The popular old hymn “Amazing Grace” has been sung for generations by people all over the world. Yet, I wonder how often people ritually recite the lyrics, without ever pausing to think about the true depth of its meaning.
After writing today’s Proverbs 31 devotion, Unexpected Grace, I felt prompted to look further into this song I loved, and what I discovered was a powerful testament of how God’s grace offers life beyond what we think we deserve.
This song was written by a man named John Newton, who went to work at sea with his father when he turned eleven years old. He sailed with his father for ten years until his father retired, then while on a trip to visit friends, he was captured and forced to work in the Royal Navy. At one point he tried to escape and was brutalized and humiliated, causing him to attempt suicide. He was eventually transferred to serve on a slave ship and continued to be such a problem for the crew, that they left him in West Africa with a slave owner, where he was mistreated and abused along with the other slaves.
In 1748, John’s father had him rescued, and he returned to a normal life, but he was never the same after all he had seen, all he had been through and all he had done.
so he was left in the hands of a slave owner. He eventually tried to run from his obligation, and when found, he was forced to work on as a crew member on a slave ship bound for Africa.
While on board this ship or horrific people trafficking, death and sorrow, He found God through the reading of a book called Imitation of Christ, by Thomas Kempis. Shortly after reading this book, his ship was caught in a terrible storm, and in a desperate moment of fear and need, he gave his life to Christ around the year 1750, when he would have been around 25 years old. His faith opened his eyes to the inhumane treatment of people, and his heart led him to leave the sea for good.
John found a new line of work and also began to study ministry, and for the last 43 years of his life, he preached the gospel, wrote hymns, and became a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery. I came across a quote from John Newton which he spoke at age 82, which said “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”
John Newton knew all too well the horrible mistakes he had made and the terrible things that he had been involved with – which is why he was so overwhelmed the grace that God still bestowed upon him. He knew that the mercy and favor he had received from God, was so undeserved. He truly was a wretch, and so are we, but God sees past our wretchedness as soon as we begin to see Him.
As a result of his acknowledgement of the unmerited favor given to him by his Savior, he wrote the words to this song that we all know so well.
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,
I have already come.
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.