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The Story Behind The Song – Amazing Grace
No study of Hymnology would be complete without “Amazing Grace.” Amazing Grace is probably one of the most popular, widely circulated and beloved hymns of all religions. Often in modern meetings it has been called the Baptist Song. Perhaps there is no more accurate description of Grace than Wonder and this is certainly the case when you consider the history of John Newton.
John Newton was born in London in 1725 but when he was 6 years old, his mother died. She was a God-fearing, praying woman who instilled in her the Word of God confirming what the Bible declares in the book of Proverbs, saying: “Teach a child first his way; This song, Amazing Grace can be a testimony of John’s conversion and Christian life. In its original form, there were six verses. The first three known and used today were written by John Newton. In his first work in the Olney Hymns in 1779 it was entitled “A Recitation of Faith and Hope.”
As we explore the verses of Amazing Grace, from the first verse we see Newton’s knowledge of theology.
Amazing Grace sweet sound,
That saved an unfortunate person like me.
I was once lost, but now I am found;
I was blind but now I can see.
The meaning of Grace, according to Emory H. Bancroft, is “undeserved grace for sinners.” The word grace is found in the New Testament alone more than 170 times. One cannot even read the title, Amazing Grace, without being immediately reminded of Ephesians 2:8 “For by the grace of faith you have been saved, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God ; The grace that keeps us, the grace that guides us is the grace that will one day lead us home. What John Newton was saying about Grace, it makes perfect sense, I love the sound of it.
The sister who says “to save a cruel person like me” is throwing a lot of arguments at the wrongness of a person. Man is born without godliness; all people are born with the bad behavior of Adam. The scriptures that confirm this are Romans 3:10, 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20, Galatians 3:22 and I John 1:8. The fact that John Newton realized that in order to see God there must be a new birth is also shown in these lines. Acts 4:12 declares that there is no other name by which we must be saved.
Salvation, being born again, is the only way to Christ. Man is born lost. He doesn’t have to do anything to lose, he’s lost. The only way for a person to reach Heaven is for him to be quickened, to be alive. And that is what being born again does and is. Regeneration is the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit that gives a new nature, the nature of Christ in man. That is what is meant by the words, “I was already lost”.
“I was blind but now I see”, the lost condition of a person is compared in the scriptures as blindness. There is no doubt that John Newton had read the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9 when the blind man said “I was blind, now I see”.
The second verse of Amazing Grace,
It was grace that taught my heart to fear
and thankfully my fear was relieved.
How precious that grace appeared
the hour that I began to believe.
John says clearly, everything is grace. He says the same grace that put me under criticism and criticism, when I turned to Christ, was the same grace that removed all my fears, and it arrived at the same hour, when I believed. Undoubtedly, the promise of Romans 10:9 to “believe in the heart” came to John’s mind when he wrote these words. The word trust has a strong meaning, to trust or trust, to have faith. The meaning is seen in believing that the chair will lift you up but not putting your faith in the chair until you sit down. You believe that it will lift you up and help you, but you have not shown your faith until you surrender yourself to it by sitting down in it. That’s what the word believe means, to show your faith, to give yourself to Christ.
The third verse, if you know anything about John Newton’s life, speaks volumes to the heart:
Through many dangers and traps,
I have already come.
It is grace that has brought me safely to this point
and grace will lead me home.
At the young age of 6, after his mother died, young John set sail with his father, who was a sailor. John later joined the British Navy, but was a very rebellious sailor. He even left the navy and was later captured, shackled and publicly beaten. Later he became a ship captain himself, a slave ship captain. John was on a long journey from Brazil and while passing the time, he was reading the book Imitation of Christ, which was written 300 years earlier by Thomas Kempis. Then came a fierce storm that nearly sent the ship and crew into the sea. After surviving the storm, this made John think about life and death. He knew that he was lost, he knew that he was a sinner. The teachings of his God-fearing mother came back to mind and John knelt and repented and received the Lord Jesus. You can imagine the storms and dangers that John faced when he wrote those words. He knew that it was only the Grace of God that he was not dead and in Hell.
After being saved, John changed his place to the altar. John, a lover of the sea, worked as a seafarer and studied for sixteen years and was ordained in the Anglican Church and given a pastoral job in the small English town of Olney. This is where he wrote the lyrics to Amazing Grace, and he was right, How Sweet the Sound!!
John Newton wrote the first three verses of Amazing Grace and wrote some additional verses that we don’t use and may not know:
Jehovah has promised me good things,
His words have established my hope;
He will be my skin and my portion;
As long as life lasts.
Yes, when this flesh and heart fail,
And mortal life will end,
I will take, within the veil,
A life of happiness and peace.
The earth will quickly melt like snow;
The sun stops shining;
But God, who called me down here,
He will be mine forever.
The fourth stanza in our hymnal, “While we have been there ten thousand years” is unknown and was added in 1910 by Edwin Othello Excell in the Coronation Hymns. The hymn we now use for Amazing Grace was discovered by Edwin Excell in 1910.
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