HYMN FOR LENT 4 Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound
Text: John Newton (1725-1807) Tune: New Britain, anonymous
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound) That sav'd 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 reliev'd; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believ'd! Thro' 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 promis'd good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures. Yes, 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
This is the hymn suggested for the man born blind account in John 9. "I once was blind, but now I see." John Newton was referring to himself, of course, in the hymn, but he was speaking as someone with a thorough knowledge of Scripture. He knew well how the man born blind must have felt when, suddenly, at the touch of Jesus’ hand and the mud, dust from the earth made wet by Jesus’ spittle, he could see. The account is filled with ironies: Jesus heals the man and then people are outraged. How odd! Wouldn’t you be happy if your son who was born blind was healed? But the parents were afraid of being cast out of the synagogue. So they panicked and shunted the questioners off to their son, “Ask him!”
The religious scholars do not come off very well in the story either. Their rather dim comment that no one had ever healed someone born blind. Well, duh, maybe this is a sign to which attention should be paid. The formerly blind man knows the answer: “only someone come from God would do such a blessed thing.” Out of the mouths of babes comes the truth, only God can heal our blindness.
Being a seminary professor can be dangerous for one’s faith, as this story tells us. We are scandalized by things that have not been dreamt of in our minds at the same time we can dream up a lot of fantastical interpretations of Scripture. Paul in 2 Timothy 4:3 says the time would come when "people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears .... will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” Even scholars and intellectuals can be blinded by their own passions. Jesus coming into the world brings judgment. His judgment comes in his very presence, causing a division between believers and non-believers, the blind will see and the seeing will be blind. One thinks of the phrase “blinded by the light.”
Newton knew that within the veil, that is this world, he would possess a life of joy and peace and one day live forever with God. Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, "Now we see as in a mirror darkly, but then will see face to face." John Newton was a wretched sinner—no one could swear as violently as he. He was a reprobate at home and at sea. He captained a slave ship, and even continued after his conversion. As grace worked on him, and truth (sound teaching) became clear, he repented of his ways. He made amends for the rest of his life working to abolish the trafficking of slaves by the British empire. He, along with many evangelical Christians like William Wilburforce, having seen the light, finally got a law passed in parliament to prohibit British vessels and men from the awful trade of human beings to one another. A true wretch, saved by God’s "Amazing grace."
Some would like to change “wretch” to “soul” or something less noxious than wretch. People don’t like to be called wretches or even sinners today. A brief listen to the news of an evening should change our minds. We may not think we are bad, but as Agatha Christie, the great mystery writer knew well, every single person is capable of great evil, even murder. The only claim we have to stand before the living God is as repentant and grief stricken sinners, broken hearted wretches ashamed of our disobedience and sin. God has done this to bring us into communion with him so we can be with him forever. Now that's amazing!
The last two stanzas of Newton hymn are not very well known today. The Southern Harmony added the stanza “Though we’ve been there a thousand years/Bright shining as the sun/We’ve no less days to sing his praise/than first we eer begun.” That is the preferred ending of the hymn today. For more information on the hymn, see below.
The Story of Amazing Grace/15 minutes well worth your time
Judy Collins and choir/ some 80 million views
Swedish congregation singing Swedish version