From the Pastor’s Desk:
Throughout this year, I have be spending time reflecting upon various hymns. We may not think about hymns as a way that we teach and pass on the faith, but the reality is that many of us can remember hymns a lot easier than memorizing scripture.
As I bring this year to a close, I want to finish reflecting upon one of the most (if not the most) familiar/popular hymns—Amazing Grace. This year is the 250th anniversary of this hymn. This is one of the hymns that I have observed more than any other where while I been leading a service at a nursing home and have seen people who seem very disconnected and unaware of reality—being able to sing or at least move their lips to the words of this hymn.
Amazing Grace was written by John Newton in 1773. Through this hymn, Newton is able to describe his own personal conversion to Christianity as well as use language that is fairly universal so that a lot of people can relate and connect with the words that he composed for this hymn.
Here is a brief bio of his upbringing: Newton grew up with both his mother and father, however, his mother died while his father was away at sea. Newton’s father remarried and the couple had another child. Following in his father’s footsteps, Newton began his life’s career by searching throughout the African coast for slaves to capture and eventually to sell for profit. On one journey in 1748, Newton and his crew encountered a storm that swept some of his men overboard and left others with the likelihood of drowning. With both hands fastened onto the wheel of the boat, Newton cried out to God saying, “Lord, have mercy on us.” After eleven hours of steering, the remainder of the crew found safety with the calming of the storm. From then on, Newton dated March 21 as a day set aside for a time of humiliation, prayer, and praise.
Upon arriving safely home, Newton did not venture out to seek more slaves, instead he began to learn Hebrew and Greek. He occasionally accepted requests to speak about his conversion in front of various congregations. Newton was eventually ordained as an Anglican Priest in 1764 and began to lead his own church. God changed him from a man who was an advocate for the slave trade to a man actively working towards abolishing it. Newton's literary work against the slave trade encouraged abolitionist William Wilberforce to continue his legal fight against slavery in England.
It is said that the idea for the hymn, Amazing Grace, came from a sermon he gave on New Year’s Day in 1773. The text for the sermon was I Chronicles 17:16-17. One of the lines from this sermon was: ‘They lead us to a consideration of past mercies and future hopes and intimate the frame of mind which becomes us when we contemplate what the Lord has done for us.’ This lead to the idea of the reality of what God does for us—saves a wretch like me! Was lost, but now God finds us. Was blind, but now I see.
Newton writes about a grace that is so immense, so amazing that God saved him out of his wretchedness. While this hymn is an account of one person’s conversion story almost 250 years ago, however no matter the amount of time that has gone by, the meaning in this hymn is true for people all over the world.
John Newton was a man that despicably sold other human beings in the slave trade. As he states in the hymn, he was a wretch, but God found him. He was saved by God’s amazing grace, and it is that grace that sets God's people free when, at the prodding of the Holy Spirit, we freely accept it for ourselves.
(material for this article was adapted from website: www.umcdiscipleship.org)