The nation breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday when it was reported that Donna O’Reilly, a resident of Moncton, New Brunswick, had been found, safe and physically well. A month earlier, she had vanished from her workplace, and hadn’t been seen or heard from again until she showed up on a Moncton street, flagging down motorists in the hope that one would take her to safety (and one did). She had escaped from a basement apartment where she had been held against her will for a month – and where she was able to watch the tearful and impassioned pleas on television from her family, seeking her safe return.
Too often, these stories end far more tragically than this one. Think of, say, Tori Stafford, whose family believed she was alive for the longest time last year until her lifeless body was found. This time, however, we are recipients of good news.
Without a doubt, Mrs. O’Reilly will have significant emotional trauma to deal with, but, surrounded by the love of family and friends, she will surely be fine. She can say that she once was lost, but now is found.
The fellow who popularized that phrase was John Newton, a ruffian slave ship captain for whom a personal conversion experience began during a stormy voyage. He was returning to England from Africa, and it appeared all would be lost. He began reading a spiritual classic – The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis. As Newton’s faith in Christ grew stronger, he tried to improve conditions for the slaves on his ship, even holding worship gatherings for his crew. Eventually, he became convicted of the inhumanity of his work, and became a crusader against slavery. He became a port clerk for a period of time, but then sensed God’s call to preach the gospel, spending the remainder of his life proclaiming the simple truth of God’s love in Christ for all people.
Newton lived to the age of 82 – a ripe old age, considering he died in 1807 – and never retired. He said, near his death, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour!”
It was Newton who penned the words which were autobiographical :
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!
Each of us began this life ‘lost’, far from God; in Christ, we are, by God’s grace, ‘found’ in him! “[A]nyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5.17, NLT). Are you living today as one who has become a new person in Christ?
By the way, The Imitation of Christ is still printed today and is available quite inexpensively; it’s worth your time to read this book as an annual spiritual discipline. You can find it, for example, here.