Devotion for the Week of November 26, 2017 - Theology Behind The Hymn – AMAZING GRACE

Theology Behind The Hymn – AMAZING GRACE

Ephesians 2:8-9 (KJV), “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

If you’ve ever been to church or even heard of church, you probably know that a lot of singing goes on.  Have you ever thought about what you’re singing and why?  There’s a saying that “theology leads to doxology” and what this means is that the more we know about God, the more likely we are to praise him.  When we really have praises, we so often sing them.  Good hymns contain some deep truths about God.

This week I’d like to look at the theology behind that great hymn of our faith, Amazing Grace.   The words to this hymn are credited to John Newton.  Newton was, at the time, involved in the slave trade and wrote the words after a particularly viscous storm threatened his life and livelihood.   He cried out to God for deliverance and afterward recognized that moment at his “moment of deliverance”.   After this, he was a changed man and soon abandoned the slave trade and became a minister.  Let’s now look at the hymn itself and see if it is Biblical or not.

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!

“Amazing grace”…what’s so amazing about grace?   Paul tells us in Ephesians that it is because of grace that we are saved:

Ephesians 2:8 (KJV), “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:”

And in Romans he shows us why this grace is so amazing:

Romans 5:8-11 (KJV), “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  9  Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10  For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”

What’s amazing about grace is that, as unsaved sinners, we are enemies of God.  As unsaved sinners, we hate the things of God and want nothing to do with Him.  Yet, because of His grace and mercy, He loved us enough to send His only Begotten Son to take our punishment and die in our place so that we might live.  Because of God’s grace in giving us a new heart, our old heart of stone is removed and cast away and we can now enjoy the things of God and our hearts can love Him.   God doesn’t love us because we first loved Him.  Quite the contrary!

1 John 4:19 (KJV), “We love him, because he first loved us.”

So, how many of us love our enemies?  It seems like a contradiction in terms to me.  If they’re an enemy, that means that I don’t like them, because if I liked them, then they wouldn’t be enemies, they’d be friends!  Yet, Jesus tells us:

Matthew 5:44 (KJV), But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”

And then he tells us why this should be so:

Matthew 5:45-48 (KJV), “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.  46  For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?  47  And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?  48  Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Christians are to love their enemies because that’s how God loved us when we were yet sinners ourselves.   If we only love those who love us, we’re no more than tax collectors.  So, this is what’s so amazing about grace- grace takes the first step.  Grace reaches out to those who don’t want to be reached and who don’t appreciate being reached.   It’s only after grace has it’s effect that they realize their former situation.  And that takes us to the next phrase of “Amazing Grace”:

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

Sinners are lost in their sin and blind to the glory of God and they don’t realize it.  Have you ever heard the analogy of a blind cave mole-rat, an animal that lives its entire life underground.  How do you explain the sun to something like that?  The mole-rat will simply say “I don’t need the sun.  I’m perfectly happy where I am.”  Likewise, a sinner doesn’t want God.  The sinner is perfectly happy right where he is. He likes being in sin!  Jesus tells us this truth in:

John 3:19-21 (KJV), “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  20  For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.  21  But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”

This passage clearly says that “men loved darkness rather than light” and For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light…”  Note that one does not come to the light and then do the truth, but rather Jesus says “…he that doeth truth cometh to the light.”   The knowledge of the truth comes first and then comes the light.  The one coming to the light must desire the light and must desire the things of God.  It is God who opens eyes to see and God who brings the lost to Christ.   John recorded these words of Jesus, speaking to the Jews:

John 10:26-27 (KJV), “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.  7  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:”

Note that Christ didn’t say “You are not my sheep because you do not believe.”  Instead, he said “…ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep …”  Again, this is grace.  This is God calling angry, rebellious sinners to Christ and giving them the gift of faith.  Let’s recall the Ephesians passages I used a few minutes ago:

Ephesians 2:8 (KJV), “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:”

According to this passage, our faith is not of ourselves but is a gift of God.  Without God himself giving us faith, we would remain blind and lost.   So, it is through no merit or works of ours that we are called to Christ.  It is strictly due to God’s amazing grace.  Here’s what John Newton has to say about it:

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;

Newton saw that it is grace which opens our eyes!  He says “twas grace that taught my heart to fear.”   Again, we don’t learn to fear God and then receive grace.  To the contrary, it is God’s grace acting in us that teaches us about God.    Now, remember what Jesus said about loving your enemies?  He said to “love” them.   Newton says “…and grace my fears relieved.”   I quoted John as saying “We love him, because he first loved us.” and just prior to that, John had this to say:

1 John 4:18 (KJV), “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

John the Beloved and John the Newton are both saying the same thing- grace relieves our fears.   Proverbs 9:10 says The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.”  We therefore must fear and respect the Lord before we can have wisdom, but as we grown in Him, and begin to understand grace, mercy, and Christ, this fear grows to a more mature relationship in which we can rest in God’s graces.  John says “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”  Paul says:

Romans 8:31-32 (KJV), What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?  32  He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

What is God’s grace and mercy worth to you?  Is it worth giving up your sinful life?  Is it worth leaving the darkness behind and stepping into the light?   Here’s what Newton thinks about it:

How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

“How precious did that grace appear!”  Newton’s verse brings to mind Jesus’ statement:

Matthew 13:45-46 (KJV), “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: 46  Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”

The kingdom of Heaven is worth whatever it costs.  For those being conformed to His image, Christ has paid the entry fee.  The cost was great to Him, and we reap the benefits.  However, do not take grace lightly.  Never lose sight of the price that Christ paid on your behalf, if you are a Christian.  Do not trample the Son of God underfoot.  Grace is precious.

Newton’s next phrase says:

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

The Christian life is not easy.   Even before we are saved, we go through many dangers, toils, and snares.  Some of these are designed to teach us lessons that we’ll later look back on and credit God for delivering us safely.  They are lessons which show our true heart- one which previously rebelled against God but has now been replaced with a heart for God.  We live with the consequences of some of these lessons; Newton regretted the agony he caused to other human beings in his life as a slaver.  But these lessons helped keep him focused on God’s amazing grace and to that end, they served God’s purpose.  Newton himself says it- “tis grace has brought me safe thus far…” and he expressed hope in the line “…and grace will lead me home.”  It is God who leads us and guides us through life.   Paul, in addressing the philosophers on Mars Hill, says:

Acts 17:26-27 (KJV), “And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; 27  That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us:”

And  Solomon told us in:

Proverbs 16:9 (KJV), “A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.”

There’s much more we could say about John Newton and “Amazing Grace”, but this brief lesson will have to do for today.  Too many times, I’ve heard this incredible hymn dismissed as “that trite old over-done song!” and I’ve heard people say things like “If I never hear Amazing Grace again, it’ll be too soon.”

I disagree.  “Amazing Grace” is full of rich praises to God, written out of personal experience on the part of John Newton, and it echoes Biblical passage after passage.  It truly is an amazing hymn that clearly glorifies God.  Dwell on the words carefully the next time you sing it.

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