“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.” ― John Newton, Amazing Grace.
Why is “Amazing Grace” the most-performed hymn in the English language? It just is. This song has the enduring power that has carried it to continents and through time. It is the most recorded song in history. But how many people know, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story?”
The boat had been thrashing about in the north Atlantic storm and was in pretty bad shape as a result of the pounding it had taken. The sailors had little hope of survival, but made every effort to keep the boat afloat. John Newton was one of those sailors. As the situation turned even more bleak and hope was quickly dissipating, Newton reflected on his life. His life was in a bad way. His life has been taking on water for some time and like the boat he was in, there was little hope of being able to turn it around. But his thoughts turned to Christ and the Lord delivered him out of deep waters.
Newton became a slave ship master, bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips. He admitted that he sometimes treated the slaves badly. In 1754, Newton abandoned the slave trade, and his life on the sea and devoted his life to God’s service. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and gained some popularity as a preacher and hymn writer, penning some 280 hymns, including Amazing Grace in 1779. Amazing Grace was written by John Newton in 1779, some 240 years ago. Amazing Grace is a song about one man’s real and ugly sin — the sin of slavery. At the same time it is a song about the power of forgiveness, a song about looking into the depths of very real evil and, even there, especially there, finding grace that is bigger than all the hate. When you know the back story the lyrics make sense:
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
Newton would most assuredly not have written “Amazing Grace” if not for his past. And many of us would then be without these lovely words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God’s grace in our lives:
Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
- About what percentage of the song Amazing Grace do you think you could recite from memory? Look up the lyrics to the song Amazing Grace. Which parts of the song do you especially identify with? Why?