David Jeremiah is a pastor in the San Diego area. Years ago, I was his consultant when he pastored in Wayne, Indiana. I have followed his ministry for years and recently found a portion of his book, “Captured by Grace” to be particularly powerful.
In this book, Pastor Jeremiah overlays the lyrics of John Newton’s very well known hymn, “Amazing Grace” with the details of the life of Paul. As he intertwines the two stories, he plainly declares the riches of God’s grace.
I have read a couple of biographies of John Newton before, but there were some new and interesting details that Pastor Jeremiah uncovered for me. First, he highlights the source of inspiration for the song. Apparently as Newton was mulling over the verses in I Chronicles 17:16-17, (“…who am I and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet, this is a small thing in your sight O God…”), he began to pen the words of this new hymn. As he considered how David, a murderer and adulterer was redeemed by the incredible grace of God, he concluded that this grace, which was extended to him (an infamous slave trader) was indeed AMAZING!
Newton’s “working title” for the song was “Faith’s Review and Expectation.” (I like “Amazing Grace” much better!) And, you might not know that the melody for this very well known hymn was adapted from another song entitled “New Britain” by a man named William Walker. Apparently in that day, a melody might be used for many different songs.
In most modern hymn books there are four stanzas rendered for “Amazing Grace.” But actually there were many more written, some by Newton and others by Edwin Excell. Perhaps the most famous stanza of all, “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 first begun” was written by Excell. It first appeared in song books in 1909; over 125 years after Newton wrote the original words to the song.
And the story doesn’t end there. This glorious song seems to have been highlighted for each succeeding generation. In the midst of the rock music of the 70s, Judy Collins came out with an a cappella rendition that was a major hit both in America and Britain. Apparently the opera singer, Jessye Norman recorded a concert version of the song. Johnny Cash did the country version and Bill Moyers did a public television special on this great hymn.
As Pastor Jeremiah notes, this hymn has been sung at concerts, ballgames, prisons, church services, Presidential inaugurations and Olympic ceremonies. It is a concept that resonates in the hearts of men and women regardless of their spiritual, social or cultural backgrounds. It is sung in most every corner of the globe in many different languages. If Christians had a single anthem, “Amazing Grace” would be it!
So, as you wander through the days of this upcoming week, keep your eyes open to see the outpouring of God’s grace. You may find it in the soft kiss of a loved one, or in the giggle you hear from a child. You may sense God’s goodness as you plow through the stack of papers on your desk or as you chase your children around a park. You may be grinning as you hum those precious words, or singing them through watery eyes, but in all circumstances and from every perspective of life, remember God’s grace is amazing! Cherish it this week.