When I was young, I thought the hymn Amazing Grace was boring. I found it slow and droning and I was alarmed by the use of the word “wretch.” It wasn’t until I learned the meaning behind the words that it became sacred to me.
John Newton wrote the lyrics to the classic hymn in 1772 to share his conversion and redemption story. In his early days, Newton was a seaman, first on merchant ships, then on slave ships. Although he was born into a Christian family, he described himself as insubordinate, arrogant, and immoral. While at sea in 1747, he accepted Christ into his heart during a horrible storm. He continued to work on slave ships, but ministered to the Africans and to relieve some of the horrible conditions. He left the slave trade in 1755 and continued his religious development, becoming more frustrated with the slave trade as he studied the Bible. He became an Anglican minister and years later wrote Amazing Grace.
The lyrics explain the power of God’s saving grace on lost souls. He took comfort in the power of redemption through grace. Although Newton was British, the words spread through America during the religious revival and abolitionists such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and William Wilberforce were empowered by the message of Amazing Grace. South Carolinian William Walker put the words to the tune we now sing today.
Amazing Grace (verses 1 & 3)
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.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
Would there have been a bigger wretch than an 18th-Century slave trader? Newton realized only God could save him from the sins of his earlier life. After learning this back story, the word “wretch” no longer seemed harsh and overstated. Newton truly was a wretch who was saved by grace.
I reflect on the times when I have been wretched. No, I’ve never transported innocent people against their will into slavery. I’ve generally lived life on the straight and narrow. But, words can still hurt. Actions can still hurt.
We are all wretches in need of God’s grace to some degree. If you could write a story of hope and redemption through God’s grace, what would it be? Were you indiscreet during your college years? Perhaps you drank too much as a young adult and bruised some relationships. Maybe you are prideful and jealous and as a result have lost contact with family members. None of us are without flaws. It is when we realize we are saved by grace and humbly acknowledge our flaws and ask for forgiveness that we are no longer blind.
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