Hymn #2: Amazing Grace

Lyrics: John Newton

Music: Unknown


But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. [Ephesians 2:4-9, NIV]

Everyone knows the story of John Newton, the slave trader who experienced God’s amazing grace, left his slaving and his own slavery to sin, and became a pastor and the author of this most amazing of hymns. However, this video featuring Wintley Phipps at Carnegie tells what is perhaps The Rest of the Story: (If not, it should be!)

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.

Through 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.

Yea, 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.

Most versions include an additional verse, not written by John Newton:
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.

This verse probably became known with Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, in which Uncle Tom sings these lyrics.

This is the (Chris Tomlin) version we usually sing in my church these days:

And here’s ye olde bagpipe version:

AMAZING GRACE the song and the story of it…

John Newton’s Epitaph

The epitaph on John Newton’s gravestone says:

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk [preacher]
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy
of our Lord and Saviour
restored, pardoned and
appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had
long laboured to destroy.
He ministered,
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty eight years in this Church.

By the way, I fully expected this hymn to be number one on the list, but the point spread between this one and the one that did win the most points was significant. Anyone want to guess what the most loved hymn in my survey was before I reveal it tomorrow?

10 thoughts on “Hymn #2: Amazing Grace

  1. I listened to a lecture by Michael Haykin, church historian, and in it he criticized the Amazing Grace movie because of the anachronistic use of that tune for Amazing Grace. That tune wasn’t used, said he, until after the time of Newton and Wilberforce. And Cyberhymnal gives the date for that tune as 1831, 24 years after Newton died.

    So I do think there’s reason to doubt the Wintley Phipps story. It’s a pity, because it’s a good one.

  2. Silent Night?? (I’m fairly sure it won’t be Before Jehovah’s Aw[e]ful Throne.) I must have a fairly large blind spot. 😉

  3. And Rebecca, while it’s true that NEW BRITAIN (aka AMAZING GRACE, aka McINTOSH, aka aka aka) wasn’t published until the late 1820s or early 1830s, that doesn’t mean it can’t have been sung earlier. It’s not an art song, where you can point to a composer and a location and a time and say, that was when and where it came from. So the “anachronism” Haykin complains of may be simply the arrogance of the literate. The slaves Phipps talks about were mostly almost certainly illiterate (be it is writing or in musical notation); to jump from this fact to the conclusion that they had no melodies to sing is just silly. On the other hand, there is no evidence earlier than ca. 1830 that this tune was used with Newton’s text, and certainly no evidence that I’ve ever seen (and I’ve asked around) that Newton composed the text for this tune. So Phipps’s account is probably not historically grounded, but it’s powerful nonetheless. And it could even be true. We may find out in heaven.

    It’s true that the Pentatonic scale Phipps talks about was probably in use by the slaves in the ships, too, but it’s also true that this scale is widespread in European folk music as well, including the British folk traditions that Newton would have grown up with.

  4. Hmmmm. . . I’ve been *sort of* keeping up with the hymns, but I have a notoriously bad memory, so maybe I won’t guess something you’ve already listed. . .

    “The Old Rugged Cross”?

  5. well, whether the story is true or not, it is a great video.

  6. So the “anachronism” Haykin complains of may be simply the arrogance of the literate.

    I just want to make clear that I’m the one who pointed to the first publishing date of that tune, not Haykin. I’m guessing he draws his conclusion from more data than that. He’s a historian, and he’s pretty careful.

    My only point was to say the story is doubtful.

  7. It is a speculative story, to say the least, but I just couldn’t let that spoil it for me.

  8. This was a fantastic post – thank you so much.

  9. I see Rebecca’s point, and I see Leland’s point too. It is a VERY powerful story anyway – and sometimes I want to ignore facts and believe the story…

    For me, the just-as-interesting-point is the black notes for black spirituals. I’ve been a musician basically all my life and I never saw or heard that before!

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