Thursday, October 8, 2015

Amazing Grace

Amazing Grace, by John Newton is one of the most well known and most loved hymns of the Christian faith.  It was number 1 on the first two lists of traditional hymns I found in a google search.  I love the movie Amazing Grace which tells you some of the story, but you can also read it on many websites (here for example). John Newton was a slave trader before he was saved. He had some prior knowledge of God from his youth, but came to know God through offering a desperate prayer for help when his ship was caught in a storm. Knowing the writer's past helps me to understand the true meaning of the words he penned. These are his original verses to this hymn (according to at least two websites, the one I cited previously and this one).

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d 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 reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!

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

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart 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 call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine

This verse which we typically add to his verses was actually added by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Toms Cabin, according to my web searches and was originally from the hymn Jerusalem, My Happy Home.

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.

And here and here are two cool acapella versions of this hymn for you to enjoy :)

I'm going to go through the hymn and find scriptures that pertain to the parts that stand out to me.

Hymn Verse 1:
The first line says "How sweet the sound". To me this means that the thought of God's grace is sweet to us, like the sound of a rescuer coming when we are distressed, the sound of birds singing after a long winter, or like Isaiah 52:7 which says "how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news."
Also in this verse, John Newton refers to himself as a wretch. Miriam Webster defines this as: a miserable, despicable, or vile person. This is quite a contrast to the sweetness of God's grace, but that makes His grace sweeter still! I think it is easy to get tripped up by phrases like this. Our current culture is very self focused and teaches us that we should always be looking out for what is best for us because we are awesome and we deserve the best. This is false. We are nothing when compared to our Creator! No matter what our sin is - whether it is slave trading like John Newton, or lying, or theivery - sin separates us from God. I am a wretch too, because I am sinful. God is perfect and He chooses to love me! This is a very humbling thought!  

Verse 2: Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." We have no grounds to boast in our salvation because of our works. Our salvation is a gift! It is not our own doing. I think John Newton understood this when he said, "How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed". We don't have to have the time to rack up lots of good works to be saved. He was saved the hour he first believed and the fact that he had been living in sin made the contrast beautiful. God loves us where we are. He does call us to a life that honors him, so we must not continue living in sin, but God saves us regardless of our sin when we truly place our trust and our faith in Him. Newton said, "Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved" I think by this line he was referring to a healthy fear of God and then relief in knowing security in God. 1 Samuel 12:24 says, "Only fear the Lord and serve Him in truth with all your heart, for consider what great things He has done for you." Proverbs 3:7 says, "Fear the Lord and turn away from evil" This fear is not the same as being afraid of heights, or afraid of murderers, etc. This fear is not being frightened, so much as it is having respect and reverence. I have traveled to the mountains a few times - both the Rockies and the Smokies. Every time I have gone with a great desire to see a bear! I am also very scared of bears. The time we went camping in the Rockies I was all paranoid that a bear was going to come ravage our campsite and kill (or at least mutilate) us all. It didn't happen, thankfully! I think this is a similar (although on a different scale) to our fear of God. I want to see a bear because I'm fascinated by them. I admire their strength and their drive to protect their young, or their territory, but I have a healthy fear of them. If I came face to face with one I wouldn't assume I could win that fight! I know better than that. This is different than my fear of a murderer. I have no desire to see one - even at a distance. I want to avoid them at all costs. Someone who is afraid of heights probably has no desire to climb a telephone pole or to go bungee jumping. But our fear of the Lord drives us to Him because we know His strength and power, but we also know His love and His protection of us, His children. We know He wins the fight with Satan in the end and we choose to be on God's side.

Verse 3: Our experience with God strengthens our faith. Because God had brought John Newton through many dangers, toils, and snares, he knew that He would bring Him home in the end. Hebrews 10:23 says, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful".
Verse 4 speaks of God guarding us in this life and our hope of the good He has promised us in Him. Psalm 3:3 says, "But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head." He gives us strength and courage to face today.

Verse 5: This verse goes beyond what the previous verse says and expounds on what the good God has promised us is. "Within the veil" means when we see God with unveiled face in His glory in Heaven. Then and only then can we have pure, unaffected joy and peace in Christ! Revelation 21:4 says, "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

Verse 6: This sweet verse expresses John Newton's joy in knowing that God is the only true eternal hope. Everything that we have on this earth will pass away, even the sun which we trust to come out every day, will be gone, but God will be ours forever, and we will be His forever. The verse that we typically sing as the closing to this hymn, though from a different author, expresses this same joy in knowing an eternity with God.

I was very blessed in reading through this hymn and examining it closer. It is sometimes hard to grasp the truth in the words of a hymn we sing so often.

My goal for this study is to awaken in myself a greater appreciation for the hymns I personally know and love, but also the hymns which I have often overlooked as if they are just overplayed. They are probably overplayed and popularized because someone had a great love for the truths they express and I pray that God opens my eyes to see those truths. Please comment if you have any suggestions for which hymn I should study next!