The story behind 'Amazing Grace'
One of the most well-known hymns in the Christian tradition is the old favourite 'Amazing Grace'. In recent weeks it has reappeared on our Sunday Missalettes and people join in with great gusto.
The origin of Amazing Grace is an interesting one; it was composed by a man called John Newton whose personal story is reflected in the words he penned. He was the captain of a slave ship in 18th century England whose early life was a miserable tale of drunkenness and 'loose living'. While at sea in March 1748 the ship encountered a violent storm, which came close to sinking it. It was during this storm that he cried out to God for mercy, he later reflected that this was the first time he had uttered such a prayer in life as he had always imagined himself beyond mercy's reach. "I thought there never was or could be such a sinner as myself; I concluded that my sins were too great to be forgiven."
The damaged ship sailed up Lough Swilly where the locals welcomed them and set about repairing the ship. He lodged in Derry and attended prayers daily in St. Columb's Cathedral. From this time, John Newton's life began to change as he came to realise that God's grace could save even a 'wretch' like him! Others soon noticed the difference when he stopped swearing and his behaviour altered. But he still had much to learn.
Despite his spiritual awakening he continued to work in the 'slave trade' such was his self-interest and acceptance of the culture of the day. It was only when he came under the influence of the preaching of John Wesley and the anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce that the horror of the whole wretched business brought him to his senses. John Newton went on to become a clergyman in the Church of England and a staunch opponent of slavery - his journey had led him to conversion of heart.
In February 1807 when the bill to finally outlaw slavery was passed through the British parliament, John by now nearly blind and near death, "rejoiced to hear the wonderful news."
His story is a real testament to the power of God's grace on even the most hardened of human hearts.
Amazing grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I 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.
St. Mary's Lucan