One of the most emotional and beloved hymns ever written is “Amazing Grace.” It is regularly played at funerals, church services, and other events.
My family was on vacation in Colorado visiting a church when the pastor chose to preach on grace. After sharing how God’s grace had impacted his life, he closed his message by leading us in singing “Amazing Grace.”
“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 we have already come. Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far and Grace will lead us 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.
“When we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun. We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.
“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.”
There may not be any other song written that brings emotions to the forefront on a universal basis. It is a favorite song for both Christians and non-Christians, cutting across core beliefs and national boundaries. On a recent visit to Scotland, the song was played beautifully on bagpipes. On a worldwide basis, the song is associated with America.
The hymn is as old as our country, written in 1773 by sailor turned pastor John Newton. Born in London in 1725, Mr. Newton had become a Christian in Warwickshire, England in 1748. The roots of the song come from his experiences aboard his slave trade ship, the Greyhound, in 1748.
Returning home on one of his voyages, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm, Mr. Newton experienced what he was to refer to later as his “great deliverance.” He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, “Lord have mercy on us.” Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. In the years to follow he gave up sailing and was ordained as a minister.
Mr. Newton’s song sums up the doctrine of divine grace. He wrote the words for a sermon he preached on New Year’s Day in 1773. His sermon was based on scripture from the Bible found in I Chronicles 17:16, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’” This verse is the beginning of a prayer by David that spans ten more verses and in which he marvels over the fact that God had chosen him and his family.
Divine grace is also addressed in the Bible in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”
The melody for the Amazing Grace hymn was not written by Mr. Newton. He was not a composer. As was the case with other hymns of this period, the words were sung to a number of tunes. It is believed that the tune as we know it today is Scottish or Irish in origin as it is pentatonic and suggests a bagpipe tune.
Amazing Grace was a popular song on both sides of the American Civil War. While on the “trail of tears,” the Cherokee were not always able to give their dead a full burial. Instead they sang “Amazing Grace” leading some to view the song as a Cherokee National Anthem. The song is a favorite of supporters of freedom and human rights as a result of its slave trading roots. In recent years, this song has also become popular in America with drug and alcohol recovery groups at celebrations of how they “once were lost, but now are found.”
The song has been recorded by countless artists, including folk singer Judy Collins in the early 1970s, and many Native American musicians. Versions of the song have spent 67 weeks on the British charts and have reached number one on the charts in Australia.
Contemporary Christian musician Chris Tomlin wrote an additional verse that is commonly sung today with Amazing Grace. I had the chance to meet Mr. Tomlin several years ago and I had one question for him, “What is it like to write an additional verse to ‘Amazing Grace’?” He just humbly smiled.
He added the words “My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me. And like a flood His mercy reigns. Unending love, amazing grace.”
Grace has been defined as “God giving us what we don’t deserve.” This is different than mercy which has been defined as “God not giving us what we do deserve.”
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, College Edition provides ten definitions of “grace.” Two of the definitions are, “an unmerited gift from God,” and “a favor rendered by one who need not do so.” Both of these definitions emphasize that grace is not earned by the receiver, but is graciously given by the giver.
Regardless of how grace is defined, it is something that most everyone wants to receive. It would be accurate to say that it is easier to receive grace than it is to give it.
My challenge to you today is to recognize the amazing grace that has been given to you. Be thankful that undeserving grace has been extended to you without your even lifting a finger. Be a gracious recipient. Possess an attitude of gratitude. Extend grace to others.
Although blind in his later years, John Newton influenced many as he continued to preach to large congregations. His words describing amazing grace, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see,” continue to ring down through the generations.
He died in London in 1807, secure in his faith that amazing grace would lead him home for eternity...” when we’ve been here ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.”
An eternal thought...
Rick Kraft is a motivational speaker, a syndicated columnist, a published author, and an attorney. To submit comments, contributions, or ideas, e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org:email@example.com or write to P.O. Box 850, Roswell, New Mexico, 88202 - 0850.
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