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Just dropping by ... ‘Amazing Grace’

Yevet Tenney for Progressive Dairyman Published on 11 March 2019

The song “Amazing Grace” has been on my mind lately. The image of Il Divo, a male quartet, singing the song at the Coliseum in Rome is etched in my memory.

The handsome Italians stood in the stone pillars of the ancient place where Christians gave their lives for their faith in Christ. While bagpipes played in the background, the exquisite voices trumpeted with burning conviction that Christ is amazing:

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Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m 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
We have already come
‘Twas grace hath brought
Us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

When we’ve been there
Ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ll have no less days
to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see

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As I pondered the song, I realized I knew little about the man who wrote the lyrics that have influenced and touched the hearts of so many Christians all over the world. According to Wikipedia, “Amazing Grace” is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725-1807).

Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life’s path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences … He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy and, after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade.

In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of County Donegal, Ireland, so severely he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave-trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology.

Ordained in the Church of England in 1764, Newton became curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, where he began to write hymns with poet William Cowper. “Amazing Grace” was written to illustrate a sermon on New Year’s Day of 1773. It is unknown if there was any music accompanying the verses; it may have simply been chanted by the congregation. It debuted in print in 1779 in Newton and Cowper’s Olney Hymns but settled into relative obscurity in England. In the U.S., however, “Amazing Grace” was used extensively during the Second Great Awakening in the early 19th century. It has been associated with more than 20 melodies, but in 1835 it was joined to a tune named “New Britain,” to which it is most frequently sung today.

Though the song gives me a spiritual uplift and illustrates the sweet tenderness of the Savior, I don’t think I have ever stopped to ponder what grace really is. Oh, I have studied it, read definitions, probably even written articles on it but, clearly, I have unanswered questions. How do I continually merit and receive the continued grace of the Savior? If I can’t put it into words, how do I make it part of my everyday life? How can a song written 255 years ago still stir my soul with wonder and still be relevant to our modern world?

In our minds, sometimes mercy gets tangled up with grace. We think they are synonymous. Jesus certainly has mercy on the sinner, and His mercy led him to the cross, but mercy does not encompass all of grace. It is only a small part. Mercy is the opposite of justice. In my book, justice is the hammer that exacts punishment equal to the crime. In other words, justice says if you kill, you must receive the punishment. Mercy says if you accidentally kill, there are extenuating circumstances and punishment must be meted out differently. Mercy is a feeling or an attitude we need to aspire to and incorporate into our lives if we are to become true Christians, but grace is different.

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Grace encompasses mercy, but it is so much more. I have come to understand grace is the enabling power of Jesus Christ. When John Newton was in the ship being tossed violently against the terror of the raging storm, he cried for mercy but was given grace. He witnessed a miracle of the waves and the wind being calmed and the sweet spirit of God resting on his soul. He was saved both physically and spiritually from destruction. He perceived God in a new and powerful way. He could no longer be passive about his belief. Grace enabled him to become a new person with new spiritual eyes. He had witnessed the grace of God firsthand.

Grace is the power behind miracles. As Moses stood at the edge of the Red Sea and lifted his staff to the sky to part the rolling waters, he had faith the Lord would hear his prayer and part the waters, but it was the grace of the great I Am that caused the waters to rise like towering walls at his command. The Lord’s grace enabled Moses as well as the children of Israel to see the miracle and build faith enough to step into the dry sea bed.

Queen Esther was blessed by the grace of God when she stood before the king to speak to him when the law forbade such an action. The Jews showed faith as they fasted and prayed for her to have the power in the presence of the king to save her people. The enabling power of grace changed the circumstances in favor of the Jews. Esther was the instrument of grace in the hands of God.

Joseph, languishing in prison for a crime he did not commit, probably pleaded for mercy daily for the Lord to free him. The Lord did not free him but, by His grace, he sent the baker and the butler to him, which eventually provided the miracle of Joseph’s release. The grace of God allowed Joseph to not only be free himself but to save the entire land in the face of a famine. The same grace allowed him to see clearly enough to recognize the hand of the Lord in his life and to forgive his erring brothers.

By the grace of Jehovah, David stood with unflinching courage, without armor, before the colossal giant Goliath to save the Israelite armies from bondage. The miracle of a shepherd boy saving Israel changed David and all who read and will yet read the story of the weak standing victorious in the face of the mighty because of the grace of God.

In our modern world, we need grace, or the enabling power of God in our lives. The world is upside-down, where evil is called good and good is branded evil. How do we obtain the awesome power of grace in our lives? The scriptures are instructive. If we study the lives of heroes in the Bible, we find all fostered a relationship with God. They were people of prayer, fasting and faith. They reached out with the power of their faith and waited upon the Lord to answer in their hour of need. It was not a one-time prayer for mercy and deliverance. It was heart-wrenching prayer stacked upon prayers that made the difference. It was a continued daily reaching heavenward that brought the miracle of grace.

Sometimes, one heartfelt prayer is enough in the moment of crisis, as was the case for John Newton. We don’t know all his story. Perhaps it was not just one prayer of faith in a terrible storm that drew the grace of God to John Newton. Perhaps as he faced the injustice of being forced to serve in the Royal Navy, it humbled him enough to search for help in the right place but, truly for us, a crisis in the face of a storm is not the place to understand and embrace the enabling power of grace. We must seek it daily and express our gratitude when it comes, no matter how small or delayed the answers may seem. God is not far away. We create the distance between God and ourselves by our indifference to His laws and the way we clutter our lives with trivial matters. The amazing grace of God is waiting for us all. We just have to reach out in faith to have it bless our lives.  end mark

Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.

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