living--he didn't care.
One night while John lay in a stupor on the floor of the pub, a slave ship came into anchor. In those days, when manpower was in short demand, it was a simple thing to stop at various ports in the middle of the night and pick up drunk sailors at the pubs. They would scoop them up, put them on a longboat, and then take them out to their ship. And before the sun came up, they'd sail away. By the time the drunk sailors knew anything, they were far out to sea.
When John awoke from his stupor, to his surprise he wasn't on the floor of a pub. Instead, he found himself on the deck of a strange ship. He looked around and suddenly realized that he was on a slaver. The captain told the men frankly that they had been gang-pressed into service and were now under his command.
John told the captain that his own father was a well-known captain of a fleet of ships. The captain of the slave ship knew that this young man must be treated better than most, and promoted John to lead officer--second in command!
It wasn't long, however, when the sailors started to sing dirty songs about their captain. He made short work of such foolishness. When they sailed into a port in Africa, John was sold as a slave to a great African queen (who had been supplying slaves to the traders). She bought this white man, but soon hated him too. She determined to break him. She had John tied up in the middle of a village. Then she ordered the villagers to bring their most awful garbage, everything they could find, even sewage, and dump it on him.
By some sort of miracle John escaped and ran into the jungle. There he lived like an animal. While in this deplorable situation, John contracted a disease which caused temporary blindness. He stumbled around, ate whatever he could find, even gnawed on the bark of trees. His clothes were torn. His nails, his beard, and his hair grew long, until he looked like a wild man.
About this time John's father returned to England from one of his voyages. He was concerned about John and his whereabouts. He checked the waterfront pubs, but his son wasn't there. Finally someone told him about the slave ship and how a number of drunk men had been pressed into service, including his boy. Immediately John's father outfitted his flagship and set sail for Africa. Just one thought occupied his mind, "I've got to find my boy!"
John's father was not a slaver, but he knew the ports. Finally the captain sailed into the port of the African queen. He asked her, "Have you seen a white man?" and began to describe his son. She said, "I think I know who you are talking about. In fact, I think it was your son that was sold to me. I hated him. I tried to break his spirit, but he escaped and ran into the jungle. We didn't even bother to look for him. We hope he is dead!"
The father went into the jungle to search for his boy. Again another miracle took place and they found John--half blind and half starved. They put him on the ship and headed for England. One of the sailors, feeling pity for the young man, gave him a book on the life of Christ. As John read the book, his childhood experiences and all his mother had taught him flooded his entire being. All of those feelings he had suppressed through the years came back. The Spirit of God appealed to the young man, "Oh, John, I've spared you so many times. Won't you come back to Me, won't you give your life to Me now?"
When they docked in England, John put the book down and said, "No, I'm not going to give You my life!" Shortly thereafter his father died and John became even more twisted in his mind. He went down to the wharf. There was the magnificent flagship of his father's merchant marine fleet. John went to the stern, removed its proud name, then defiantly put up a new name, The African. He outfitted the ship and set sail for the west coast of Africa. There the British slave industry records that John became one of the most hated, the most feared, the most ruthless, the most despicable slaver that had sailed the seas. Thousands of innocent people were transported in his vessel to a life worse than death. Untold numbers died during the voyages and were thrown overboard.
Years went by. On one return trip to England John suffered a stroke. Again by a miracle of God he recovered and regained movement and speech. The Spirit of God had not given up on John, even though he certainly did not deserve God's intervention. In spite of the fact that he had rejected God's appeals many times in the past, the Spirit pleaded gently once again, "Oh, John, I have never given up on you, I've watched over you even when you cursed Me and rejected my great love for you. John, won't you give your life to Me now?"
John said Yes this time, and he was transformed by the grace of God. Another miracle, John decided to be a preacher. He was anxious to tell the world of a merciful God who wants to save every person on earth no matter what his condition might be. John longed to introduce others to his new-found Friend, Jesus, and be saved eternally!
Can't you just imagine what happened when John's name was first suggested as pastor of a church. The head of the search committee enthusiastically gives a report to the congregation, "We've found just the right person!"
"Well, tell us his qualifications, some of his past experience; tell us some of the other pastorates he's had."
"Well, he's never really had a church before."
"You say this fellow is up in age and he's never had a church?"
"Yes, he's never had a church before, but we feel he would be a good pastor for this congregation."
"Well, tell us a little about him."
"There's not much to tell."
"What did he do before he became a preacher?"
"He was a slave trader."
Praise God for the Church of England! They said, "No matter where you've come from, no matter what you've done, God's grace and kindness and forgiveness covers it all." And they gave him a church. Miracle of miracles! It's still there in England. You can see the pulpit from which John preached.
The marvelous and incomprehensible grace of God! Until you've lived on skidrow, until you've seen the depravity of the human spirit, until you've ministered in the ghetto, until you've seen firsthand the work of the devil and the evil that has torn lives apart, you cannot fully grasp God's amazing grace.
John, while reviewing his life one day, was overcome with remorse and shame. He recognized that there was no hope for him except for the grace of God. John Newton then took his pen and wrote these words:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun.
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