The story behind the hymn "Amazing Grace"
Written almost two and a half centuries ago in 1772, the words for the beloved song were borne from the heart, mind and experiences of the Englishman John Newton.
Abandoned by his crew in West Africa, he was forced to be a servant to a slave trader but was eventually rescued. On the return voyage to England, a violent storm hit and almost sank the ship, prompting Newton to begin his spiritual conversion as he cried out to God to save them from the storm.
Upon his return, however, Newton became a slave ship master and admitted to treating those slaves abhorrently. In 1754, after becoming violently ill on a sea voyage, Newton abandoned his life as a slave trader, the slave trade and wholeheartedly devoting his life to God's service.
He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and became popular hymn writer. Among them was the great "Amazing Grace.
In later years, Newton fought alongside William Wilberforce, leader of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the African slave trade. He described the horrors of the slave trade in a tract he wrote supporting the campaign and lived to see the British passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.
And now, we see how lyrics like:
I once was lost,
but now am found,
but now I see.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come.
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
carry a much deeper meaning than a sinner's mere gratitude. Close to death at various times and blind to reality at others, Newton would most assuredly not have written "Amazing Grace" if not for his tumultuous past. And many of us would then be without these words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God's grace in our lives:
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.