I Sing the Mighty Pow’r of God

By: Isaac Watts 1709

Commonly sung to: “Ellacombe” and sometimes “Zerah”

Here are two YouTube recordings:

(Ellacombe) http://youtu.be/NI1aL8uAZCk

(Zerah) http://youtu.be/T59AmMKWIIo

 

  1. I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
    That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.
    I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day;
    The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.
  2. I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
    Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
    Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
    If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.
  3. There’s not a plant or flow’r below, but makes Thy glories known,
    And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
    While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
    And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God, art present there.

Though Isaac Watts had no children of his own, he was very concerned with the education of children. He wrote an entire book of children’s songs called: “Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language, for the Use of Children (1715)” for use in worship and education. “I Sing the Mighty Pow’r of God” is the only one left in common use.

Its original title was: “Praise for Creation and Providence”. Though traditionally titles are taken from the opening phrase of the text, the original title covers the entirety of the text very appropriately. The first two stanzas speak to the various manifestations of God’s power and goodness. It is His power which made the mountains and seas and set the sun to rule the day and the moon the night. It is His goodness which filled the earth with food and made all of the creatures. In every aspect of the creation the providence and power of God can be seen; from the flowers to the storms, everything is in His order and care.

Much has changed in the 300 years since this text was penned. In Isaac’s time, life could be easily described and short and brutish. Disease, war, famine, and death were a daily presence. The notion that we should expect anything less if God was indeed “good” was inconceivable. Life was a continuous dance with death. Yet, out of this existence, which would be seen as utter barbarous to a 21st Century American gave rise to this exquisite recognition of the undeniable evidence of God’s hand in all of life. And we, as simply borrowers of life for a short time, must continue to see God’s presence in his creation and our experience of it.




For the Beauty of the Earth

Folliott S. Pierpoint (1835-1917)

Commonly sung to: Dix

by: Conrad Kocher, 1838

Here is a YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/JdLh3u-Qt50

1 For the beauty of the earth,
For the beauty of the skies,
For the Love which from our birth
Over and around us lies:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

2 For the beauty of each hour
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon and stars of light:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

3 For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and brain’s delight,
For the mystic harmony
Sinking sense to sound and sight:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

4 For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth, and friends above;
For all gentle thoughts and mild:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

5 For each perfect Gift of Thine
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and Divine,
Flowers of earth, and buds of Heaven:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise

6 This our Sacrifice of Praise.
For Thy Bride that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
This Pure Sacrifice of Love:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

7 For Thy Martyrs’ crown of light,
For Thy Prophets’ eagle eye,
For Thy bold Confessors’ might,
For the lips of Infancy:
Christ, our God, to Thee we raise
This our Sacrifice of Praise.

8 For Thy Virgins’ robes of snow,
For Thy Maiden Mother mild,
For Thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, Victim undefiled,
Offer we at Thine own Shrine
Thyself, sweet Sacrament Divine.

 

 

 

 Elliot Pierpoint was an ardent Tractarian, also known as the High Church movement within the Anglican Church of England. This movement has deep historical roots dating back to the Tudor’s in England. As one of the most distant countries geographically which was ostensibly Roman Catholic, there was a history of a difficult relationship between local political and religious leadership and the Papal powers in Rome. While the Reformation certainly took hold in England, especially the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions, the break from Rome was much more nuanced than found throughout the rest of Europe. There remained, through much of the Church of England, a strong “High Church” practice and ethos which eventually manifested itself in the Tractarian movement. This movement started as an attempt to establish the Anglican Church as an apostolic church on par with the Orthodox and Roman branches. Ultimately, manly of its practitioners joined and assumed leadership roles in the Roman Church.

For the Beauty of the Earth is used by many different denominations, each one selecting various verses to fit within their traditions. This hymn was originally meant as a Eucharistic hymn, many hymn books change the refrain from “sacrificial praise” to “grateful praise” which would make the text appropriate for use in other parts of the worship service.

Pierpoint used nature as a starting point of a lot of his poetic writing. The first three stanzas reflect our sensuous (relating to our senses) appreciation of the creation; from the earth and sky, day and night, and mystic harmony of all creation. The rest of the stanzas address mankind’s experience of the relational. Starting with our immediate relationships of brother, sister, parent, child to those of friends alive and dead, all of these are included within the sacrifice which is our life. The next two stanzas deal with the divine sacrifice of love, which is seen in creation and the sacrifice of grace. The final two stanzas move from the human response of this divine sacrifice to a summary of the Gospel story of Virgin birth to the Divine Sacrament (crucifixion and resurrection).




Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne

by: Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliot 1864  (July 22, 1836  – August 3, 1897)

Traditionally sung to: Margaret by Timothy Matthews 1876

YouTube recording:   http://youtu.be/2Pfhdlm9qJs

 

1) Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity:

Refrain:

Oh, come to my heart, Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee;

2)  Heaven’s arches rang when the angels sang,
Proclaiming Thy royal degree;
But of lowly birth cam’st Thou, Lord, on earth,
And in great humility:

Refrain:

3)  The foxes found rest, and the birds had their nest
In the shade of the forest tree;
But Thy couch was the sod, O Thou Son of God,
In the deserts of Galilee:

Refrain:

4)  Thou camest, O Lord, with the living Word
That should set Thy people free;
But with mocking scorn, and with crown of thorn,
They bore Thee to Calvary:

Refrain:

5)  When heaven’s arches shall ring, and her choirsshall sing
At Thy coming to victory,
Let Thy voice call me up, saying, “Yet there is room,
There is room at My side for thee!”

Closing Refrain

And my heart shall rejoice, Lord Jesus!
When Thou comest and callest for me;
Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliot (1836-1897) was associated with the Evangelical Party of the Anglican Church (also known as the “Low Church Party”), she spent her life working with rescue missions and children in their Sunday Schools. For six years she edited a magazine called the Church Missionary Juvenile Instructor. She published at least two books of hymns, and “Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne” is the best known. She also wrote many books for children and early adolescents, most based upon some biblical moral theme.

She was a niece of Charlotte Elliott, author of the hymn: “Just as I Am.” Two of Emily’s uncles were Evangelical Party ministers, including Rev. Henry Venn Elliott, author of the hymn “Sun Of My Soul,” based on a poem by Rev. John Keble.

In Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, Elliott weaves several Biblical images and scriptural references together to form a strong theological exegesis of Jesus Christ’s deity and role in our salvation. In Phillipians 2:5-8(KJV) 5Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. This claim starts with Christ being in the presence and having equality with God. Yet he chose to empty himself of all the glory which was rightful his and become the humblest servant, even to His death on the cross. This is the opposite of the typical human understanding of humility as the not striving for something greater and accepting our low or humble position. In Christ we see the true example of humility as in leaving all rightfully glory and gladly accepting the lowest position available and serving there.

This descent into humility was proclaimed throughout heaven and earth by the angels as we read throughout the Nativity stories found in the Gospels.

The greatest irony is the Creator of earth had no home in His creation! If the master of the home has no place to rest his head, then no less should be expected of his disciples.

19And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.20And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

In the fourth stanza Elliot continues this theme drawing from the beginning of John’s Gospel. The Word, the very breath of God, became flesh to live amongst us and yet, we, the world rejected Him who made all of us.

John 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And 10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.

Yet in the end the heavens and all the angels will declare the victory that is Christ’s.

9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.




Crown Him with Many Crowns

By: Matthew Bridges (1800 – 1894) and Godfrey Thring

For a YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/D7WdUonorUA

 

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;
Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.
His glories now we sing, who died, and rose on high,
Who died eternal life to bring, and lives that death may die.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.
His reign shall know no end, and round His piercèd feet
Fair flowers of paradise extend their fragrance ever sweet.

Crown Him the Lord of love, behold His hands and side,
Those wounds, yet visible above, in beauty glorified.
No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above,
Crown Him the King to Whom is given the wondrous name of Love.
Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,
Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.
All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

Note – Matthew Bridges wrote verses 1, 4-6, & 9 in 1852. Godfrey Thring wrote verses 2-3 and 7-8 in 1874.

Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) was born and raised in the Anglican tradition and converted to Catholicism in his late forties. He had been an ardent anti-catholic in his youth, even writing a major polemic against Catholic practices. There is no extant writing of Bridges which explains the reasons for his conversion. He wrote between four and six verses of this hymn a few years after his conversion during when he was 51 years old.  While there are some references which are uniquely Roman, such as the “Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;” from the second stanza, most of the text is universally accepted. However, years later, in an attempt to purge all Roman references, Godfrey Thring, (1823-1903) also 51 at the time, wrote what is believed an additional 6 verses. Since then hymnals will usually utilize a combination of Bridges and Thring stanzas.

“Crown Him with many crowns” is based upon Revelations 19:12,

12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had[a] a name written that no one knew except Himself.

Also Rev  5:11-14

11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands;

12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.

13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever.

14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever.

And also possibly Revelations 19:12

12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had[a] a name written that no one knew except Himself.

 

The various stanzas touch upon the key doctrines and images of the Christian faith. Starting with the identification of The Lamb of God who died and is the matchless King for all of eternity. The second stanza declares the virgin birth. This is followed by a description of the Sonship of Christ both of God and Man. The fourth stanza explains the resurrection and Christ’s victory over the grave. The final 5 stanzas all deal with the rule of Christ and the results of salvation; his rule of peace throughout the world, his heavenly glorification, and his ransom and redemption of sinners.




Praise Ye the Lord, The Almighty  by Joachim Neander 1650-1680

Translated by Cathrine Winkworth 1827-1878

Tune: Lobe den herren (composer unknown)

For a YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/AqdGw7qTSlU

1 Praise ye the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear; Now to his temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.

2 Praise ye the Lord, who o’er all things so wondrously reignth;
Sheltering thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustainth!
Hast thou not seen How they desires e’er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

3 Praise ye the Lord, who will with marvelous wisdom hath made thee,
Decked thee with health, and with loving hand guided and stayed thee;
How oft in grief hath not He brought thee relief,
Spreading His wings for to shade thee!

4 Praise ye the Lord! O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before him.
Let the Amen Sound from his people again;
Gladly for aye we adore him.

This hymn is a free paraphrasing of Psalm 103: 1-6

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, o my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

A stronger call to praise the Lord would be hard to find in all of Christendom! The author, Joachim Neander lived but a short 30 years, dying from tuberculous, but within that period he became the most important hymn writer for the German Reformed Church.  He wrote many hymns which are used in Lutheran and Reformed churches today. Neander had a difficult time during his short life and often sought refuge from his difficulties in the country side. He frequently wandered in the area around the Dussel River. This area became known as the Neanderthal (thal means “valley” in German) and in this area the proto humanoid skeletons of the Neanderthal were found.

In many of Neander’s poems we find a strong identification with creation as a starting point. In the very first phrase we are called to praise the King of the creation. The mention of “health” in the second phrase is an example of some of the liberties the translator took to make the text more “relevant” to what was currently of interest to the culture and is not mentioned in the original text.

The second stanza reiterates the declaration of the Lord’s sovereignty over all things. We are sheltered under his wing and sustains us in all of our needs and desires.

Again, in the third stanza it is the wisdom of the Lord which made us, given us health, and with his loving hand guided and protected us. Out of our grief he brings us relief and with his wing he shades us.

In the final stanza, everything within myself, my breath and life must declare his praises. And all of his people must also declare their adoration for Him, the creator and sustainer of us all!




Christ, Whose Glory Fills the Skies

By Charles Wesley 1740

Here is a link to a recording of this hymn: http://youtu.be/bjgPTZn4nSY

1 Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
Triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

2 Dark and cheerless is the morn
Unaccompanied by thee;
Joyless is the day’s return,
Till thy mercy’s beams I see;
Till they inward light impart,
Cheer my eyes and warm my heart.

3 Visit then this soul of mine;
Pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
Fill me, Radiancy divine,
Scatter all my unbelief;
More and more thyself display,
Shining to the perfect day.

Charles Wesley wrote nearly 9000 poems in his life time, with over 6000 of them suitable for use as a hymn. This particular hymn is a great example of his writing, illustrating the theological depth and understanding present in his other works. Within these three short stanzas, there are over 20 direct scripture references.

From the first line, Wesley begins to paint an image of the salvific work of Christ. While it would not be unusual to say that: God’s glory fills the sky, it is a new and bold statement to say that Christ’s glory fills the sky. This Christ, this Jesus, is the true and only light. Carrying on with the theme of light, he makes another unexpected point; instead of using the usual “Son of Righteousness” he uses “Sun of Righteousness”. This comes from Malachi 4:2:  (2But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.) “Day-spring” and “Day-star” also come from scriptural references ranging from Revelations 22:16, Luke 1:78 and Isiah 14:12.

The second stanza describes the life without Christ’s light. Without the Morning Light, the day is joyless. Not until the inward light of Christ is present is our heart warmed. Without the presences of the Christ, life is dark and meaningless.

The gloom of sin and grief is only cast away with the presence of the light of Christ. This light scatters our unbelief and fills us with joy for that perfect day. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

May the Light of Christ which drives out the darkness of sin and despair fill you with the peace which is beyond understanding.

 




Exodus 3:1 – 6

3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

As we come together to this holy place, to this Holy Communion we need to be ever mindful of the gravity of what we are about to do. The Bible is full of very detail instruction on how God wanted to be worshiped. These instructions included everything from what to wear to the type and number of furnishings to be present within the temple. Jesus, even took to violence on one or two occasions to clear the temple of activities which were not part of God’s instructions for worship.

While we are two thousand years removed from Jewish temple worship and Christian worship has certainly gone through many forms and transformations during these two millennium in its form and content, the call for a humble and contrite heart has not.

From Micah 6:5-8

With what shall I come before the Lord     and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,     with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,     with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,     the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.     And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy     and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

 

The Prelude is an opportunity to prepare one’s heart for our worship together. It provides a few moments to contemplate the Scripture readings and liturgy for the day. You are invited to sit in quiet contemplation and prayer to prepare your hearts for joyful worship. Please respect your neighbor during this time. The prelude usually starts about 10 minutes before the service and will now be proceeded with a scripture reading and commentary relevant to either the music being played or today’s lectionary.

 


It is Well with My Soul

Horatio Spafford

Music by Philip Bliss

Tune: Ville du Havre

YouTube recording:  http://youtu.be/tPR-vSCRNlE

1)When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well), with my soul (with my soul),

It is well, it is well with my soul.

2) Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

Let this blest assurance control,

That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,

And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

(Refrain)

3) My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(Refrain)

4) For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:

If Jordan above me shall roll,

No pain shall be mine,

for in death as in life Thou wilt whisper

Thy peace to my soul.

(Refrain)

5) And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain)

After the great fire of 1871, in my beloved home of Chicago, which destroyed nearly everything I owned, I spent my days helping those whose loses were even greater. I worked with my dear friend D.L. Moody to do whatever we could to help our neighbors. Out of this, I began to feel His calling to know Him ever more and to pursue a different path for my life.

A couple of years after the Great Fire, my beloved wife, Anna and our four young daughters set sail to Europe for an extended vacation and to visit Mr. Moody as he preached throughout England. At the last minute I was detained on business and would have to follow them later. While in New York, booking them on their passage, I felt a need to change their cabins from mid-ship to the bow. I am not sure why I did this, I just felt it had to be done.

Oh what tragedy! My heart is broken into pieces! Why, oh God, did you take my children from me?

Just days after leaving my arms, my precious children passed into His arms as the Ville du Havre sank to the ocean’s bottom, rammed mid-ships by another vessel. Only my beloved Anna survived.

After receiving Anna’s telegram which read: “Saved alone. What shall I do?” I set out immediately to bring my beloved and heartbroken Anna home. One day, during the crossing, the captain calls me to the bridge. He shows me on his chart where we are and tells me it is here that Annie, Margret Lee, Elizabeth, and my infant Tanetta went home to be with Jesus.

Upon returning to my cabin I pour out my anguish and my continued dependence upon my Savior. Despite my utterly broken heart, I know that peace, which flows through my life, comes from the blood of Christ which was shed for me. No matter the hardships or trials which Satan may throw my way, I can rest in the comfort of my Savior.

Andrew Remillard from the perspective of Horatio Spafford

(A few years later Horatio, Anna, and their two young daughter born after the tragedy, Bertha, and Grace move to Jerusalem. They established the American Colony and dedicated the remainder of their lives to the care of the poor and needy without regard to faith or status. Horatio died of malaria in 1888 and was buried at the Mount Zion Cemetery in Jerusalem. Anna continued their labors in Jerusalem until her death in 1923. Their daughter Bertha also lived her entire life in Jerusalem.)



Amazing Grace

by John Newton (1725–1807)

Tune: New Britain

YouTube recording: http://youtu.be/Tq1qMwpvzZM

1 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.

2 ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

3 Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

4 The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

5 Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

6 The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.

7 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.

 

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ we celebrate the most powerful message of all time in the cross as it represents one thing above all else: God’s totally underserved gift of grace. From the exile from Eden, where God provided the skins Adam and Eve were to wear; through the exile in Egypt and the arrival in the Promised Land, through the Law and Temple Sacrifices, all the way to the final sacrifice upon the cross, blood was required for our redemption. The consequences of sin are real, yet, in Grace a means for our redemption has been provided. On the Day of Resurrection God says once again: “I got this.” It is not of our doing, lest anyone should boast, but totally undeserving of redemption, we are redeemed by the grace of the Almighty. And how amazing that grace is to a wretch like me!

Through great sin we learn of greater salvation. John Newton (1725–1807) knew the power of grace first hand. He spent his youth from his pre-teen years until about 30 years old on the sea, primarily in the slave trade. He made many trips between Africa and the Americas picking up and selling Africans into slavery, taking African wives (even while married back home), and living a fully self absorbed life. He was a rebellious man toward both human authority and God’s authority. At one time his rebelliousness caused his own enslavement on the island of Sierra Leone. Sailors are known throughout history for their profane language, Newton was known as the most profane of all. He often would create new profanities, never before heard, and hurl them at the captain of his ship, much to the amusement of the crew and non-amusement of his captain. One time he was nearly starved and beaten to death for his indiscretions. He was a man who lived his life in open defiance of all authority and especially God’s authority. However, his recklessness often placed him near death, as these experiences piled up he began to wonder whether he could possibly be worthy of God’s mercy.

After one particularly harrowing sea voyage Newton had a conversion experience of sorts and decided to dedicate his life to God. However, the conversion process for him was very slow and only in stages was his life reclaimed for God.

At the age of 25 he married his childhood sweetheart Mary “Polly” Catlett. By 30, he suffered some sort of collapse and never returned to the sea. He gained work at a customs house and began to give himself the education he never received as a youth; teaching himself Latin, Greek, and Theology. He and Polly were very active in the local church and it was eventually suggested to him to apply for a clerical education. He was initially rejected because of his lack of education and his association with evangelicals and Methodists. These were small sects who operated independent of the official Church of England. He was eventually accepted and after his education took a position in Olney, a small town of about 2500 most illiterate farmers.

Amazing Grace was probably written about 1772, about 8 years into his new role as priest in the Anglican Church. It was not for another 8 years, in 1780 that he began to privately express regrets about his participation in the slave trade and not until 1785 that he began to actively speak against slavery which he did ardently for the rest of his life. This change in attitude is pretty reflective of the general thinking within in English Society as well. It was not until the late 18th century before the abolitionists movement began to take hold. Yet, throughout his life you can see the fearful working out of his salvation. Each of his near death experiences and humiliations brought him closer to knowing the Grace which was already present. Even after coming to an understanding and acceptance of God’s underserved and unfailing grace, Newton still had to grow in his understanding of what this grace demanded of him.

Newton never hid from his past and would use his own experiences to explain the Gospel to his congregation. The directness of this hymn and the first person language have made it one of the greatest Christian songs of all time. The language is very simple with very few even multi-syllabic words. The tune, source is unknown, is a simple pentatonic song. It has only 5 different pitches which is also common to all nursery songs. Out of such simplicity, God’s message has been declared to millions for nearly 250 years.