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Hymn Stories: Amazing Grace

Hampton NH Church

If America had a national folk hymn, this would probably be it. This well-loved and oft-sung hymn, written by John Newton in the late eighteenth century, is a powerful assurance and declaration of the grace of God working in all our lives.

When Newton was just eleven, he joined his father at sea and began a tumultuous life in the Navy, eventually becoming captain of a slave ship. In a period of four years, however, his life was drastically turned around: he nearly drowned, he married a very pious Mary Catlett, and he read through Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. In 1754 he gave up the slave trade and joined forces with the great abolitionist, William Wilberforce. A number of years later, he was ordained for ministry, and soon after wrote this great text, declaring that we are saved only the grace of God.

Newton wrote, “I can see no reason why the Lord singled me out for mercy…unless it was to show, by one astonishing instance, that with him 'nothing is impossible'” (Newton, The Life of John Newton). As we sing the very familiar words of this hymn, how powerful it is to think of ourselves as an “astonishing instance” of God’s grace and mercy.

“Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” ― John Newton, Amazing 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.

'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 has 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.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, and mortal life shall cease: I shall possess, within the veil, a life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, the sun forbear to shine; but God, who called me here below, will be forever mine.

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