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From the Winter 2013 issue of Knowing & Doing:

"Amazing Grace"John Newton and also His an excellent Hymn

by David B. Calhoun Professor Emeritus the Church history Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri

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Newton lingered until four days before Christmas 1807, “packed and sealed,” that quipped, “and wait for the post.”32 together he passed away at age eighty-two, the whispered to a friend, “My storage is almost gone. Yet I remember 2 things: that ns am a great sinner, and also that Christ is a good Saviour.”33 Newton wrote in his Letters to a Wife, “How wonderful need to be the minute after death!”34 we wish the he can tell us about it! In his epitaph Newton synthetic up his life in this words, “John Newton, when an infidel and also libertine, a maid of servants in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and also appointed come preach the belief he had actually long labored to destroy.”35 Newton had actually painted end his examine fireplace in ~ Olney words from Isaiah 43:4 and also Deuteronomy 15:15—“Since thou wast valuable in mine sight, she hast been honourable, <. . .> but thou shalt remember that thou wast a bond-man in the land of Egypt, and also the mr thy God redeemed thee.” man Newton’s life to be a an excellent illustration the his best-known hymn.

Newton’s Hymn

between John Newton’s death and the begin of the American polite War, the native of “Amazing Grace” overcome the Atlantic and also were collection to the now-familiar tune. Wilhelm Walker, a singing instructor from Spartanburg, southern Carolina, contained it in his immensely famous hymnbook the 1835, The southerly Harmony, whereby Walker joined it with the tune referred to as “New Britain.” The track is assumed to be a traditional American melody, although that may have Scottish roots. Steve Turner writes that “not just did the indigenous fit snugly into the forced musical an are but the music intensified the meaning. It to be a marriage made in heaven.” and it to be to come to be “America’s many beloved song.”36

“Amazing Grace” was sung in churches throughout the South and was embraced by afri Americans together a track that told their story and also John Newton’s. In between the end of the polite War and also the start of the very first World War, “Amazing Grace” to be made known throughout America through renewal campaigns, and also a brand-new verse was added.37 It got to the urban of the North v the preaching of D.L. Moody and also the to sing of his associate, Ira Sankey. In the twentieth century, “Amazing Grace” gained great popularity in gospel music, urban people music, and even pop and also rock. One of the best-known gospel recordings to be by Mahalia Jackson in 1947. She take it over two minutes to acquire through the an initial stanza, savoring each word and exploring the song’s deeper meaning! later Aretha Franklin’s to sing of two stanzas take it fourteen minutes, together she pulled the tune “apart vast enough come let the heart in.”38 “Doc” Watson, who aided popularize the chant in contemporary folk music, summed up the message:

When Jesus went to that cross it took more than what old-timers called “biting the bullet.” It was him reflecting that he loved united state all enough that by the elegant of God he would certainly pay the sin debt for us on the cross and also his grace proved me the means to go. The amazing grace that God is what the track is about.39

through the midsixties “Amazing Grace” had end up being a people favorite, popularized by Joan Baez, who spoke the the song’s “magical effect.”40 The a cappella single recording exit by Judy Collins in December 1970 climbed right into the bestseller charts in both Britain and also America beforehand in 1971. “Amazing Grace” played by the bagpipes of the imperial Scots Dragoon security sold an ext than 16 million duplicates worldwide. There are now an ext than eleven hundreds currently obtainable albums special versions that “Amazing Grace.” the is discovered in more than a thousands hymnals and also is sung in many lands and also languages. Newton scholar Jonathan Aitken approximates that that is performed about 10 million times every year. 41 because that many world “Amazing Grace” has become “a song quite than a hymn, a story of self-determination fairly than magnificent rescue.”42 yet for many others it means exactly what john Newton meant once he composed it.

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His good hymn is “not just the story that his life however the essence of his message. He to be a guy appalled in ~ the depth of his sinfulness and amazed in ~ the heights of God’s mercy.”43