691

Amazing Grace

Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

At the end of his life, Newton (b. London, England, 1725; d. London, 1807) said, “There are two things I'll never forget: that I was a great sinner, and that Jesus Christ is a greater Savior!” This hymn is Newton's spiritual autobiography, but the truth it affirms–that we are saved by grace alone–is one that all Christians may confess with joy and gratitude.
 
Bert Polman, Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

The Catechism says that those who know Christ’s forgiveness are “to thank God for such deliverance” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1, Question and Answer 2). As a result, “With our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for his benefits, so that he may be praised through us, and that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 32, Question and Answer 86).
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Amazing Grace

Assurance

By grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.
—Ephesians 2:8, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

A Prayer of Thanksgiving for God’s Amazing Grace
Great God, redeemer of the lost and blind, you cut through the armor of cruel men. You get them in the heart and save them. And so you saved John Newton, a slaver. You got him in the heart so profoundly that what poured from it was a hymn of amazing grace. He was lost, but you found him. He was blind, but you healed him. He had come through many dangers, toils, and snares, but you led him home through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
— Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.
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Amazing Grace

Tune Information

Name
NEW BRITAIN
Key
G Major or modal
Meter
8.6.8.6

Recordings

Musical Suggestion

This tune is sturdy enough to be sung in many different ways. In fact, like many folk tunes, the melody only has five pitches and can easily be sung as a round (when unaccompanied). Enjoy this powerful hymn which has been a source of comfort and strength to many who were or perhaps still are lost and are seeking God's amazing grace.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 19)
— Emily Brink
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Amazing Grace

Hymn Story/Background

One of the best loved and most often sung hymns in North America, this hymn expresses John Newton's personal experience of conversion from sin as an act of God's grace. At the end of his life, Newton said, “There are two things I'll never forget: that I was a great sinner, and that Jesus Christ is a greater Savior!” This hymn is Newton's spiritual autobiography, but the truth it affirms—that we are saved by grace alone—is one that all Christians may confess with joy and gratitude.
 
"Amazing Grace" was published in six stanzas with the heading "1 Chronicles 17:16-17, Faith's review and expectation."
 
Four of his original stanzas are included in Lift Up Your Hearts along with a fifth anonymous and apocalyptic stanza first found in A Collection of Sacred Ballads (1790). The fifth stanza was first published separately in the 1859 edition of The Sacred Harp and joined to Newton's text in Edwin O. Excell's Coronation Hymns (1910); it has been associated with Newton's text ever since. The Hymnal 1982 Companion calls it "an example of a 'wandering' stanza in [common meter] that appears at the end of a variety of hymns in nineteenth-century hymnals" (Vol. Three B, 671).
 
NEW BRITAIN (also known as AMAZING GRACE) was originally a folk tune, probably sung slowly with grace notes and melodic embellishments. Typical of the Appalachian tunes from the southern United States, NEW BRITAIN is pentatonic with melodic figures that outline triads. It was first published as a hymn tune in shape notes in Columbian Harmony (1829) to the text "Arise, my soul, my joyful pow'rs." It was first set to "Amazing Grace" in William Walker's Southern Harmony (1835).
 
The setting is from Edwin O. Excell's Make His Praise Glorious (1900). Since NEW BRITAIN is pentatonic, it can be sung unaccompanied in a two- or even four-part canon, with groups entering after one or two measures. Sing stanzas 1 and 5 in unison and stanzas 2 and 3 in harmony, and to illustrate the text, try stanza 4 in canon. Use light accompaniment, but consider singing stanza 3 unaccompanied.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

John Newton (b. London, England, 1725; d. London, 1807) was born into a Christian home, but his godly mother died when he was seven, and he joined his father at sea when he was eleven. His licentious and tumultuous sailing life included a flogging for attempted desertion from the Royal Navy and captivity by a slave trader in West Africa. After his escape he himself became the captain of a slave ship. Several factors contributed to Newton's conversion: a near-drowning in 1748, the piety of his friend Mary Catlett (whom he married in 1750), and his reading of Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ. In 1754 he gave up the slave trade and, in association with William Wilberforce, eventually became an ardent abolitionist. After becoming a tide-surveyor in Liverpool, England, Newton came under the influence of George Whitefield and John and Charles Wesley and began to study for the ministry. He was ordained in the Church of England and served in Olney (1764-1780) and St. Mary Woolnoth, London (1780-1807). His legacy to the Christian church includes his hymns as well as his collaboration with William Cowper in publishing Olney Hymns (1779), to which Newton contributed 280 hymns, including “Amazing Grace.”
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Edwin O. Excell (b. Stark County, OH, 1851; d. Louisville, KY, 1921) grew up in a German Reformed parsonage and worked as a bricklayer as a young man. In 1871 he became a singing school teacher. Soon after, while leading the music and singing solos in a Methodist revival, he experienced a conversion. Excell joined evangelist Sam P. Jones as a song leader, and the two traveled the United States as an evangelistic team. An important figure in the Sunday school movement, Excell wrote over two thousand gospel songs and edited ninety songbooks. He became a very successful publisher of hymn books in Chicago; his company, the Biglow-Main-Excell Company, eventually merged with Hope Publishing Company.
— Bert Polman
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