Without question, the best-known Christian song of all time is the hymn penned by John Newton: Amazing Grace.
Newton's backstory gives context to the great hymn. Before his conversion to Christ, he was a slave-trader. Newton was directly responsible for the selling of men, women, and children, not only displacing families against their will, but fracturing those families permanently. Can you imagine the pain inflicted?
It is against this backdrop and the utter guilt it produced in Newton, that he was able, one day, to write such a song. Now, consider (perhaps for the first time) how those words landed upon the heart of a man like Newton:
"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."
The miracle of the Gospel – the effect of the death and resurrection of Jesus – is that you and I (just like John Newton) can experience the undeserved rescue from our vile conduct, our sinister nature, our selfish acts ... because Someone else died in our place, for our treachery. Jesus got what we deserved. Then, we got what only He deserved. That is the unthinkable calculus of the Christian gospel.
However, let's be honest for a moment. Doesn't it seem that we (often?) lose sight of just how amazing God's grace is (grace = unexplainable and undeserved favor)? Yes, if you're human and a Christian, you are prone to forget.
A number of years ago, it dawned on me that perhaps we should be honest about it and rewrite the words of Newton's hymn, to align with how we (forgetfully) think about ourselves and about God. So, I did just that. Rewritten, the song begins like this:
“Vanilla Grace, how ok the sound
That assisted a good guy like me;
I once was delayed,
but I caught up,
Nearsighted, but had Lasik surgery.”
We think of God's grace as vanilla – dull, boring, bland – because deep down we think we're pretty good. "I mean, surely I'm a lot better than _________" (fill in the blank). We think of ourselves as good. If we're simply delayed but not lost, we can catch up. We're not really blind, we just need an optometrist's Rx and a little Lasik.
We're really, really wrong.
We're far more like Newton than Jesus. The sooner we admit it, the more likely we will once again be able to sing the old hymn with ever-fresh meaning:
Amazing (not Vanilla) Grace!
How Sweet (not Boring) the Sound,
That Saved (not Assisted)
A Wretch (not a Good Guy) like Me!
I once was Lost (not Delayed),
But now am Found (not Caught back up),
Was Blind (not Nearsighted)
But now I See (Lasik won't help).
Near the end of his life, John Newton famously uttered these profound words:
“Although my memory's fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.”
The greater our awareness of sin, the more amazing is God's grace to us in Jesus Christ.
Below are all the verses of Amazing Grace, by John Newton.
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!
Thro’ 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,
Will be forever mine.
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’d first begun.