Amazing Grace

Call it “therapeutic theology.”

Call it a “hymn.”

Whatever name you give it, it’s the richest truth of God, versified, emotionalized, set to music, and released in the mind and from the mouth.

Have you ever taken a moment to consider the words you sung growing up in what I like to call “old-school church”? I didn’t when I was a child. I just knew that I like to sing them…even though I’m now a firm believer that the writers often chose keys that most human beings can’t sing without squealing/squeaking. My own voice has cracked more often than not when I take a moment to get back to my roots.

Let’s take a moment to be thankful for ability to transpose.

Hymns go back to the time of Moses in the book of Exodus. They’re bursts of devotional richness with rhyme and rhythm. They clear our minds, soothe our nerves, verbalize our worship, summarize our faith, and sing our great Redeemer’s praise.

Now that I’ve grown, many of these songs haunt me still…their lyrics and the tune reaching into the deepest parts of my being. Perhaps they’ve had a similar effect on you. Then again, maybe not.

I encourage you as I step forward with these ponderings, thoughts, insights (whatever you want to call them) to think about them. Look them up. Listen to them. Draw your own conclusion while sifting them through God’s truth.

Many of my favorites and some not so favorite, have been re-written to fit our generation. I just pray that we never lose the old hymn.

Rediscovering the old hymnal can be soul-bolstering. It’s a spiritual journey into biblical truth, Christian history, and timeless worship. Even I can envision us singing these songs long into eternity.

I received a devotional on 366 timeless hymns as a birthday gift one year. I won’t be touching on all 366 hymns…just a few; starting with Amazing Grace (heard here).

Popular at funerals, sung during worship services (thanks to Chris Tomlin’s My Chains Are Gone version), and even used in film (here), this song has crossed eras and generations dating back to 1779 (written by John Newton). With a message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of the sins people commit and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, it has become one of the most popular and most beloved hymns in the modern world.

Perhaps you’ll be surprised to learn thatAmazing Grace is a New Year’s hymn. I was:

On Friday morning, January 1, 1773, John Newton (former slave trader and infidel) preached a New Year’s message from 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 in his church at Olney, England. Newton opened his sermon, saying, “The Lord bestows many blessings upon His people, but unless He likewise gives them a thankful heart, they lose much of the comfort they might have.”

He told his church to look back at God’s goodness, look around at His promises, and look forward to future usefulness. In concluding, Newton introduced a poem he’d written for occasion:

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 danger, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

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

That last verse was removed once, replaced with the following:

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.

When we’ve been here ten thousand years
bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
then when we’ve first begun.

In 2006, Chris Tomlin added that verse back in (story here), along with the following chorus (heard here):

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

Grace is the unmerited favor of God. As one writer puts it, “The very heart of the gospel is the supreme truth that God accepts us with no conditions whatever when we put our trust in the atoning sacrifice of His incarnate Son.” That’s why it has long been said that the best way to describe grace is by using the very letters that make up the word: G-R-A-C-E, God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

So our faith teaches us that grace can only come from God. But did you know that grace has a unique purpose of its own? The Bible says that grace “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.” (Titus 2:11)

John Newton was no different from the rest of us which is why his song means so much to so many of us. It reminds us there is only one thing that distinguishes one sinner from another: Grace. And when you think about that, it really is amazing!

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