INTRODUCTION TO THE HYMN, “AMAZING GRACE”
Our closing hymn is one that many people love while others “love to hate” or is that “hate to love,” “Amazing Grace” Voices United number 266.
Amazing Grace was originally written as a chant or prayer by 18th century Anglican clergyman John Newton. His poem was only set to the now familiar music of “New Britain” 40 years after his death. The hymn’s words are a personal reflection on Newton’s earlier, troubled life.
Newton’s father was a Sea Captain and as a very young man, John went to sea as well.
A short time later, he was “pressed” into service with the Royal Navy as a Midshipman. Newton attempted to desert and for this crime was flogged in front of the ship’s company of 350, given 8 dozen lashes. He was stripped of his rank, reduced to that of a common seaman.
For revenge, he planned to murder the captain then commit suicide by jumping overboard. However before he could carry out this plan he was transferred to a slave ship where he continued to cause trouble. The ship’s captain then gave Newton to his wife, an African Princess who treated Newton as one of her personal slaves. He was eventually rescued by a ship’s crew sent by his father to search for him.
Sailing back to England, Newton’s ship was caught in a severe storm, was holed and was in immenent danger of sinking, rapidly flooding with water. He fervently prayed to God for deliverance from the storm at which point the ship’s cargo shifted, plugging the hole.
Despite this seemingly divine intervention, Newton continued in the slave trade for a number of voyages and even after retiring from life at sea continued to invest his money in slave trafficking.
He was ordained as an Anglican Priest but it was only 34 years after his retirement from the slave trade that he publicly spoke out against it, describing the horrific conditions aboard slave ships . He then worked tirelessly along with his good friend, William Wilberforce to eventually abolish the Slave Trade in Britain.
And it was around this time, that John Newton penned these words to this now famous hymn. And when you read them knowing his personal history they can not but take on a new meaning.