Friday, February 10, 2023

Amazing Grace 250

[Originally published in the Monroe News on February 10, 2023]

250 years ago a curate in the Church of England wrote the words “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; His grace brought me safe thus far, His grace will lead me home”.  These words were a part of several verses written by the author.  They were written to help illustrate a New Year’s Day sermon.  It is unlikely the author would have realized at the time the life these words would have or that the world would still be loving them and singing them 2 1/2 centuries later.

If you haven’t recognized those special words yet, they are one of the verses of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace.  They were first written by John Newton.  They, like most of the hymn itself, tell a bit of his story and his relationship with God.  They are also part of one of the most well known and beloved hymns of all time. 

If you haven’t heard Newton’s story before, it is a good one and worth a deeper look.  I’ll give you a quick summary here.  He was born in 1725 and by age 20 was pressed into service in the royal navy and ended up serving on slave trading ships in the Atlantic.  He was described as a vile and irritable young man.  He drew the ire of his captain and shipmates to the extreme that they left him on the coast of Sierra Leone in the hands of slavers and he himself was enslaved for 3 years.  He was eventually rescued and brought back towards England in 1748.  As his ship approached the coast of Ireland they endured a terrible storm during which Newton cried out to God for mercy.  It is said his first inspirations for Amazing Grace came in this moment as well as his initial conversion to Christianity.

Newton would eventually leave the seas and would also denounce the slave trade.  In 1764 he was ordained into the Church of England and became a prolific hymn writer.  As he continued to mature in his elder years he found himself on the side of the abolitionists deploring the slave trade that he was a part of in his younger years.  Newton would become like a father figure to William Wilberforce who was one of the key figures in the abolition of the slave trade in England in 1807.

It is indeed amazing to see the turn of events in Newton’s life.  While history can be quick to judge people for their past misdeeds, it would seem Newton’s story, living out the very idea of amazing grace, is a sure example that God can also change sin-filled lives for the better.  While not condoning the past, God’s grace can forgive what is past and help us build a better tomorrow.

I was pleased to discover that when the words of Amazing Grace were first published Newton actually had a different title attached to them: “1 Chronicles 17:16-17, Faith’s Review and Expectation.”  Upon further inspection I found that the verses from 1 Chronicles 17 were of heavy influence on Newton’s writing in Amazing Grace.  The Scripture verses are part of a prayer of King David who praises the Lord for his grace and providence over David’s life.  David was a young man when he became king and he was fully aware of the grace God has shown him in bringing him to the throne.  David had been chosen though the youngest of 7 brothers.  God had given David the victory over Goliath and renown amongst the people.  David knew how God had protected him from the threats of King Saul.

So in 1 Chronicles 17 David is lifting up in prayer his praise of God’s deeds of grace in bringing him to that day. In 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 David writes “who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O LORD God!”  You can see in David’s words what Newton captured in verse 3 of Amazing Grace “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come; His grace has brought me safe thus far, His grace will lead me home.”  Both men had been rescued from the dangers of life as well as the temptations and shame of past sins. Both were just beginning to see the amazing grace of God play out in their lives.

Maybe your story is one of amazing grace the same as it was with John Newton and with King David.  You have perhaps wrestled with the demons of your past.  Maybe there are still temptations and vices you are grappling with still today.  Life can be full of shame and disappointment.  But the message in all of this is that God’s grace is greater.  God’s grace is amazing.  The depth of sin and darkness is never greater than the heights and wonder of God’s grace.  Further, we have the victory and assurance in our Savior Jesus, that even when this life on earth doesn’t turn out in fairness the way we may have wanted, God’s grace will still prevail.  Newton captures this beautiful thought in verse 4 “Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail and mortal life shall cease, amazing grace shall then prevail in heaven’s joy and peace.” 

To God be the glory.

Mark Witte is the pastor at Grace Lutheran Church.
You can contact him at

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