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.
T’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
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’ve first begun.
Probably the most well known Christian hymn of our day, Amazing Grace was written by John Newton over 200 years ago. In the 1800′s John Rees, pinned the words to the 5th verse of this song. I believe that 5th verse fits so well with the first four stanzas that it adds to without taking away anything from this great song . As you may know, John Newton was a slave trading sailor when he found Christ, or more aptly when Christ found him. He lived a “wretched” life for many years as a sailor on ships in the 1700′s. His conversion story is powerful and really adds to the background of this song. There is something unique, however, about this hymn that I only learned about recently while watching a Gaither Homecoming video.
I have heard many versions of the story of the popular hymn Amazing grace. However, I have never loved the version narrated by a well-known singer Wintley Phipps, born in Trinidad and Tabago. Wintley Phipps is married to Linda Diane Galloway Phipps and they have three sons: Wintley Augustus, II, Winston Adriel, and Wade Alexander.
Wintley Phipps is best known for his music but he is a first and foremost a pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist Church. He has served as the senior pastor to several churches in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including the Capitol Hill and Seabrook Seventh-Day Adventist Churches. He currently serves as Pastor of the Palm Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church in Palm Bay, Florida.
Most of you have heard Wintley Phipps sing, whether you remember his name or not. Wintley Phipps did a performance at Carnegie Hall in 2007 in which he explained the likely origins of the most famous hymn in all the world, Amazing Grace. His presentation of this hymn, and the use of “The Black Notes Only,” will not only teach you about music (if you are not a trained musician) but it will stir your soul so deeply that I believe you will be moved beyond words. I have watched this presentation several times and have wept more than once. Believe me this is worth your time.
Wintley Phipps explained in this video that it is believed that the tune to Amazing Grace was actually based upon an African Spiritual. The melody of Amazing Grace can be played with what is referred to as the “Slave Scale.” These are five ebony keys on the piano, and many music historians believed that John Newton probably heard this tune many times while serving as a slave trader. It is believed that this melody was combined with the words that he pinned to create this wonderful hymn. What a thought!! God taking a melody written by slaves, and turning that melody into a song about true freedom – God’s grace freeing us from the penalty of sin. That kind of grace, and that story, are truly “amazing.” You can watch this video at the following link:
There are other writers from other parts of the world that have tried to discredit Wintley Phipps ‘version of the origin of this hymn, but the more I read it, the more I think it has substance.
Instead of wring about the history of this hymn, I will let you listen to it yourself. Here is Wintley Phipps and the story of Amazing grace. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=DMF_24cQqT0
Couple of comments on the lyrics:
- “But now am found” – I often hear people describe their Christian journey by saying “I found God.” Although I believe I know what they mean, Scripture often times refers to God or Jesus finding us. In two of the “Lost” parables, the items that were lost did not find their owners on their own. The sheep and the coin had to be found. In Isaiah 30:18, the Bible says “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; He rises to show you compassion.” I love the fact that He longs to be gracious. He rises to show us compassion, and that He is doing the seeking.
- “My shield and portion be” – I was familiar with several Scriptures about God being our Shield. In Psalm 18:2, the Bible says “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 84:11 says “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” But I couldn’t readily recall any verses about God being our portion. When I think of portion, I think of “just enough” or “just right.” I searched and found the following verse, and I really think it is appropriate with this hymn and with the meaning of portion. Psalms 73:26 says “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.” God is sufficient. He is “just enough” and He is “just right.”
I recently heard a message based upon Jesus’ words found in Luke 19 where He says “I came to seek and to save that which was lost.” My Bible had a cross-reference to Ezekiel 34, and I turned there to see what that Old Testament reference was all about. In this particular chapter, Ezekiel is prophesying against the “shepherds of Israel” for not doing what God had called them to do. One of the things that God said He would do that the shepherds weren’t doing, was to “bring back the strays.” For some reason that phrase really hit me.
When I thought of the word “stray,” several things came to mind. A you rebellious child recklessly living their lives in this world. Lost, uncontrolled, reckless. But then I was reminded that a “stray” is exactly the kind of person God finds and God saves. The vilest offender who truely believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives. Like he did with John Newton, God finds the angry sinner. God finds the foul-mouthed sailor. God finds the unwanted orphan and prostitute. God seeks and finds the lost. But not only does He find them, He also saves them and puts them in families (Psalm 68:5-6) –A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families… (NIV). But blessed are the families that accept them and take them as their own. He saves the wretches – like John Newton and like me. What an amazing picture of God’s grace!! The question for us, is will we tell others about this kind of grace? Not the ”Get your life cleaned up, sort out the wrongs that you have done” kind of grace. No, the grace that finds you right where you are in sin and despair. The grace that says “I love you. I died for you. You are valuable to me.” That is an “Amazing Grace” that sounds so sweet. Wouldn’t you agree?