John Newton captured a simple yet profound truth in this incredible hymn. Tim Chaffey, AiG–U.S., explains that we can only be saved by God’s grace.
But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21, 23–24)
Few hymns are as popular or as treasured as “Amazing Grace.” Believers understand that we are all sinful and that only by God’s grace can any of us be saved. Perhaps those who were saved out of an exceedingly wicked and destructive lifestyle understand this reality better than those who have been raised in Christian homes. The author of this tremendous song certainly recognized his great debt of sin that had been forgiven by the Lord.
John Newton worked in the British slave trade, capturing natives from West Africa and selling them to be transported around the world. He knew full well the miserable conditions on the slave ships would cause approximately half of the captives to die before they ever arrived at their destination. Those who did survive would be subjected to a lifetime of slavery.
God’s grace broke through the darkness of Newton’s heart, and he was converted to Christianity. Although he knew his sins were forgiven, Newton could never shake the memories of thousands of lives destroyed by his actions. His agony was powerfully displayed in the recent film about the ending of the slave trade in the British Empire, which is aptly titled Amazing Grace.
In 1779, as a minister in an Anglican church, he released a hymnal with assistance from his friend William Cowper. It contained the lyrics to the first four verses of the hymn. The fifth verse was added by John P. Rees in the following century.
The words explain Newton’s journey from wretch to redeemed believer. Christians recognize that God has worked the same transformation in all of our lives, and we can wholeheartedly sing along.
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!
Thru many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
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 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.
Today’s big idea: never through our own efforts, but only by God’s grace can we be saved.
What to pray: praise God for His amazing grace “that saved a wretch like me.”