“Amazing Grace” at 250 years old: Pt 2

Be sure to check out part one of this post here.

On Sunday, January 1,1773, John Newton preached a message on 1 Chronicles 17, accompanied by a hymn he entitled Faith’s Review and Expectation. This passage recounts the Lord’s reiteration of His covenant with David.

Look back: The Lord reminded David what he had been, I took thee … from following the sheep (verse 7) and David marvels that God has brought him from such a lowly position, Who am I, O Lord God? 

Like David, Newton acknowledged his background, and even wrote a book about his participation with the slave trade.  He never forgot where grace found him:

My delight and habitual practice was wickedness.  I was a a rebel made a son. The sinner is dragged before God like a slave and comes away like a thief. [90]

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.

We cannot be so evil as He is good. His power is a good match for our weakness; his riches for our poverty; his mercy for our misery. We are vile in ourselves; but we are complete in him.” [176]

As he preached, Newton demonstrated that he understood depravity:  his own, and mankind’s. He recounted two chief lessons in looking back. First, he could not wallow in his sin.  God had saved him!

When we burden ourselves with our many sins, we are apt to overlook the very greatest of them – unbelief; for what can be a greater proof of stubbornness and pride then to dare to contradict the express Word of God, to say that He will not pardon, when he declares that He will; to persist in it that He will make differences when He has assured us that He will make none? [198]

And second, Newton proclaimed that understanding the work of Christ and His beautiful righteousness will begin to transform the Christian’s thinking. 

Though the believer is nothing in himself, yet having all in Jesus, he may rejoice in his name all the day. [74]

Look Around: Continuing in the sermon, Newton admonished believers to Look around them to see what the Lord was doing in their lives. Newton preached that the Lord tells David, “I have been with thee whithersoever thou hast walked, and cut off all thine enemies from before thee… (verse 8). David considers how the Lord hast brought me hitherto.

“It is good to have one eye upon ourselves, but the other should ever be fixed on him who stands in the relation of Saviour, Husband, Head, and Shepherd…” [72]

Newton could look around at this life and see much difficulty. He suffered from poor health, antagonistic critics, backslidden parishioners, poverty, infertility, his wife’s death, his own blindness, and encroaching dementia. Through all of this, Newton recognized that these hardships were part of his God’s good plan.

Seriously, the times look dark and stormy, and call for much circumspection and prayer; but let us not forget that we have an infallible Pilot, and that the power, and wisdom, and honor of God, are embarked with us. [205]

Let us suppose the thing we are most afraid of actually to happen. Can it come a moment sooner, or in any other way, than by his appointment? Is He not gracious, and faithful, to support us under the stroke? Is He not rich enough to give us something better than ever He will take away? Is not the light of his countenance better than life and all its most valued enjoyments? [127-128]

As he looked around, Newton desired to love Christ more:

For the light of God’s countenance, and an open cheerfulness of spirit in walking with him in private, is our chief joy; and we must be already greatly hurt, if anything can be pursued, allowed, or rested in, as a tolerable substitute for it.” [108]

As he looked around, Newton desired to be less attracted to the world.

“Why are we so apt to be captivated by the gewgaws of the world, but because we are so faintly impressed with a real sense of the excellence of Jesus? We say indeed that his loving kindness is better than life, but if we really and fully thought so, hard things would be easy, and bittersweet, and there would be no room for impatience or discontent in our hearts. [368]

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.


Look forward: Newton preached that The Lord promised David that He will build thee a house… I will raise up thy seed… I will establish his throne forever (verses 10-12). David is overawed that God has spoken of thy servant’s house for a great while to come… thou… hast promised this goodness unto thy servant (verses 17, 26). So Newton looks forward and rejoices:

When we awake into that glorious world, we shall in an instant be satisfied with his likeness. One sight of Jesus as He is, will fill our hearts, and dry up all our tears. [59]

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, 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 sermon John Newton preached that January 1st has largely been forgotten, and the hymn was hardly an instant hit. As a matter of fact, while it was published a few years later in the 1779 Olney Hymn collection, it was not included in the Church of England hymn books until 1900. The Americans were early adopters, though, and Faith’s Review was published in America in 1790.

When John Newton’s time on earth was drawing to a close, and a visitor wrote of being with him just hours before his death.   

I saw Mr. Newton near the closing scene.  He was hardly able to talk and all I find I had noted down upon my leaving him was this “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things:  That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”

John Newton left this life at 82 years old, but not before he penned what was to be chiseled on his tombstone: 

John Newton, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the faith he had long labored to destroy!

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The final verse we most often sing of Amazing Grace, the one with the key change and the swelling choir:  “When we’ve been there 10,000 years” was not actually written by John Newton.  That verse was published in 1852 by Harriet Beecher Stowe in the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin where she commented that slaves in America had been singing it for more than 50 years.

When we've been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we've first begun.

Praise God for the ministry of John Newton.  The sermon he preached 250 years ago is largely forgotten, but the Gospel is well woven through each verse of this amazing song.  As we look forward to Christmas, a time of such Amazing Grace, may we say with John Newton:

I am a sinner, believing in the name of Jesus. I am silly sheep, but I have a gracious, watchful Shepherd. I am a dull scholar, but I have a Master who can make the dullest learn. He still bears with me, He still employs me, He still enables me, He still owns me. Oh for a coal of heavenly fire to warm my heart, that I might praise him as I ought! [139]

Note: With the exception of the lyrics of Amazing Grace, the other quotes are either from Newton’s sermon or from his letters.

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