*We church folk have a world of our own that we live in most of the time.  We have our own language (with words that most people outside of the church don’t understand), our own diet (fried chicken for the most part!), our own songs, and our own singers.   

Every now and then, something from our world becomes known and popular in the world at large.  When this happens, we refer to that singer or that song as a “crossover.”  Artists like Andre Crouch, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Marvin Sapp have become well-known and popular outside the church world.  Songs like “Place in This World,” “Butterfly Kisses” and “Never Would Have Made It” have become popular with folks who never or hardly ever go to church.

There is a song that is the ultimate “crossover” hit.  It has been sung in every church of every denomination.  It has been played or sung at the coronation of kings and at the graveside of paupers.  It has been the number one song on the pop charts in both the United States and England.  It has been rightly called the most popular song in the world.

The song is “Amazing Grace.”  And the story behind the song is as remarkable as the song itself.

John Newton was a slave trader who lived a despicable life for most of his early years.  After nearly losing his life in a violent storm at sea, Newton He gave his life to Christ.  The change in Newton’s life was not immediate but gradual.  He began to encourage his crew to pray and he saw to it that his human cargo were treated with kindness and gentleness, but it wasn’t until years later that God convicted Newton’s heart that slavery was sinful, and years more before he would openly oppose the slave trade.  

At the age of 28 John Newton suffered a stroke and was unable to return to sea. He later saw that as yet another way God was reaching out to him. Despite his lack of a formal education, in 1764 Newton was ordained as a minister and was offered the a pastorate at Olney in Buckinghamshire.  

As time passed, Newton came to realize how abhorrent slavery was in the eyes of God.  He was tormented by the thoughts of the suffering he had helped inflict on others, and became with each passing year more and more amazed that God would choose to save him, much less call him into the ministry and use him is His service.  Newton became known as a staunch abolitionist and for the rest of his life he worked to end the slave trade in Great Britain.

On New Year’s Eve, 1773, Newton decided to preach on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.  In that passage, King David marvels that God had chosen him.  As a part of that sermon, Newton decided to share a poem he had written a year before that was essentially his testimony.  The name of the poem was “Faith’s review and expectation.”  We know it today as “Amazing Grace.”

The song Amazing Grace is so popular precisely because God’s grace is indeed amazing.  No matter who you are, no matter where you are from, no matter what you have done or haven’t done, we all share the same essential testimony: “I once was lost but now I’m found, ’twas blind, but now I see.”  All of us, know in our hearts that we did not deserve God’s gift of salvation.  We all know that it is God’s grace – his unmerited favor on us that has brought us to where we are today.

You may not have been as wicked as John Newton and caused great pain and suffering to others, but you know that you are a sinner who was (or is) in need of a Savior.  Later in his life, John Newton was quoted as saying, “I know that I was a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.”  We all know that in our hearts.

God’s grace is truly amazing. Aren’t you thankful for it?

© Alan Riley all rights reserved.

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