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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Amazing Grace

"Amazing Grace" was written by Anglican clergyman and former slave-ship captain John Newton (1725-1807). It was based on an old Scottish air and was included in a collection of Hymns, Olney Hymns, by Newton and William Cowper. The work was then titled "1 Chronicles 17:16–17, Faith's Review and Expectation."

Newton and Cowper both lived in the village of Olney and were great friends. Cowper helped Newton with his religious services and they also run a weekly prayer meeting, for which they were in the habit of writing a new hymn to sing, some of which were included in Olney Hymns. The lyrics to "Amazing Grace" were written in late 1772 and probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on January 1, 1773.

The words date back to when Newton was press ganged. He tried to escape, was whipped and kept in irons. Held prisoner in Madeira, he was so wretched that even the slaves kept scraps of food back to keep him alive. Finally he escaped, and nearly drowned at sea but, while lashed to the helm, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us.”

Later in his cabin he thought about what he had said and he came to the conclusion that God had spoken to him through the storm and that His amazing grace had begun to work for him. He dated his conversion to Christianity to March 21, 1747, a day he ever after observed, and in this hymn Newton reflected on how the grace of God was able to save a even ‘wretch’ like him.

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