Monday Ministerial Musings
By Rev. Mark William Ennis
2023 Blog #1
January 2, 2023
Two Hundred Fifty Years of Amazing Grace
I don’t know any church-goer who does not know the hymn Amazing Grace. Perhaps every Christian, despite musical ability, has sung this hymn. Those who have not sung it in church have certainly heard it sung or heard it played on a musical instrument. It has a catchy tune, wonderfully comforting lyrics and it is simply enough to be sung by people who have no musical training.
Even the secular world knows this song. Susan Boyle sang it after her musical career began following her time on “Britain’s Got Talent.” Star Trek fans remember that Engineer Montgomery Scott played this song on the bag pipes in the second Star Trek Movie: “The Wrath of Kahn.” The occasion for Scotty’s performance was the funeral for Mr. Spock. I would speculate that this Christian song is the best know Christian song among non-Christian people.
The history of the writing of this hymn I have always found interesting. In brief, this hymn was written by Rev. John Newton. Newton was a priest in the Anglican Church. He had not always been a priest. For many years he had earned a living as a sea captain. He was not just any sea captain. He was the captain of a ship that imported black slaves from Africa to England.
While he was still a sea captain, he suffered a shipwreck but was rescued by a friend of his father. Both his father and the friend were also ship captains. John Newton was rescued but on the way home the rescuing boat rain into a bad storm. The storm was fierce enough to make the sailors believe that they would die in it. It was during the storm that Newton prayed for mercy. In doing so, he remembered his prayers from early childhood. His mother was a devout Christian and had taught young John to pray but she had died when he was seven years old. Following her death, his father had taken him to sea and that began John’s journey toward becoming a sea captain.
Newton’s prayer for mercy was heard and the ship survived the storm. This brush with death began his journey of exploring Christianity. Eventually he was indeed ordained and became a pastor and hymn writer. In this particular hymn, Amazing Grace, he contemplates on the amount of undeserved grace that he had received to get him from a slaver in dire peril to a minister with a solid congregation running outreach programs for the unchurched.
The premier of this hymn was January 1, 1773. He wrote it to correspond with his new year’s day sermon. Rev. Newton was not finished his work yet. In gratitude for receiving the grace he had received and in repentance for the time he spent enslaving people, he became active in the abolitionist movement in England. This movement was eventually successful as slavery was outlawed in England in 1833, a full thirty years before it was outlawed in the United States.
I’m sure that Newton never dreamed that his hymn would be so well know 250 years later. He simply did what he was called to do and did it to the best of his ability. Then he let God decide what impact his work would have.
What about the work we do? Will it be remembered 250 years from now? Maybe and maybe not. That is not for us to worry about. Our job is to live lives that please God and let God worry about what impact our works will have.
To read more of Pastor Mark’s writings, please order copy of his book:https://deepriverbooks.com/books/the-circle-of-seven/