1 Peter 5:10, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”
It was December 1772, in Olney England. At the age of 47, John Newton, began the writing of a hymn that would grow increasingly more popular over the next 349 years. In his song, “Amazing Grace,” Newton writes about a grace that is immense; he writes about amazing grace, one that saved him out of his wretchedness. By looking within the hymn “Amazing Grace,” one is able to understand a little bit about Newton’s personal conversion. Although every person’s conversion story is unique, there is something about this hymn that remains relatable to Christians everywhere. Newton discusses where he was when he found God, or rather, when God found him. He was a wretch. He was lost. He was blind in sin.
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, 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 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.
In later years, Newton began to lose his memory. Although his thoughts were limited, Newton said he could remember two things, “That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” With this conviction of newly found life that he found only in Christ, Newton passed from his earthly life in 1807, at the age of 82. Newton did live long enough to see the signing of The Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.
The song “Amazing Grace,” although originating in England, appeared in the colonies later accompanied with a different tune, more commonly known as “New British.” This song grew in popularity, but not because it was catchy tune, but because the words that Newton wrote related to every human being who encountered the saving grace of Jesus Christ. This song touched many people at various stages of their spiritual walks.
Since the day that Newton penned the lyrics to “Amazing Grace,” it has grown in popularity and has been present at numerous key moments in our country’s history. Newton experienced the darkness and hopelessness of his sin and the consequence of following his own corrupt ways. He focused on fulfilling what he wanted to do in his life instead of looking to the direction of God.
“Amazing Grace” speaks of the sweetness found in Christ’s grace for his children. As humans we are lost, blind in sin, and need saving. Jesus’s saving grace is amazing!
Continuing onto the second stanza, Newton writes that it was grace that taught his heart to fear the punishment of his sin and it was also grace that those fears were relieved. This precious grace appeared when he was standing in that vicious storm, the moment he first believed. Through the trials and storms of life, it is grace that brings us through life, and it is grace that will lead us to heaven.
God has promised goodness and provides his Word in which we can rest our hope. He is our Shield and Portion forever. When our life comes to an end, our possession is joy and peace in Christ. Although our flesh will fail and earth will come to an end, God our creator will remain the same and will be forever with us. When we reach the glorious streets of Heaven, we can sing of God’s praise forever in his presence. Because of God’s sweet and all-encompassing amazing grace, we can have forgiveness for our past, joy in the present and hope for a future with Him.
The song “Amazing Grace” 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 truth 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.
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-Abby Forton ‘22