Did you know that John Newton‘s best-known, beloved hymn Amazing Grace! was written as an illustration for his sermon preached on 1 January 1773? Newton wrote it to convey to his congregation at Olney, Buckinghamshire some of the marvellous, enduring truths in his text for that day, which was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17 — the start of one of my favourite prayers in the Bible:
Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And this was a small thing in your eyes, O God. You have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have shown me future generations, O Lord God! (ESV)
Speaking of God’s providence and promises to David and of David’s grateful, humble praise to God, Newton said, “I would accommodate them to our own use as a proper subject for our meditations on the entrance of a new year. They lead us to a consideration of past mercies and future hopes and intimate the frame of mind which becomes us when we contemplate what the Lord has done for us.”
As 2013 commences, may we be truly mindful and grateful for His past mercies and unwaveringly hopeful because of His future promises, which He is faithfully resolved to fulfil. May we live this year, and always, looking back to Christ’s historical resurrection, and looking forward to our own promised eschatological resurrection: between these two earth-shattering events we live in hope which is in Christ, hope which will not disappoint.
The following two-minute video from The John Newton Project briefly documents the provenance of Amazing Grace! and highlights its source in Newton’s text of the day and in his own life — the hymn is profoundly scriptural and deeply autobiographical.
i wrote previously about one of Newton’s lesser-known hymns, Looking at the Cross, which beautifully expresses, both objectively and subjectively, the amazing grace Newton found in Christ. (It is the basis for another gem by Sovereign Grace Music, The Look.)
To learn a bit more about John Newton, i also commend to you John Piper’s biographical talk titled John Newton: The tough roots of his habitual tenderness. Piper looks especially at what we can (and need to) learn from Newton about “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come;
’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
and grace will lead me home.
— John Newton (1725-1807)