For it is by grace you have been saved...

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

More Amazing Grace

No, not grace that’s more amazing than that which we know in Christ.  There is no greater grace.  But there are more and more and more songs to sing about it.

How do we decide which hymns are the great ones?  Obviously, popular use has a lot to do with it.  If a song reaches people, touches them in some way, inspires them, then they love to sing it over and over.  But in a sense, this is such a subjective thing. 

Times change, tastes change, mindsets change.  What speaks to one generation may not speak to another, etc.  Of course, there are those songs that span the generations.  Take Amazing Grace for example.  Most would agree that this is one of the greatest hymns ever.  I would be among them.

Yet, it’s interesting to see how others have viewed things.  As you may know, John Newton wrote a lot more songs than just that one.  Most people know Newton as the author of Amazing Grace, or as he called it, Faith’s Review and Expectation.

And many know his story: slave ship captain, gloriously saved, called to preach, writer of hymns.  The epitaph he wrote for himself tells that story.  Etched in stone are Newton’s own words:  John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers 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.”

Quite a story.  Maybe a bit less know is the fact that in addition to books full of sermons we have from the old preacher, we also have hundreds of other hymns that came from his pen.

In the late 1700s, Newton got together with poet WillamCowper to put together a collection of hymns known as the Olney Hymns.  Actually, the two of them were part of a weekly bible study and prayer group, and they set out to write a new song for each meeting.  Pretty amazing, isn’t it?

And so why is it that out of all those songs, most people would only know Amazing Grace?  A matter of taste, I guess.  It’s interesting to not that when Charles Spurgeon was compiling a hymn book for his church in 1866, he included several of Newton’s songs.  Amazing Grace was not one of them.  As I said, a matter of taste I guess.

One song that Spurgeon did include, in my mind, should be another Amazing Grace.  The song carries with it the same passion for grace, the same recognition of the depth of our sin, the same rapture in the glorious grace in Christ that rescues us from that sin.  Interestingly enough, it’s even written in the same meter, so we can even sing it to the same tune (which as you know wasn’t original with Amazing Grace anyway).  So here is some more amazing grace from the pen of John Newton.  Enjoy.

Approach, my soul, the mercy-seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burden’d souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely press’d,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place!
That, shelter’d near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name.

“Poor tempest-tossèd soul, be still;
My promised grace receive:”
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.

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