VIDEO ‘Amazing Grace’, the story and Independence Day Salute to America

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!

Chances are, you started humming along as you read those Amazing Grace lyrics. Considering that some estimates claim that the beloved spiritual is performed roughly 10 million times annually, it’s no wonder. “Amazing Grace” is easily one of the most recognizable hymns in the English-speaking world.

Although the words and tune (NEW BRITAIN, for those of us who aren’t hymn tune connoisseurs) are recognizable to most, many are unaware of the song’s history. We tend to sing its words and reflect on them in terms of our own lives — grateful for God’s grace — and understandably so. But knowing where the song came from allows us to appreciate it in a new and more profound way.

The story behind the hymn “Amazing Grace”

Written almost two and a half centuries ago in 1772, the words for the beloved song were borne from the heart, mind and experiences of the Englishman John Newton. Knowing the story of John Newton’s life as a slave trader and the journey he went through before writing the hymn will help to understand the depth of his words and his gratefulness for God’s truly amazing grace.

Having lived through a rather unfortunate and troubled childhood (his mother passed away when he was just six years old), Newton spent years fighting against authority, going so far as trying to desert the Royal Navy in his twenties. Later, abandoned by his crew in West Africa, he was forced to be a servant to a slave trader but was eventually rescued. On the return voyage to England, a violent storm hit and almost sank the ship, prompting Newton to begin his spiritual conversion as he cried out to God to save them from the storm.

Upon his return, however, Newton became a slave ship master, a profession in which he served for several years. Bringing slaves from Africa to England over multiple trips, he admitted to sometimes treating the slaves abhorrently. In 1754, after becoming violently ill on a sea voyage, Newton abandoned his life as a slave trader, the slave trade, and seafaring, altogether, wholeheartedly devoting his life to God’s service.

He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1764 and became quite popular as a preacher and hymn writer, penning some 280 hymns, among them the great “Amazing Grace,” which first appeared in the Olney Hymns, printed by Newton and poet/fellow writer William Cowper. It was later set to the popular tune NEW BRITAIN in 1835 by William Walker.

In later years, Newton fought alongside William Wilberforce, leader of the parliamentary campaign to abolish the African slave trade. He described the horrors of the slave trade in a tract he wrote supporting the campaign and lived to see the British passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807.

And now, we see how lyrics like:

I once was lost,
but now am found,
Was blind
but now I see.


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

carry a much deeper meaning than a sinner’s mere gratitude. Close to death at various times and blind to reality at others, Newton would most assuredly not have written “Amazing Grace” if not for his tumultuous past. And many of us would then be without these lovely words that so aptly describe our own relationship with Christ and our reliance on God’s grace in our lives:

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

Modern interpretations

Those who have read Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic African American novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, may remember that Tom sings three verses of “Amazing Grace,” including one verse not written by Newton, which is now traditionally sung as the final verse:

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 first begun.

A movie named for the song was made in 2006 that tells the story of William Wilberforce’s fight for abolition, with Albert Finney playing the repentant former slave trader John Newton, alongside an ensemble cast that includes Ioan Gruffudd, Michael Gambon and Benedict Cumberbatch. A Broadway musical of the same name launched in late 2015 that focused on Newton’s journey and its influence on the song.

The song was used at marches during the civil rights movement and gained popularity among those protesting the Vietnam War. Over the years, musicians and singers from Elvis Presley and Andrea Bocelli to Celine Dion, Aretha Franklin, Destiny’s Child, Judy Collins and Leann Rhimes have performed this quintessential song. This was part of  eulogy for reverend and state senator Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the Charleston church shooting in 2015.

With the text in the public domain, recordings and arrangements of “Amazing Grace” likely span every musical genre.

Bill & Gloria Gaither – Amazing Grace ft. Wintley Phipps (Live)

Salute to America


The Kindness Man

When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her.  Luke 7:13

Disillusioned and wanting a more meaningful life, Leon quit his job in finance. Then one day he saw a homeless man holding up this sign at a street corner: KINDNESS IS THE BEST MEDICINE. Leon says, “Those words rammed straight into me. It was an epiphany.”

Leon decided to begin his new life by creating an international organization to promote kindness. He travels around the world, relying on strangers to provide him with food, gas, and a place to stay. Then he rewards them, through his organization, with good deeds such as feeding orphans or building on to a school for underprivileged children. He says, “It’s sometimes seen as being soft. But kindness is a profound strength.”

Christ’s very essence as God is goodness, so kindness naturally flowed from Him. I love the story of what Jesus did when He came upon the funeral procession of a widow’s only son (Luke 7:11–17). The grieving woman most likely was dependent on her son for financial support. We don’t read in the story that anyone asked Jesus to intervene. Purely from the goodness of His nature (v. 13), He was concerned and brought her son back to life. The people said of Christ, “God has come to help his people” (v. 16).

By:  Anne Cetas

Reflect & Pray

What kindnesses does Jesus pour out on you? List them and thank Him.

You, God, are always showering me with Your gifts of love. I praise You for caring for me

A Nation Gone Astray

Isaiah 59

Though Israel had once honored the Lord, it turned away from Him during the days of the prophet Isaiah. Left to their own devices, the people found themselves in chaos and ruin. Much like what happens with individuals, a country that ignores or rejects God suffers the consequences of that choice.

If a nation has drifted from the Lord, then even when leaders consider themselves advanced and intellectual, their thinking nevertheless becomes darkened (Eph. 4:17-18). Soon sin is commonplace and considered acceptable among the people. As occurred among the Israelites, man’s baser nature emerges in the form of immorality, greed, and violence. Injustice reaches its peak when laws permit the oppression of those who are helpless and innocent.

The church must awaken to its responsibility: Believers are to be salt and light in this world. Each generation is called to be alert and active during its appointed time on this earth. Though nations fall away from God, today’s reading assures us that He is our ultimate hope. After all, the passage begins with “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear” (Isa. 59:1). God is our coming King, who will reign on earth with righteousness and justice.

By the Law of Liberty

“So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.” (James 2:12)

On Independence Day, Americans should give thanks to the Author of liberty that we have been privileged to live in this “sweet land of liberty,” where we can worship God freely in accord with His Word. Liberty is not license, however, and the essence of the American system is liberty under law. Fundamentally, that law is “the law of nature and of nature’s God”—the natural laws of God’s world and the revealed laws of God’s Word. Within that framework we do have liberty—but not liberty to defy either the physical law of gravity or the spiritual “law of liberty.” The latter is formulated in Scripture and has been applied over the centuries, in the English common law and later in our system of constitutional law, both of which are based on Scripture.

Some today, seeking license rather than liberty, might recoil at the very idea of “the law of liberty,” calling it an oxymoron, or contradiction in terms. But Jesus said that only “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4), and “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:15), not freedom!

No one can be saved by the law, but those who are saved— by grace through faith in Christ—will love God’s law, for it is “holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12). We should say with the psalmist: “So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts” (Psalm 119:44-45).

There is, indeed, a law of liberty, and whoever will walk in real liberty will find it only in God’s law of life, through His revealed Word. For “whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25). HMM

Let us Eat Something

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

—Colossians 3:16


Times are bad in the kingdom and getting worse. The tendency is to settle into a rut, and we must get out of it….

When God sends some preacher to say this to a congregation and the congregation is even half ready to listen to him, they say to themselves, “I think the pastor is right about this. We are in a rut, aren’t we? No use fighting it. I think we ought to do something about this.” Then 99.99 percent of the time the remedy prescribed will be, “Let’s come together and eat something. I know we are in a rut. We don’t see each other often enough. We ought to get to know each other better, so let’s come together and eat something.” I have no objection to fellowship, but it is not the answer to what is wrong with us….

I am quite sure that when the man of God thundered, “You have stayed long enough in this place. You are going around in circles. Get you out and take what is given to you by the hand of your God,” nobody got up and said, “Mr. Chairman, let’s eat something.” Eating probably would not have helped.   RRR013-015

Thank You for the privilege of Christian fellowshipand of eating together to foster relationships in the Body of Christ. But help us, Lord, to go much deeper. Take us out of the rut through following hard after You, not through surface attempts. Amen.


Love Good, Hate Evil

Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.

—Amos 5:15


If we are committed, consecrated Christians, truly disciples of the crucified and risen Christ, there are some things we must face.

We cannot love honesty without hating dishonesty. We cannot love purity without hating impurity. We cannot love truth without hating lying and deceitfulness.

If we belong to Jesus Christ, we must hate evil even as He hated evil in every form. The ability of Jesus Christ to hate that which was against God and to love that which was full of God was the force that made Him able to receive the anointing—the oil of gladness—in complete measure.

On our human side, it is our imperfection in loving the good and hating the evil that prevents us from receiving the Holy Spirit in complete measure. God withholds from us because we are unwilling to follow Jesus in His great poured-out love for what is right and His pure and holy hatred of what is evil. JMI064-065

We receive the Holy Spirit at the moment of surrender, but we do not realize the fullness of His power until we have been fully tested and have stood triumphant with Him in the conflict with evil. CTBC, Vol. 2/311


The Big Question

Matthew 27:22

In many ways the Roman governor Pilate is the most modern figure in the scenes that set the picture of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He just did not want to get involved. Pilate’s dilemma was that he had to make a decision about Jesus—a decision of which he tried to wash his hands. Evasion was the name of the game.

He did not want to make a decision that meant he would not be on the side of the majority. Hence his question, with its contemporary ring, “What shall I do with Jesus?” (Matthew 27:22)

This becomes a challenge facing every one of us. We cannot plead neutrality.

Our personal involvement in the death of Christ was recognized and acknowledged by the great painter Rembrandt in one of his finest paintings, The Three Crosses. It is a very dramatic scene of Calvary, and your attention is first drawn to the poignant figure of Christ hanging on the cross. Then, on the edge of the crowd, you catch sight of a figure almost hidden in the shadows. He is wearing clothes different from the Jewish spectators, clothes of a more modern age. This is the representation of the painter himself, for Rembrandt recognized that his sin had helped nail Jesus Christ upon that cruel cross.

A quite different painting of the crucifixion is that of the twentieth century painter Sutherland. It shows a stark modern cross as an instrument of torture. But there are no spectators. No curious crowd. No people at all. Why? Replied the painter when asked the question, “Because we are all spectators of the death of Christ. We are all involved.”

This awareness is universal, as in the challenge of the Negro spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Yes, we are all confronted by the Savior on the cross. We all need to face the question, “What will you do with Jesus?”

The cross was not an incident in Christ’s life, but the very purpose of it, the chosen path of God. St. Paul expresses the truth in utter simplicity: “[He] gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

He hung on the cross for my sin. He took my place, paid my debt, bore my guilt, died the death that I deserved to die, that I might find eternal life. This is the heart of the gospel. This presents you with the crisis of decision-making. What will you do with Jesus?

Eva Burrows, The War Cry