Throughout 2014, our church family at Howick Baptist have been learning and memorising one hymn of the faith each month. By doing this we hope to store these songs, and their truths, more deeply in our hearts. You can read more about this project here and download the hymn booklet here.
John Newton’s famous hymn that we know as “Amazing Grace” was originally titled, “Faith’s Review And Expectation.” It was written to go along with a New Years Day sermon that he preached at his country church in England in 1773, based on the text of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17:
“Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God!” 1 Chron. 17:16–17
This hymn calls the believer to wonder at the amazing grace (undeserved favour) of God. King David found God to be faithful in the past, and we can likewise trust God will continue to be faithful to His people in the future.
If you’re a child of God by faith in Christ, then His grace has “brought you thus far, and will bring you safely home” – not because of anything we’ve done, but because of His amazing grace in keeping the covenant promises He’s made with His people.
The lyrics outline the progression of the Christian faith – being saved by God’s grace, being protected by his grace, and then praising him eternally for his 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.
We were once lost in sin and wretched in his sight, but were given spiritual life by the gracious hand of God (Ephesians 2:1-5).
‘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.
The last verse found in most hymn-books today wasn’t actually written by John Newton, but was added nearly 100 years later by Harriet Beecher Stowe in the influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). Tom was portrayed to have sung this hymn in his hour of deepest crisis.
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.
Newton’s amazement at grace continued until he died. It is reported that near his death, he proclaimed with a loud voice during a sermon, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior!” May our attitude be the same.