We have all heard the song. Most of us know it well. A major Christian recording artist has added verses to it…(Chris Tomlin – My Chains Are Gone). In fact, let’s listen to it now…
I remember one time, above all others, that I heard Amazing Grace, and my soul was moved to tears. It was the evening I heard two men playing those familiar notes with bagpipes. Ohhh, it was so beautiful. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Wait until the end, and we will play this version as well.
Yet, do we understand what the song truly means? I believe one way to understand what Amazing Grace really is, will be to look at the one who wrote it – John Newton. He wasn’t your typical hymn writer, for sure. The history of John Newton is interesting and colorful. He was drafted into the Royal Navy as a young man. In reality, he was forced to serve.
He wasn’t one of those guys who really got along well with others. He was insubordinate to command, and consistently got in fights with fellow sailors. Because of his constant disruption, he spent time in the brig – a lot of time. When he wasn’t in the brig, the captain came up with a song that openly mocked him. The entire crew would sing: “What are you going to do then… the next job is a very long swim???”
Eventually, his time of forced service was over. His search to make decent wages then led him work for slave traders. This was a godless job. The enslaved men, women, and children were crammed into coffin-like quarters for weeks and sometimes months. The ship sailed across the sea from Africa, to various trading outposts around the known world.
The lack of humanity on the ship began to trouble young John Newton, but he didn’t understand it all.
So one day… God helped him to understand. A terrible storm came upon the ship, and everyone aboard was certain that death was imminent. John did what many of us have done – he cried out to God for mercy. The ship was saved. While the ship was being repaired, John Newton began to write the song. The slave trading troubled him greatly. He wrote that the cries of the suffering captives would haunt him to no end. He began to seek Christ but … he couldn’t seem to give up this horrific job. The money was too good and he didn’t know what else he would do.
In fact, history tells us that it was 11 years later before he finally walked away from the slave ships. When he did, he began to study Christian Theology and write. He gave his life to God at sea, but it had taken him 11 years to truly turn from his past…
How many of us can testify to that? How many of can say, “I know Christ but my life still isn’t right?
To me, that is the definition of “Amazing Grace”…the grace we do not deserve. In fact it is defined in the New Testament as “unmerited favor”. To break that down even further, it means: An Exception to the Rules We Do Not Deserve! You see, if John Newton had been judged and condemned by his actions for the eleven years after he was saved, he would have been in trouble. Thankfully, God’s Amazing Grace forgave him.
God knows we are going to miss the mark, mess up, and fall down. That’s why grace isn’t earned by our good works. “It’s the gift of God lest any man should boast”.
We are even told that our best works – the ones we are the most proud of, are like filthy rags when compared to the work of God in our lives, and the perfect righteousness that He imparts to us. That’s grace, and it really is pretty amazing.
So the next time you sing Amazing Grace, think about how you have stumbled in the dark. Think about how lost you have been. Remember the story of the man who got it wrong most of his life. Even after he cried out for mercy, he still messed it up…but God loved him nevertheless. God had a plan for John Newton’s life. He is still using the song John wrote to draw people nearer to Him, two hundred years after his death.
To think… He will do that for you too!
Let the sound of the Scottish Bagpipes touch your soul…