By Keith Broyles
Well, it is another Song Style Saturday. I have several songs I could put on here, but I really felt led to talk about “Amazing Grace.” The hymn is arguably the best known and favorite hymn of Christians everywhere. I don’t know that is THE favorite hymn, but it is A favorite. It isn’t my favorite, really it isn’t even close. I personally believe it isn’t the greatest interpretation of Scripture and at best is weak theology, at least a line of the first verse fall into that.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me…” Wretch? Really? How do we reconcile being a “wretch” with this.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humanity in our image to resemble us so that they may take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and all the crawling things on earth.”
27 God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.” 29 Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food. 30 To all wildlife, to all the birds in the sky, and to everything crawling on the ground—to everything that breathes—I give all the green grasses for food.” And that’s what happened. 31 God saw everything he had made: it was supremely good. (Genesis 1:26-31, Common English Bible).
A “wretch” like me but we are talking about the same creature that when God made that creature and said, “IT WAS SUPREMELY GOOD.” How can something be both a wretch and be supremely good?” I understand we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. I get that. My thought is, I was created supremely good, but I don’t live in the divine, supreme goodness.
Some of the things I do are wretched. God doesn’t make bad but I do bad.
We have a self-esteem issue in our society. We have plenty of people who already see themselves as worthless. We need to show people of their preciousness and value in the eyes of God. I don’t expect that many of you will agree. That is OK. I also believe in the thoughts of retired Bishop Richard B. Wilkie, our disagreements bother us more than they bother God.
For those who don’t know the story, John Newton was a sea going man, a captain. The two worked on cruise together. On one of the cruises he was on later, he got impressed into the British Navy. It was the taking of someone off the street, as it were, and forcing them to work the ship. From the British ship, Newton was sold to an African tribe. He went from trading slaves to being one and one sold freely.
Newton managed to escape with the help of a crew member who knew is father. He got back to England, got a ship and went back into the slave trade. He went from trading slaves, being a slave and back to trading in slaves again.
Newton gave up the slave trade but not before he penned the lyrics to Amazing Grace. The tune, according to Phipps sounded like an African sorrow chant. Phipps would like to think that all of the hymn came into being by what Newton where little else happened besides the tears, talking, and singing.
Several years ago, while serving in Lovelady, TX, we had finished a Bible study and it was going to be a few weeks before we would begin the next study. I looked around until I found a very short-term study on “Amazing Grace.” Those in my study group were very excited about studying. We learned from this study that no one actually knows the number of verses that people have written over the years.
I have known for years that there were verses written by people other than John Newton, some appearing in hymnals and some have never shown up in a hymnal. They have written them, and the verses remained local, never published. Others may get published but in hymnals outside the mainline denominations. We are going to take a look at the verses written by Newton but also some of the verses written by others.
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.
‘Twas 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 hath 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.
Yes, 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 earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine.
But God who called me here below
Shall be forever mine!
In evil long I took delight
Unawed by shame or fear.
‘til a new object met my sight,
And stopped my wild career.
I saw One hanging on a tree,
In agonies and blood.
Who fixed His languid eyes on me
As near His cross I stood.
Sure, never ’til my latest breath,
Can I forget that look?
It seemed to charge me with His death
Though not a word He spoke.
My conscience owned and felt the guilt,
And plunged me in despair.
I saw my sins His blood had shed,
And helped to nail Him there.
Alas, I knew not what I did,
But all my tears were vain.
Where could my trembling soul be hid,
For I the Lord had slain!
Because he died upon the cross,
He paid the price for me.
He bought my soul for his glory,
And now he’s set me free.
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!
Jesus remember me, he said,
The sinner’s heart felt plea.
The promise made, the story spread
I know He died for me.
Verse 4 is considered by some in the music world to be the “Forgotten verse. I am not sure I agree. I went through several hymnals looking specifically for this verse. The only hymnal I didn’t find it in was the Cokesbury Worship Hymnal. It has verses 1, 2, 3, and 13. The United Methodist Hymnal has six verses, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 13. The only reason I can see that verse 4 would be “forgotten,” we tend in many settings, to sing a limited number of verses. In this case, we might sing 1, 2, 3, and 6. In my congregations we usually sing all six verses in the hymnal. My wife loves the “forgotten” verse 4 and if we don’t sing it, she will want to know why.
This next verse following was sent to me recently. The gospelweb reader who sent it said it was written by Daniel Mitchell, a 15-year-old boy in San Francisco, California. I have not tried to sing it, but it seems to fit well — here it is!
Verse “13” was apparently added by an American, many years ago to the old original version written by John Newton. It is one of my favorites to end this wonderful old song, whatever number of verses you may sing, but fits particularly well either just before the verse beginning, “The earth shall soon dissolve . . . .” and is often used as the ending verse of the song.
There are hymnals with as few as three verses if Amazing Grace. There are others with as many as six. I am most familiar with The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal and The United Methodist Hymnal as they are the hymnals used most in my denomination. The Cokesbury Worship Hymnal has four verses. The United Methodist Hymnal has six.
Verse 14 above, you will not see in a hymnal. It is my contribution to the hymn. While I said I am not a fan of the hymn, it is really just the first line of the first verse we could leave out.
People often have strange and inaccurate ideas about different songs. One webpage I looked at while searching for other information called “Amazing Grace” the quintessential American Song of Redemption.” That Americans love this hymn is beyond question. However, John Newton was a priest in the Anglican Church. He was British. Amazing Grace, in its original form is a British song.
Beyond the traditional tune that contemporary singer Whitney Phipps identifies as a “West African Sorrow Chant” that Newton may have heard coming from the belly of his slave transport ship. People have sung the lyrics of Newton and others to these tunes. These include:
“Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagles. When this tune is used, the chorus of the actual Eagles song with one minor change. The Eagles song just says at the end of the chorus, “…on the ground.” With Amazing Grace those last three words become four words, in one of two versions, “…on solid ground” or “…on Holy ground.”
“The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals. Nothing changes in this version except the tune. Some find this version offensive because “House of the Rising Sun” is a song about a house of prostitution in New Orleans. Others see it as the redemption of “House of the Rising Sun.” They find it appropriate because that is what “Amazing Grace” is all about.
“The Theme from Gilligan’s Island – This version has popularity in some circles, others see it as just silly.
“The Theme from the Mickey Mouse Club” – What was said above about Gilligan’s Island is echoed with “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
One of the most popular settings is for funerals, particularly those serving in uniform, has the song played on bagpipes. There is a truly haunting sound in the melody when played on that instrument.
This song has also made its way into film and television. It appears in both The Simpsons and The Mickey Mouse Club. The movie credits for “Amazing Grace include Alice’s Restaurant, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Silkwood. Amazing Grace, Newton’s Grace, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
There is so much information about Amazing Grace entire books have surrounded the one song. It is a rich song performed by many, many artists over the years. It is the most recorded song in history, and it has a special place in the history of hymns and other Christian songs.
In Search of the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved