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Amazing Grace and 9/11

Updated on September 11, 2011
John Newton
John Newton

Why We Love Amazing Grace

During the many tenth anniversary 9/11 commemoration ceremonies I couldn't help noticing how many times Amazing Grace was played in Washington, New York, Pennsylvania and other locations around the globe.

In fact, I've noticed that this hymn is often played during times of tragedy, by both Christians and non-Christians alike.

I wonder how many people are aware of the history of this hymn and what the words are saying.

The words were written by John Newton (1725-1807). Raised by a Christian mother until her death when he was 7 years of age, he then abandoned his Christian faith. At the age of 11 he went on the first of six sea voyages. Newton rebelled against the discipline of the Royal Navy and deserted. When he was caught, put in irons and flogged he convinced them to release him to a slaver ship. As he later wrote, "I sinned with a high hand and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others."

He went to work for a slave trader by the name of Clow who mistreated him. Eventually Newton was forced to beg for food to survive. Newton was transferred in 1747 to the Greyhound, a ship from Liverpool. On its way home the ship was overtaken by a storm. He had been reading a portion of Thomas a Kempis's The Imitation of Christ that spoke about the "uncertain continuance of life." This was when his conversion to Christianity began, although he admitted that "I cannot consider myself to have been a believer, in the full sense of the word." That would take place over the course of several years.

Although at one time a supporter of slavery, he became disgusted with it and in 1764 he was ordained into the Anglican ministry and became a prolific hymn writer. His best known, of course, was Amazing Grace. Read the words carefully, especially if you are not a Christian but like the song anyways:

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 called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

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.

Newton is talking about the amazing grace offered by Jesus Christ through the forgiveness of our sins. We live in a fallen world and all of us sin against God and others on a daily basis - some more severely than others. But God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for all of our sins and offers forgiveness free of charge, regardless of the seriousness of our sins. This is what Newton found so amazing.

I'm convinced that this hymn strikes a chord with even "non-believers" simply because we are spiritual creatures. We are made to worship something, even if it's our possessions. You will find some sort of spirituality in every society throughout history. That's what separates us from the animal world.

Often the non-Christian will accuse the Christian of being arrogant for daring to think that there is only one way to heaven. However, this isn't the idea of the Christian - it's the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself, who said "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except by Me." The wonder isn't that there is only one way to heaven - it's that God offers us ANY way at all to be saved! He wasn't obligated to do so, but He did.

Have you had a close call with death, as Newton had? It was that event that eventually shook him to his core and caused him to reconsider. Eternity is a long time to be wrong about something. If you have questions - even challenges to Christian beliefs - ask someone knowledgeable about Christian teachings. But be careful who you ask - unfortunately, there are churches that purport to be Christian but that reject the basic teachings of Christianity. Find a conservative pastor or knowledgeable conservative Christian and challenge him. If he cares, he'll give you thoughtful answers.

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      pesky brewer 

      7 years ago

      I didn't know any of this about the song. We are spiritual creatures but for the most part not very nice.

      What makes humans spiritual is an awareness and terror of death that other animals are spared. That I think is the main difference between me and your cats.

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