Friday, August 14, 2009

Story Behind the Song - Amazing Grace


Born 1725 in London, John Newton was the child of a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service and a Christian mother who died of tuberculosis when he was six. As a young boy, John went to sea with his father until the elder Newton retired.

Newton's father had planned for him to be a slave master at a sugar plantation in Jamaica. He did become a Captain of a slaveship; but while on the way to visit some friends, he was captured and pressed into naval service to become a midshipman aboard the HMS Harwich. After attempting to desert, Newton was returned to the Harwich for punishment. In the presence of 350 members of the crew, the eighteen year old midshipman was stripped to the waist, tied to the grating, and received a flogging of ninety-six lashes, and was demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

Finally at his own request he was exchanged into service on slave ship Pegasus bound for West Africa carrying goods to trade for slaves that would in turn be shipped to many different countries. He was eventually discharged and taken to the coast of Sierra Leone where he became a slave to a slave trader's wife--an African duchess called Princess Peye. There he was abused along with her other slaves. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father whereby John Newton was eventually able to work his way up to captain of his own slave ship.

It is true he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, but he had long since given up any religious convictions. However, on a homeward voyage in 1748, while he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm and it appeared that all was lost, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." Later in his cabin he reflected upon his feelings and knew that God had helped him and that he was beginning to experience God's grace.
As he continued in the slave trade for a time after his conversion, he began to treat his slaves with kindness.

He started educating himself, learning many subjects including Latin. In 1750 he married; and by 1755, after a serious illness, he had given up seafaring forever. For the next five years, Newton was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, where he became acquainted with evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley.

As Newton's self-education continued, he learned Greek and Hebrew, and decided to become a minister. He applied to the Archbishop of York for ordination but was refused. Newton was not deterred, and he was subsequently ordained by the Bishop of Lincoln accepting the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire. Newton's church became so crowded during services that it had to be enlarged. In 1767 the poet William Cowper settled at Olney, and he and Newton became friends.

Cowper helped Newton with his religious services and on his tours to other places. They held not only a regular weekly church service but also began a series of weekly prayer meetings for which their goal was to write a new hymn for each one. They collaborated on several hymnals which have all achieved lasting popularity. The first edition, published in 1779, contained 68 pieces by Cowper and 280 by Newton. Among those contributions by Newton was what is now "Amazing Grace." Since that first printing, other writers through the years have composed additional verses to the hymn.

Newton kept extensive journals and wrote many letters which are now accredited for giving insight today about the eighteenth century slave trade. From them we also learn that he aligned himself with the Evangelical revival, reflecting the sentiments of his friend John Wesley and Methodism in a bid against slavery.

In 1780 Newton left Olney to become rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London. Among his congregation was William Wilberforce who would one day become a leader in the campaign for the abolition of slavery.

Although becoming blind in the latter part of his life, Newton continued to preach until the last year of life in 1807.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Romans 5:1-2

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. Ephesians 1:3-10

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us al ive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:1-10

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ. Titus 2:11-13


Amazing Grace
by Joanne Standfield

Let's not point our finger,
nor judge others in their ways,
for not one of us can stand
but for God's amazing grace.
This grace abounds towards us,
let's allow it freely flow,
flowing from our lives to others
that they will want to know.
To know what makes us different,
makes us stand out in the crowd,
why we don't join with others
in criticizing and bringing down.
Why the Word we speak makes a difference,
like no other word they've heard.
Where does this Word come from,
that makes their hearts so stirred?
Thank you Lord for our time here
as ambassadors for you,
bringing forth your Kingdom,
as You've commanded us to do.

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