Then Sings My Soul: Amazing Grace

Almost everybody loves music. People prefer different artists and styles, but it would be tough to find someone who doesn’t care for any of it. The combination of melody and lyrics captures a person’s innermost thoughts and emotions that are difficult to express in any other form. People identify with their favorite songs and develop a connection to others who share their feelings. We often recognize our favorite song just from the first few notes. And the last song we heard can often get stuck in our heads all day. Music has a way of touching the heart as nothing else can.

And this is especially true of spiritual music. Unfortunately, there’s no quicker way to turn holy ground into a battle ground than to bring up the topic of music in the church. Some people want only new contemporary music, others want fine-old hymns. Personally, I love the new praise and worship music. I sing it enthusiastically at church and I listen to contemporary Christian music on the radio. But as we sing a new song to the Lord, I think it’s important that we not forget the old ones.

These sturdy old hymns of the faith have stood the test of time. Hymns, especially those chock full of theology, can infuse our souls with the timeless truth of Scripture. They help us praise God, enable us to pray in words far more beautiful than most of us could write, and they connect us with generations gone by. Each week millions of Christians in local churches all around the world, using hymns composed by believers from every era and branch of Christendom, join voices in united bursts of praise, speaking to one another in psalms hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.

In this day of praise choruses and video projectors, hymns have become an endangered species. And so, I’d like to take the next several weeks to reacquaint you with some of the greatest hymns of the church—and not just the music, but the message behind the music. The hard part for me was simply choosing which hymns to do, because there are so many and we all have our favorites, don’t we?

For instance, you know a shoe repairman’s favorite hymn, don’t you? It Is Well With My Soul. A life-guard’s favorite hymn? Rescue the Perishing. An IRS agent’s favorite hymn? I Surrender All. The paramedic’s favorite hymn? Revive Us Again. A baker’s favorite hymn? When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder. Superman’s favorite hymn? I’ll Fly Away.

But without a doubt the most cherished hymn of all time has to be Amazing Grace. I actually preached a four-week series about this song three years ago, so I considered skipping it. But I just couldn’t imagine preaching a series about music and hymns without preaching Amazing Grace.

Penned by pastor named John Newton, Amazing Grace has been around for over two hundred years. And today, shoppers at can choose from nearly 4,000 separate renditions—including those by Elvis, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. It comes in every style, crosses every border and it can be sung to almost any tune.

I believe that one of the reasons that this hymn has been so singularly loved and enduring is that every single verse conveys some powerful element of God’s truly amazing grace. Today, I’d like to unpack this classic hymn and see if we can discover just how amazing God’s grace really is.

The first verse speaks to us about the changing power of grace!




As many of you already know, before John Newton became a pastor and penned the words to this beloved hymn, he was slaved trader.  In the shadow of the Dark Continent, John Newton was hired aboard a slave ship, where African men, women and children were treated like cargo and shipped across the Atlantic as slaves. Newton once wrote of himself, “My daily life was a course of the most terrible blasphemy and profaneness. I don’t believe that I have ever since met so daring a blasphemer as myself. Not content with common profanities and cursing, I daily invented new ones…” His soul was in deep exile, farther away than any ship could have carried it. Newton was—by his own admission and any definition—a wretch.

Then, in March of 1748, somewhere in the middle of the North Atlantic, grace arrived. A violent storm had engulfed the small slave ship. All hands were awake. Voices were shouting with urgency. Water was beginning to flood the hold. Newton wondered if this was how it was all going to end—entombed on the ocean floor. Then something remarkable happened—John Newton began praying and his life would never be the same. The hand of God rescued a shipwrecked soul and transformed his life.

John summarized it this way: “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.” These words describe the changing power of God’s grace and they echo the words of Scripture: “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT). This wasn’t an instantaneous change, though. John Newton continued in his career as a slave trader for several years, but he was reading his Bible and learning to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. Slowly, his eyes were opened. His worldview began to change. He began to change.

That’s how it is for most of us. A sculptor once fashioned a magnificent lion out of solid stone. When asked how he had accomplished such a wonderful masterpiece, he replied, “It was easy. All I did was chip away everything that didn’t look like a lion.” That’s what God’s grace does with us—it chips away everything that doesn’t look like Christ. So the first verse tells us of the changing power of grace.




The third verse reminds us of the comforting provision of grace. The third verse says, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come. ‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” What do you usually think about when you sing those words? Do you reflect upon the dangers, toils and snares through which you have personally come?

Newton didn’t write those words because he thought they sounded pithy or because he wanted to give the organist an opportunity to play a minor chord. He wrote them because he lived them. It is remarkable how many close encounters with death John Newton had. For instance, On a hunting expedition, Newton stumbled while hiking up a bank and accidentally fired his shotgun, missing his head by inches. He shot the brim of his hat off.  Also, during the storm that changed everything for him, he was sent below deck and the man who took his place at the pumps was washed overboard. One time, he tried to retrieve his hat which had blown overboard, but he was so drunk at the time that he nearly drowned. Surprisingly, he couldn’t swim even when he was sober.

Brushes with death have a way of making us consider the big questions about life and eternity. Newton’s own close calls edged him closer and closer to Jesus. He regarded his survival as proof of the comforting provision of grace, sustaining him over and over.

Though they may not be as dramatic as John Newton’s, we all have our share of dangers, toils, and snares. Heaven knows Chippie has.

Max Lucado once shared the story of a parakeet named Chippie. Chippie’s owner decided to clean his cage…with a vacuum cleaner. She was almost finished when the phone rang, so she turned around to answer it. Before she knew it, Chippie was gone. In a panic she ripped open the vacuum bag. There was Chippie, covered in dirt and gasping for air. She carried him to the bathroom and rinsed him off under the faucet. Then, realizing that Chippie was cold and wet, she reached for the hair dryer! Chippie never knew what hit him. A few days later when asked how he was recovering. “Well,” she replied, “Chippie doesn’t sing much anymore. He just sits and stares.”

It’s not hard to see why. Sucked in, washed up, and blown over. That’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest heart. Maybe that’s the way you feel. Make a mental list of your most memorable dangers, toils and snares, and then listen to what Paul writes about himself and his experience:


But he said to me, “My grace is enough for you. When you are weak, my power is made perfect in you.” So I am very happy to brag about my weaknesses. Then Christ’s power can live in me. For this reason I am happy when I have weaknesses, insults, hard times, sufferings, and all kinds of troubles for Christ. Because when I am weak, then I am truly strong. (2 Corinthians 2:9-10 <st1:translation_smarttag>NCV).


Paul hated the “thorn in the flesh” that plagued him. But in time, he came to see it as a messenger of grace. “My grace is sufficient for you,” God said. All the hard times, all the suffering, all the dangers, toils and snares became a means by which Paul experienced the comforting provision of grace. The same can be true for you. That’s what the third verse reminds us of.




The fourth verse turns our attention toward the confident promise of grace. But it may surprise you that what we normally sing as the fourth verse to Amazing Grace wasn’t actually written by John Newton. The closing stanza you and I know and love first appeared in 1909. Edwin Excell, who was an accomplished composer, produced a version of Amazing Grace that added these lines: “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 first begun.”

Our minds can hardly grasp the concept behind these words, yet this is the confident promise of grace. Many people today hope for a long and happy life, but Jesus offers so much more. He offers forever. He offers eternity. Ten thousand years is only the beginning. Jesus boldly proclaimed, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47 NKJV). The Bible repeats it many times and many ways. For instance, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NKJV).

Immortality—the promise of eternal life—is the heartbeat of hope. It’s what we, as Christians, long for and look forward to. As we grow to feel more and more the limitations of a 24 hour day and the limitations of a seven-day week, and the limitations of a month and the fact that there are only 12 months in a year through which to distribute the demands being made upon our time, we should marvel at the gift God has promised us. Because of his promise of eternal life we have everything to look forward to—we are heading for “happily ever after”! The apostle Paul put it this way:


“These troubles and sufferings of ours are, after all, quite small and won’t last very long. Yet this short time of distress will result in God’s richest blessing upon us forever and ever! So we do not look at what we can see right now, the troubles all around us, but we look forward to the joys in heaven which we have not yet seen. The troubles will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” (1 Corinthians 4:17 <st1:translation_smarttag>TLB).


Paul knew that not much in this life lasts forever. He knew that the hardship he endured was a slight momentary affliction in comparison to how long he would enjoy God’s presence. Millions, billions, and trillions of years do not even compare to the length of infinite time. I love how Robert Lewis Stevenson put it in brief poem:


The stars shall last for a million years,
a million years and a day,
But God and I will live and love,
when the stars have passed away.




It’s no wonder this hymn has been more enduring and inspiring than any other. When it’s announced at church, people tend to stand a little taller and lift their voices a bit higher to sing it. Literally hundreds of hymnals have been published and gone out-of-print, yet Amazing Grace can be found in every single one because at the heart of Newton’s hymn is the heart of the gospel—God’s amazing grace. It tells us of the changing power of grace, the comforting provision of grace, and the confident promise of grace. While this hymn may be the most beloved of all, there are many more wonderful hymns for us to delve into over the next few weeks.




In the meantime, we’re going to stand up and sing this wonderful song of praise. As we do, I want to encourage you to look within your heart. Could you use an extra dose of God’s grace today? One of the most amazing things about God’s grace is that it’s always available. If you realize that you are wretch that needs to be saved or lost and need to be found, or blind and you want to see clearly—then God’s grace is available to you. No mater who you are, where you’re from or what you’ve done, God’s grace is still amazing!

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