His “Once For All” Sacrifice
Bible Reading: Hebrews 10:10-25; 1 Peter 3:18
You likely know of John Newton as the pastor and author of the great hymn “Amazing Grace.” What you may not know was that long before he was a pastor, he was a slave ship captain. Yes, John Newton had captained slave ships and oversaw the inhumane treatment of slaves in conditions which were beyond appalling. The male slaves were packed together below deck and were secured by leg irons. The space was so cramped they were forced to crouch or lie down. Women and children were kept in separate quarters, sometimes on deck, allowing them limited freedom of movement, but also exposing them to violence and sexual abuse from the crew. The air in the hold was foul and putrid. Seasickness was common and the heat was oppressive. The lack of sanitation and suffocating conditions meant there was a constant threat of disease. Epidemics of fever, dysentery, and smallpox were frequent. Captives endured these conditions for about two months, sometimes longer. In good weather the captives were brought on deck and forced to exercise. They were fed twice a day and those refusing to eat were force-fed. Those who died were thrown overboard. The combination of disease, inadequate food, rebellion and punishment took a heavy toll on captives and crew alike. Surviving records suggest that until the 1750s one in five Africans on board ship died. The Pastor John Newton had formerly been a party to all that!
One wonders how much John Newton thought about those former days and those heinous sins he had committed. The Apostle Paul likewise had a former life filled with dreadful sins. He had persecuted Christians and caused many believers to be sent to prison, casting his vote against them when they were condemned to death (Acts 26:10). As an apostle he referred to himself as the foremost of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He once wrote, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death? (Romans 7:24)”
In spite of those former sins, both men experienced the grace of God in salvation, and were much used by God!! And though their sins seem to us to be especially appalling, the Scriptures remind us that we are all born sinners! Jeremiah 17:9 speaks to this reality: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We are born into this world “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds” (Colossians 1:21). According to Romans 6:23, the deserved punishment for such behavior is death!
Christ died “once for all” for sins. That’s the truth reiterated throughout the passages in today’s Bible reading. John MacArthur commented on this: “But the good news is Christ died for sins. This is the greatest, joyous, most blessed, hopeful, comforting truth ever. His suffering was ultimate. He died. Why? Why did He die for our sins? He was without sin. Why did He die for our sins? Because that was what God required. The wages of sin in death. Somebody has to die, either the sinner or a substitute. And so Christ died for sins. Not His, ours. Sins put Him there. Not His sins, He didn’t have any. Ours. And I want you to notice that He died for sins once – hapax in the Greek – hapax. Important word, it means one time only. It means an event that occurred one time with perpetual validity without requiring repetition. It’s very rare that some event, some act is hapax. That is to say, done once, never needing to be repeated. And securing by that one act all that was intended. But that is exactly what happened in the death of Christ.”
As he was dying at the age eighty-two, John Newton whispered to a friend, “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”. In his epitaph Newton summed up his life in these words, “John Newton, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy.”
Christ died “once for all” for sins. A complete pardon, of all one’s past, present, and future sins, is availed to anyone who trusts in Jesus. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Indeed, we are all great sinners, but Christ is a wonderful Savior!
Lord Jesus, Your grace is indeed amazing! That you would save any of us out of the depths of our depravity is an incredible thing! That You would so work on the cross to make a “once for all” sacrifice for our sins, is a precious truth indeed! That you would take a man like John Newton, or Paul, and so incredibly transform them, bringing good out of their bad, speaks to the glorious nature of Your salvation! May we remain ever thankful, overflowing with gratitude, and not just with our lips, but with our lives! Amen.
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
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.