Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Amazing Grace - the Story behind the Song

I think it would be safe to say that all the readers would be familiar with the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton.
                It is a hymn sung in most - if not all - Christian circles around the world, and even at some non-Christian gatherings is the hymn sung.
                The writer of the hymn, although, was miraculously saved later in life from the cruel - and sadly, money-making - task of slave-trading, and went on to serve the Lord wholeheartedly as a preacher.
                John Newton’s Godly mother died when he was quite young - not yet seven years of age.  At the age of eleven, after John’s father remarried, and also after several short years of schooling, John joined his father’s ship and began the life of a seaman.  His teen years as well as early adulthood were spent in rebellion and separation from God.
                When his father died, John took on his own ship, and began sailing the seas to buy men, women and children from far-away countries to sell them in England as slaves.  After a few years of his slave trading life, he got convicted of his sins after reading “Imitation of Christ” by Thomas a Kempis, he accepted Christ as his personal Saviour.
                However, he continued as a slave ship captain, trying to justify himself by attempting to make the slave trade more comfortable for the slaves.  He eventually was convicted of the wrong of this work and thus became a strong and effective abolitionist against slavery.
                John returned to England, where he married his youthful sweetheart, Mary Catlett, and became a clerk at the Port of Liverpool for the next 9 years.  During this time of his life, he became increasingly aware of the call of God upon his life, calling him to preach the Gospel.  Consequently, be began to study and also sat under the ministry of well-known preachers of the day, such as George Whitefield and the Wesley brothers.  Although he appreciated their influence in his life, he chose to stay with the Anglican church rather than join the Dissenters.
                At the age of thirty-nine, John was ordained to the ministry and began to his first ministry at Olney, a tiny village near Cambridge. England.  His work of the next decade was a very fruitful and influential ministry, made more effective by the telling and re-telling of his early life and conversion.  He regularly held services whenever - and wherever - possible, and crowds thronged to hear the “Old Converted Sea Captain”.
                When John finished his ministering at Olney, he spent the remainder of his life as pastor of an influential church in London.  By this time, he had established a strong relationship with William Wilberforce, and other political figures to assist them in the abolition of the slave trade.
                In 1870, John’s beloved companion of forty years died of cancer.  From the time of his conversion right up until his death in 1907, John never ceased to thank the Lord for the mercy and grace shown that so dramatically changed his life.  Shortly before his death, he proclaimed with a loud voice during one of his sermons, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Saviour!”
                John’s tombstone, written by himself, bears a fitting testimony to his unusual life...John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the Faith he had long laboured to destroy.
                His well-known hymn “Amazing Grace” also clearly expresses John’s life in all of its stanzas, of which there were originally seven.  The hymn was based on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17

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 thuhs 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.

Yea, when this heart and flesh 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.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

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