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Amazing Grace

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, my God, you have spoken about the future of the house of your servant. You, Lord God, have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men.” I Chronicles 17:16-17

While the words to the well-known hymn Amazing Grace were still thousands of years away from being penned, it is likely that King David would have found himself able to relate to the truth they express. David was never supposed to amount to much. He was the youngest in his family with several older brothers. In fact, when asked to present his son’s for consideration of who God would call to be the next king of Israel, David’s father didn’t even bother to mention him. Yet, despite his low family ranking and the mistakes he makes once he is crowned king, it is through his descendants the Messiah is born.

I Chronicles 17 is a record of a prophecy given to Nathan about David’s family line. In verses 16 and 17, King David has just received this prophecy from Nathan and his first response is not, “Well of course because I’m awesome,” but “Really, me? Are you sure?”

It was in preparation for a sermon on this passage John Newton wrote the poem originally titled “I Chronicles 17:16-17: Faith’s Review and Expectation.” In that sermon given on January 1st of 1772, Newton focused not on the prophecy of the Messiah, but on how we need to express gratitude to God for His guidance, on how God is involved in our daily life even when we are not aware, and our need for patience as we wait to be delivered from the trials of daily life. As we all try to find our way through life in general, and especially during the COVID19 pandemic, Newton’s message still remains relevant after 248 years.

To know Newton’s testimony is to know how unsurprising it is that these themes would be central in his teaching. As a young adult, he had not only wandered but deliberately ran as far away from God as he could. He was pressed into service in the Navy where he was less than inclined to follow the rules. So much so he deserted to be with the women he was in love with (and would eventually marry). Needless to say, the navy wasn’t exactly supportive of that choice and as a result, he ended up as a crew member on a slave ship.

He spent the next several years of his life as part of the Atlantic slave trade. He also became known as the most profane person you would ever meet even creating new words to push verbal profanity further. He not only neglected the faith of his childhood but directly opposed it, mocking others who showed their faith and denouncing God as a myth. Eventually, after his ship barely survived storm and was adrift for a couple of weeks off the coast of Ireland, John Newton began to turn back towards God. Eventually he was ordained as an Anglican priest and would write the words:

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

Was 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 We have already come T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far And Grace will lead us home

A few years later those words were put to music for the first time and included in a hymnal. However, the song was largely forgotten until American Baptist and Methodist preachers began using it during evangelization meetings, especially in the southern United States. American composer William Walker’s arrangement is the one most commonly sung today.

Since that time, many have pondered what really is so amazing about Grace. Christian author Max Lucado emphasizes the key thing to remember is that Grace goes beyond Mercy.

“Mercy gave the prodigal son a second chance. Grace threw him a party. Mercy prompted the Samaritan to bandage the wounds of the victim. Grace prompted him to leave his credit card as payment for the victim's care. Mercy forgave the thief on the cross. Grace escorted him into paradise. Mercy pardons us. Grace woos and weds us.”

Grace is about forgiveness and salvation. But that is just the start of the promise. Grace is about changing our hearts and our attitudes. “Grace is God as heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart—poisoned as it is with pride and pain—and replacing it with his own. His dream isn't just to get you into heaven but to get heaven into you.” (Max Lucado) Grace is the reality that God’s love is free, you never have to work to earn you, you just have to accept and embrace it.

King David learned about God’s grace. While there were consequences to his sin with Bathsheba, God still kept his promises to him and maintained his family line forever through the birth of the Messiah who lives still today. John Newton learned about God’s grace. Despite the choices and reputation of his youth, God called him to pastor a church and inspired him to write a poem which is performed in some way an estimated 10 million times each year nearly 250 years later. Have you learned about God’s grace?

Follow Up:

1. Take a moment and listen to Amazing Grace. This particular version is what I imagine it might have sounded like during those evangelization meetings in the early 1900's.

2. Perhaps you prefer a more modern take on the hymn. Check out the link below for a version which is rather popular today.

3. What is amazing about grace to you?

4. Learn more about grace! Below are some links to books I would recommend to get you started:

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