March 2, 2013
Amazing Grace was written by the Anglican Minister, John Newton (1725-1807). As a young man, he had been a slave trader, and by his own accounts it had been a life of rebellion and debauchery. After returning to England from a particularly frightening sea voyage, he began reading a translation of the 15th century manual on the spiritual life, Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis (c.1380-1471), Canon Regular of the Augustinian Rule. The 'Imitation' is written in the form of a dialogue between Jesus and his disciple; prompting the reader to take stock of his life, renounce the vanities of the world, and resolve to become ever more Christ-like. From Charles Wesley to St. Ignatius of Loyola and for many others, the 'Imitation' greatly influenced their conversion. And so it was for John Newton that just weeks later after taking up the 'Imitation', his slave ship again battered by a severe storm, he recalled the opening words of Meditations Concerning Death (Bk.1 Ch.23) from the Imitation: "Since life is short and uncertain continuance, it highly concerns you to look about you and take good heed how you employ it." He prayed to God for forgiveness, mercy, and deliverance. From that point on, he sought to change his life, and "live as becomes a pilgrim and a stranger on earth" eventually taking Holy Orders in the Church of England as an Ordained Anglican Priest. In writings and homilies, he often returned to that pivotal "hour when he first believed" to convey the saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Amazing Grace was first published in 1779, and is set to the Appalachian folk tune: New Britain. In the Liturgy of the Hours it is used in the Common for One Martyr.
AMAZING GRACE by John Newton, 1779 (Public Domain)
1. 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.
2. 'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed!
3. The Lord has promised good to me,
his word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
as long as life endures.
4. Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
5. 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.