Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 7, 2008
What is the origin of the hymn 'Amazing Grace'?
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
This hymn is a reminder of God's loving faithfulness that will never fail.
However, he gave up his slave trading only later after a serious illness. He said he had not realized before the magnitude of its evil.
Without immediate acceptance for the Anglican priesthood, Newton tried the Methodists and Presbyterians. After his ordination in the Anglican Church in 1764, he was well respected for his pastoral care and especially for his preaching which attracted such large numbers that the church had to be enlarged.
It was only in 1799 that Newton wrote Amazing Grace as he reflected, with horror, on his earlier life in the light of 1 Chronicles 17:16-17. In this text, King David is depicted as reflecting on all that God had done for him and promised to do in the future, on God's special choice of him and his dynasty. David acknowledged that God had done this freely without any merit on his own part.
Newton could then say: "Amazing grace . . . that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost and now am found."
Newton's six verses speak of the things God's amazing grace has done for him. Cured of his spiritual blindness, he has been taught to trust in God. Saved from many dangers, he places his continued hope in God who promises good things, knowing he will continue to be protected by God in this life.
When this life is over, he trusts that grace will bring him safely home to God who will give him a life of peace and joy for all eternity.
Other verses have been added, at times, to Newton's hymn. Different tunes were used when it was put to music, none composed by Newton. The melody that has become the most common one seems to have been either Scottish or Irish in origin.
The Catholic Book of Worship III has changed "saved a wretch like me" to "saved and strengthened me." This song became a favourite with some freedom and human rights groups because they assumed it was Newton's testimony against the slave trade.
Christians cherish this hymn because it speaks so clearly of the trust that should be placed in God and in God alone. It is an affirmation of the goodness of God who takes the initiative in giving abundant grace to humans in spite of continued failures. As demonstrated over and over in the Psalms and in other Scripture texts, this hymn is a reminder of God's loving faithfulness that will never fail.
All God desires is a response in faith and love, living gratefully the lives which have been given freely by God.
This hymn is a favourite and a consolation at funerals because it speaks of the crowning glory of God's grace of salvation, which, at the end of life, overcomes all obstacles and brings us home to our eternal destiny.
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