In western culture, whether or secular, I am pretty confident that most people either know or would recognize Amazing Grace, a Christian hymn published in 1779. And isn’t it? Isn’t Grace…Amazing?
Over the past weeks and developing my OLW, I’ve found myself wondering where did Amazing Grace come from? What’s the story behind the story?
The lyrics were written by an English poet and Anglican clergyman by the name of John Newton (1725-1807). Newton, like many people, grew up without any formal religious practice or influence, but rather had his life shaped and formed by the twists and turns that occurred typically, as a result of his unapologetic disobedience. Newton had a pattern of near death experiences and being forced to examine his relationship with God, only to relapse into his same old habits. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? As a sailor, he denounced his faith after being influenced by a shipmate who discussed Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, a book by the Third Earl of Shaftsbury with him.
Like an unwary sailor who quits his port just before a rising storm, I renounced the hopes and comforts of the Gospel at the very time when every other comfort was about to fail me.”
Newton’s disobedience rendered him to the service of the Royal Navy. Often taking advantage of opportunities to overstay his leave he finally deserted to visit Mary Polly Catlett, a family friend that he was smitten by. After suffering the humiliation of deserting Newton left the service of the Royal Navy and became involved with the Atlantic slave trade.
Newton finally found his faith in 1748, when a violent storm battered his vessel so severely that calling out to God for mercy was the only thing he could do. He continued working in slave trading until 1754 – 1755 when he finally ended his days at sea and began his study of Christian theology.
So Newton’s story is exactly what makes grace amazing even today. It is often the least likely of us, those that struggle with belief, or simply don’t believe at all, and those who’ve lost their faith who need grace most.
The message of forgiveness and redemption being possibly even for the least likely and regardless of the sin committed the soul can be delivered through the mercy of God.
And that… is why Grace is just Amazing….