Posted on : Tuesday June 4, 2013

Ok…I admit it. I really love the sermons of Chuck Swindoll. Most days I get to hear him early on my local Christian radio station when I am getting ready for the day. Swindoll founded Insight for BobSimpson300Living, headquartered in Plano, Texas, which airs a radio program of the same name on more than 2,000 stations around the world in 15 languages. He is currently senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas.

Recently Pastor Swindoll outdid even himself with a series he aired on God’s amazing grace. It reminded me once again of that classic hymn “Amazing Grace” written by John Newton. Newton was one of the eighteenth century England’s most influential Christians. His personal journey was one of the most remarkable ever lived. In one lifetime he went from slave ship captain to preacher to abolitionist. On his deathbed he said, “I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great savior!”

His influence on 18th century England’s social conscience toward the disgrace of slavery cannot be overemphasized. This part of Newton’s journey is told in 2007 movie “Amazing Grace” about John Wilberforce, Newton’s friend and a member of Parliament. If you haven’t seen the movie, I would highly recommend that you rent the DVD.

The reason you even know the name John Newton is probably because of the great hymns he wrote, including “How Sweet The Name of Jesus Sounds,” “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” and the greatest hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace.”

Written over 238 years ago, “Amazing Grace” is still to this day the most sung hymn in the world. It is publically sung over a million times annually.  It is also the most recorded song in the world. No other song, spiritual or secular, comes close in terms of number of recordings. It has been recorded over 3,000 times in the U.S. alone. In the 70’s singer Judy Collins recorded it and immediately found herself on the Top 30 Chart. In 2007, John Newton was inducted posthumously into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.

“Amazing Grace” was conceived by Newton in late Dec. 1772, as a part of his preparation for a New Year’s Day sermon in 1773. Newton often used new hymns he had written as a unique way to communicate the points in his sermons. His goal was for everyone who sang his hymns to find them easy to sing, easy to understand and easy to commit to memory. He really succeeded with “Amazing Grace.” It is a masterpiece of clarity and simplicity. The entire hymn (which includes several more verses than are typically published or sung by congregations) has only 146 total words, 125 of which are only one-syllable words.

The text Newton used for that Jan. 1, 1773 sermon was I Chron. 17:16-17. These are the opening words of the prayer that King David offered to God after Nathan the prophet had assured him of God’s promise that David’s descendents would be enthroned as kings of Israel forever. Nathan further told David that they would be blessed by a divine love that would never end. Astounded by this assurance of God’s promises, David prayed, “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house that You have brought me this far?” Newton resonated with the obvious parallels between God’s grace to David and God’s grace to himself. Newton, like so many of the biblical examples, clearly understood the grace “that saved a wretch like me.” He must have thought of David, the murderer and adulterer, and Peter, the traitor, and Paul, the persecutor. He was so grateful for grace that, like water, always flows down to the lowest point.

I, like Newton, am certainly aware of all the things I have done that require the application of grace. If perfection is required, then I am sunk. Without grace, where would any of us be? Like Newton, I continue to be both amazed by it…and very, very grateful!