There are Christian songs that have become universally known and that we know how to hum or at the very least, their melody is familiar to us. One of those songs that has surpassed its author is “Amazing Grace.” This is a hymn that some would identify, by its style, with the Black Spiritual hymns that the African American community sang during the terrible times of slavery in the United States during the past centuries. Nothing could be further from reality. It is not a composition of African American people.
Its author is named John Newton [1725-1807]. Newton’s story is quite interesting. Before his conversion to Christianity, he was an English sailor who trafficked African slaves, and who, exercising this vile trade, became lame as the result of a harpoon piercing his leg. After his conversion, Newton radically changed his life and was recognized by both Christians and non-Christians as an advocate of freedom and human rights. He was a declared abolitionist who fought to eradicate the slave trade from his country.
In recent months we have become more aware of the fact that racism and racial discrimination is not a reality that is restricted to the lifetime of John Newton. Rather the reality of racism is still present in many of our societies today. People of faith believe not only in the dignity of the human person as proclaimed by the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, but also believe in the universal brotherhood/sisterhood that makes us children of the same God. Any act of racism is opposed to the gospel, and Christians must ask for forgiveness for the times they have fallen into this grave sin, and work tirelessly to make this scourge, in all its manifestations, disappear from the face of the earth: racial segregation, contempt for the other, the devastation of the lands of indigenous communities, trafficking of persons, etc. …
The hymn Amazing Grace has surpassed its author. Many people recognize the hymn, but very few have ever heard of its composer. God’s grace, love, and forgiveness were able to transform the heart of a sinful and despicable human being. An amazing God, who always forgives everyone! God tells us: Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. See, I am doing something new. Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:18-19). That is God’s promise and … God always keeps those promises.
For God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). We are God’s hands and arms on this earth, and we can change the structures of sin that maintain racial discrimination as a reality. God needs men and women to continue the work of recreating the world. How great is God who uses people to build the Kingdom! How admirable our Lord who, through Newton’s composition, touched (and continues to touch) the hearts of millions of people!
We are weak and sinful, yes, but God makes use of those whom he wants and how he wants … makes use of even a very great sinner like John Newton who discovered the infinite love of God and who, through his song, has changed the stony heart of many people into a heart of flesh … sensitive and repentant hearts.
Words of Amazing Grace:
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.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining like the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
Some interpretations of Amazing Grace
On the internet one will find many interpretations of this hymn. I invite you to listen to the following presentations of the hymn:
On August 31, 2018, in Detroit, Jennifer Hudson gave an impressive interpretation of this hymn during the funeral services of Aretha Franklin:
Chris Tomlin is an evangelical artist in the United States and offers us this interpretation of the hymn:
Naturally 7 is a group in New York and here we listen to their impressive interpretation that includes jazz rhythms:
Whitney Houston was one of the great divas of Soul music. She had a history of drug addiction and a turbulent family and love life. She died in 2012. Here she sings Amazing Grace in Johannesburg, South Africa:
Mahalia Jackson is, without a doubt, the most important gospel singer of the 20th century. In this video she offers us her personal version of the song: