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A Great Hymn, But An Infinitely Greater Doctrine


Most evangelical Christians are at least acquainted with the old hymn by John Newton (1725 –1807) even if their choir directors no longer use it for congregational singing. But since the tragedy of 9-11, where burial services for firemen and police officers continued for many weeks afterward, it experienced a revival of sorts as millions around the world heard its plaintive melody (and occasionally the lyrics) via televised news reports. Over and over, we listened as musicians of the New York City fire and police departments played it on bagpipes as a funeral dirge—a tradition of long standing—to honor their fallen comrades.


Yet each time I heard it played, I could not help but wonder how many people recognized the irony of it being used for such a sad occasion! After his death Newton’s lyrics were set to music taken from an American melody entitled Virginia Harmony (circa1831—with more stanzas added later by others). But the beautiful and somewhat melancholy tune stands in sharp contrast to the unbridled joy and awe expressed by the original words:


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 has 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.

So to better understand what inspired Newton to write these words, we need to know more about his formative years. And to do that we offer the following excerpts from an article about him in Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia (

“John Newton was born in Wapping, London, the son of John Newton, a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service, and Elizabeth Newton (née Seatclife). His mother brought him up as a Nonconformist Christian. She died of tuberculosis when he was 6. Newton spent 2 years at boarding school, at the age of 11 he went to sea with his father and sailed with him on a total of six voyages until the elder Newton retired in 1742.

In 1743 Newton's father had planned for him to take up a position at a sugar plantation in Jamaica but on his way he was pressed into naval service, and became a midshipman aboard the HMS Harwich. Having attempted to desert, Newton was recaptured, put in irons, and reduced to the rank of a common seaman. At his own request, Newton was exchanged into service on a slave ship bound for West Africa which eventually took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused suffering starvation, illness and exposure. It was this period that Newton later remembered as the time he was "once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa." Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had been asked by Newton’s father to look out for him on the captain's next voyage.

Returning to England in 1748 aboard the slave trading ship Greyhound via the Atlantic triangle trade route, the ship and crew encountered a severe storm, which threatened to overwhelm them. Newton awoke in the middle of the night and, as the vessel filled with water, prayed for God’s mercy and said the Lord's prayer. It was this experience which he was later to mark as the beginnings of his conversion to evangelical  Christianity. Even while the ship limped home in need of repair, and with little in the way of provisions, Newton began to read the Bible and other religious literature and, by the time they reached Britain, he had mentally assented to the doctrines of Christianity. The date was March 10,(old style: March 21 new calendar) 1748, an anniversary he observed for the rest of his life. From that point on, he avoided religious taboos such as profanity, gambling, and drinking, but he continued to participate in the slave trade for the next several years. He would later say, however, that his true heart conversion did not happen until some time later: "I cannot consider myself to have been a believer (in the full sense of the word) till a considerable time afterwards."

Newton returned to Liverpool, England and, partly due to the influence of Joseph Manestay, a friend of his father’s, obtained a position as first mate aboard a slave trading vessel, the Brownlow, bound for the West Indies via the coast of Guinea. During the first leg of this voyage, while in west Africa (1748-49), Newton saw for the first time the inadequacy of his new spiritual life and, suffering from the effects of a violent fever, threw himself totally on the mercy of God. He was later to claim that this experience was the true conversion and the turning point in his search for God, and that he knew for the first time a total peace.

Newton, however, continued to be active in the slave trade. After his return to England in 1750, he made three further voyages as master of the slave-trading ships Duke of Argyle (1750) and the African (1752-53 and 1753-54).

In 1754 after a serious illness, Newton gave up seafaring altogether…” (Excerpt edited to remove emphasis, citations, and links to other articles found in the original).

So even though Newton could not consider himself “…to have been a believer (in the full sense of the word) till a considerable time afterwards,” he did experience a life-altering event aboard the Greyhound when it appeared that the storm was going to overwhelm the ship. In that moment of terror he cried out to God for mercy because as a very young child his mother had instilled in him the principles of God’s Word and now facing the prospect of death by drowning, he instinctively grasped for a “life line.”  His prayer was answered and he survived the storm, only to encounter more life-threatening situations at sea as a slave trader. But when he truly reflected upon all that had happened he came to the realization that God is never under any obligation to spare him or anyone else. And that is when John Newton grasped the Scriptural concept of God’s “Amazing Grace.”

The generally accepted definition of the Greek word charis (almost always translated as “grace” in the New Testament) is the “unmerited favor” of God. In other words, when His goodness and mercy is extended to one of us fallen creatures, it is always an act of His sovereign will and done in spite of the death sentence we inherited from Adam! And according to the Bible, if we only receive from God what we deserve, every one of us will spend an eternity in the flames of hell because as a minimum we break the first two commandments every second of every day.


When an expert in the Law of Moses (a “lawyer”) tried to test Jesus Christ by asking what He considered to be the greatest commandment, here is what the Lord said:


“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” Matthew 22:37-40 (KJV, emphasis mine).


But no mere mortal is capable of loving God with all his/her heart, soul, and mind—much less loving their neighbor as themselves. And anyone who thinks otherwise is seriously deluded! We are all totally depraved creatures and the relative degree of holiness any believer has ever, or will ever attain this side of heaven falls infinitely short of the perfection God requires! A single violation of God’s Law—His Commandments—condemns us and places us under a sentence of eternal spiritual death.


“The soul that sinneth, it shall die…” Ezek.18:20(a) (KJV).


“For the wages of sin is death…” Rom.6:23(a) (KJV).


“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” Rom.3:23 (KJV).


So even if it were possible to progress to the point of loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind—the sin of not doing so while getting to that point is a capital offense and punishable by death!


“…there is none that doeth good, no not one” Rom.3:13(b) (KJV).


And I could go on and on citing verses of Scripture clearly intended to show us just how rotten we are in God’s sight. He is perfect and demands perfection of us. But since a single sin renders us imperfect—something we cannot possibly erase or undo—that places us in a hopeless situation. And the following verses written to believers tell of their former condition:


 “[Remember] that you were at that time separated (living apart) from Christ [excluded from all part in Him], utterly estranged and outlawed from the rights of Israel as a nation, and strangers with no share in the sacred compacts of the [Messianic] promise [with no knowledge of or right in God’s agreements, His covenants]. And you had no hope (no promise); you were in the world without God” Eph.2:12 (Amplified Bible).


So in actual point of fact, all are born estranged from God and spiritually dead because we are the offspring of Adam.


 “The ungodly are perverse and estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies” Psalm 58:3 (Amplified Bible).


“And you [He made alive], when you were dead (slain) by [your] trespasses and sins 2 In which at one time you walked [habitually]. You were following the course and fashion of this world [were under the sway of the tendency of this present age], following the prince of the power of the air. [You were obedient to and under the control of] the [demon] spirit that still constantly works in the sons of disobedience [the careless, the rebellious, and the unbelieving, who go against the purposes of God]” Eph.2:1-2 (Amplified Bible).


Please note I said earlier that these verses were written to believers concerning their former condition. Obviously their relationship with God changed, but how on earth was that possible? How could that which was imperfect and totally alienated from God suddenly become acceptable to Him? You guessed it—GOD’S AMAZING GRACE!


“For it is by free grace (God’s unmerited favor) that you are saved (delivered from judgment and made partakers of Christ’s salvation) through [your] faith. And this [salvation] is not of yourselves [of your own doing, it came not through your own striving], but it is the gift of God; 9 Not because of works [not the fulfillment of the Law’s demands], lest any man should boast. [It is not the result of what anyone can possibly do, so no one can pride himself in it or take glory to himself.]” Eph.2:8-9 (Amplified Bible).


Thus we see that salvation comes by God’s grace through a person’s faith in Jesus Christ. But what many fail to understand is that faith itself is also a gift of God! Note what the Apostle Paul told the believers at Rome:


“For by the grace (unmerited favor of God) given to me I warn everyone among you not to estimate and think of himself more highly than he ought [not to have an exaggerated opinion of his own importance], but to rate his ability with sober judgment, each according to the degree of faith apportioned by God to him” Rom.12:3 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).


My friend, when these astounding truths burst forth in the mind of John Newton and he finally realized all that God had done for him, he penned those words of joy and praise that became a hymn greatly loved by millions of believers. And just as a personal note, when I preach a funeral message for a departed child of grace I sometimes have the congregation stand and sing two stanzas of it as a tribute to that person’s faith in Christ. So the next time you hear those seemingly mournful strains, please bear in mind that sadness was in no way Newton’s intent!


If you have been born again and received Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, but have been very lukewarm in your spiritual walk with Him, you need to immediately ask Him for forgiveness and for renewal. He will instantly forgive you, and fill your heart with the joy of the Holy Spirit. Then, you need to begin a daily walk of prayer and personal Bible Study.

If you have never placed your trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, but have come to sense His reality and the approaching End of the Age, and want to receive His FREE Gift of Eternal Life, you can do so now, in the privacy of your home. Once you truly believe in Him as Lord and Savior, you are spiritually Born Again, and are as assured of Heaven as if you were already there. Then, you can rest assured that the Kingdom of Antichrist will not touch you spiritually. If you would like to become Born Again, turn to our Salvation Page now.

We hope you have been blessed by this ministry, which seeks to educate and warn people, so that they can see the coming New World Order Kingdom of Antichrist in their daily news.

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