The results were impressive. At three her boy was already learning to read. By four he had practically mastered the skill. At five he was memorizing Scripture, enduring the rigors of the Catechism, and filling his mind with the words and melodies of the hymns of Isaac Watts. By six he was ready to embark on the study of Latin. And all because of the industry and care of a loving mother whose heart's desire was that her son might someday serve the Lord as a minister of the Word. But then tragedy struck. Elizabeth died before John turned seven, the victim of her own weak constitution and the ravages of consumption or tuberculosis , one of the deadliest and most feared maladies of the day.
As a result, by the time John was twenty-one, his closest companions would have been hard pressed to detect even the slightest traces of his mother's influences upon him. Among other things, anger at God over her death drove him to abandon the path she had taught him to tread. But that, as we shall see, wasn't to be the end of the story.
Though in young manhood, Newton did his level best to "sin away" every last vestige of these early impressions, he never fully succeeded. Newton's chickens eventually came home to roost. The well-worn and oft-quoted words of Proverbs As wise as this saying may be, it doesn't necessarily mean it's an unqualified promise or absolute guarantee.
But neither should the life-giving principle it conveys be too easily dismissed. It does, after all, make a very real difference how a child is raised. Moses acknowledged this in his instructions to the people of Israel: You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. It needs to be said that, allowing for anomalies and departures from the rule, this kind of investment generally yields a rich dividend, a dividend that can manifest itself in surprising ways.
Consider the case of young Samuel, whose course in life was fixed when his mother Hannah "lent him to the Lord" 1 Samuel 1: We know that God can use anyone or anything to draw hearts to Himself and prepare a pathway for His people. And yet there is no substitute for the tender affections of a godly mother.
Newton himself felt this keenly: That doesn't mean washing dishes. It means educating our children in everything we think about life. That's the nature of what a mother is. And so it is. It's also the nature of the God who made mothers; the God who weaves each one of us together in the womb Psalm This is the same God who, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, both gives and takes away: It seemed a cruel blow. But the upshot was that John, in the fullness of time, became "an unusual proof of His patience, providence, and grace.
Regent College Publishing, , National Geographic, February Kurt Bruner is a graduate of Talbot Seminary. He has authored books with combined sales of over , copies. Jim Ware studied at Fuller Theological Seminary and is now a writer living in Colorado Springs with his wife and six children. Finding God in the Story of Amazing Grace. Maternal Grace Little John Newton, six years old, hoisted himself up in his chair, leaned across the table, and stared out the parlor window at the sunlight dancing on the surface of the Thames. When The Struggle Is Real. Editor's Picks What Does Mean?
George Legge, 3rd Earl of Dartmouth , impressed with his story, sponsored Newton for ordination by John Green , Bishop of Lincoln , and offered him the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire , in John Newton, Olney Hymns , Olney was a village of about 2, residents whose main industry was making lace by hand.
The people were mostly illiterate and many of them were poor. He was involved in his parishioners' lives and was much loved, although his writing and delivery were sometimes unpolished. Together, their effect on the local congregation was impressive. In , they found it necessary to start a weekly prayer meeting to meet the needs of an increasing number of parishioners. They also began writing lessons for children. Partly from Cowper's literary influence, and partly because learned vicars were expected to write verses, Newton began to try his hand at hymns, which had become popular through the language, made plain for common people to understand.
Wesley's brother John , the eventual founder of the Methodist Church, had encouraged Newton to go into the clergy. The most prevalent hymns by Watts and others were written in the common meter in 8. Newton and Cowper attempted to present a poem or hymn for each prayer meeting. The lyrics to "Amazing Grace" were written in late and probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on January 1, Newton contributed of the texts in Olney Hymns ; "1 Chronicles The general impact of Olney Hymns was immediate and it became a widely popular tool for evangelicals in Britain for many years.
Scholars appreciated Cowper's poetry somewhat more than Newton's plaintive and plain language driven from his forceful personality. The most prevalent themes in the verses written by Newton in Olney Hymns are faith in salvation, wonder at God's grace , his love for Jesus, and his cheerful exclamations of the joy he found in his faith. Hymns and Hymnbooks in America considers "Amazing Grace" an excellent example of Newton's testimonial style afforded by the use of this perspective. William Phipps in the Anglican Theological Review and author James Basker have interpreted the first stanza of "Amazing Grace" as evidence of Newton's realization that his participation in the slave trade was his wretchedness, perhaps representing a wider common understanding of Newton's motivations.
However, Newton became an ardent and outspoken abolitionist after he left Olney in the s; he never connected the construction of the hymn that became "Amazing Grace" to anti-slavery sentiments.
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For Newton, the beginning of the year was a time to reflect on one's spiritual progress. The last entry of was a recounting of how much he had changed since then. The title ascribed to the hymn, " 1 Chronicles Some Christians interpret this as a prediction that Jesus Christ, as a descendant of David, was promised by God as the salvation for all people. According to Newton, unconverted sinners were "blinded by the god of this world" until "mercy came to us not only undeserved but undesired The New Testament served as the basis for many of the lyrics of "Amazing Grace".
The first verse, for example, can be traced to the story of the Prodigal Son. In the Gospel of Luke the father says, "For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found". The story of Jesus healing a blind man who tells the Pharisees that he can now see is told in the Gospel of John. Newton used the words "I was blind but now I see" and declared "Oh to grace how great a debtor! In An Annotated Anthology of Hymns , Newton's use of an exclamation at the beginning of his verse is called "crude but effective" in an overall composition that "suggest s a forceful, if simple, statement of faith".
The sermon preached by Newton was his last, of those that William Cowper heard in Olney, since Cowper's mental instability returned shortly thereafter. Steve Turner, author of Amazing Grace: The Story of America's Most Beloved Song , suggests Newton may have had his friend in mind, employing the themes of assurance and deliverance from despair for Cowper's benefit. Although it had its roots in England, "Amazing Grace" became an integral part of the Christian tapestry in the United States. More than 60 of Newton and Cowper's hymns were republished in other British hymnals and magazines, but "Amazing Grace" was not, appearing only once in a hymnal sponsored by the Countess of Huntingdon.
Scholar John Julian commented in his A Dictionary of Hymnology that outside of the United States, the song was unknown and it was "far from being a good example of Newton's finest work". The greatest influences in the 19th century that propelled "Amazing Grace" to spread across the U. A tremendous religious movement swept the U. Unprecedented gatherings of thousands of people attended camp meetings where they came to experience salvation; preaching was fiery and focused on saving the sinner from temptation and backsliding.
Witnessing and testifying became an integral component to these meetings, where a congregation member or even a stranger would rise and recount his turn from a sinful life to one of piety and peace.
How sweet the sound That saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind but now I see. Shout, shout for glory, Shout, shout aloud for glory; Brother, sister, mourner, All shout glory hallelujah. Simultaneously, an unrelated movement of communal singing was established throughout the South and Western states. A format of teaching music to illiterate people appeared in It used four sounds to symbolize the basic scale: Each sound was accompanied by a specifically shaped note and thus became known as shape note singing. The method was simple to learn and teach, so schools were established throughout the South and West.
Communities would come together for an entire day of singing in a large building where they sat in four distinct areas surrounding an open space, one member directing the group as a whole. Most of the music was Christian, but the purpose of communal singing was not primarily spiritual. Communities either could not afford music accompaniment or rejected it out of a Calvinistic sense of simplicity, so the songs were sung a cappella. When originally used in Olney, it is unknown what music, if any, accompanied the verses written by John Newton.
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Contemporary hymnbooks did not contain music and were simply small books of religious poetry. The first known instance of Newton's lines joined to music was in A Companion to the Countess of Huntingdon's Hymns London, , where it is set to the tune "Hephzibah" by English composer John Husband. Mary" first published in the Columbian Harmony by Charles H. Spilman and Benjamin Shaw Cincinnati, Spilman and Shaw, both students at Kentucky's Centre College , compiled their tunebook both for public worship and revivals, to satisfy "the wants of the Church in her triumphal march".
Most of the tunes had been previously published, but "Gallaher" and "St. Mary", but that does not mean that he wrote it.
The music behind 'amazing' had a sense of awe to it. The music behind 'grace' sounded graceful. There was a rise at the point of confession, as though the author was stepping out into the open and making a bold declaration, but a corresponding fall when admitting his blindness. King became widely influential and continues to be used. Another verse was first recorded in Harriet Beecher Stowe 's immensely influential anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.
Three verses were emblematically sung by Tom in his hour of deepest crisis. It was originally one of between 50 and 70 verses of a song titled "Jerusalem, My Happy Home" that first appeared in a book called A Collection of Sacred Ballads:. 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. Shape note singing communities, with all the members sitting around an open center, each song employing a different director, illustrated this in practice.
The "dangers, toils, and snares" of Newton's lyrics had both literal and figurative meanings for Americans. Although "Amazing Grace" set to "New Britain" was popular, other versions existed regionally. Primitive Baptists in the Appalachian region often used "New Britain" with other hymns, and sometimes sing the words of "Amazing Grace" to other folk songs, including titles such as " In the Pines ", "Pisgah", "Primrose", and "Evan", as all are able to be sung in common meter, of which the majority of their repertoire consists.
Two musical arrangers named Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey heralded another religious revival in the cities of the U. Moody's preaching and Sankey's musical gifts were significant; their arrangements were the forerunners of gospel music , and churches all over the U. A publisher named Edwin Othello Excell gave the version of "Amazing Grace" set to "New Britain" immense popularity by publishing it in a series of hymnals that were used in urban churches. Excell altered some of Walker's music, making it more contemporary and European, giving "New Britain" some distance from its rural folk-music origins.
Excell's version was more palatable for a growing urban middle class and arranged for larger church choirs. Several editions featuring Newton's first three stanzas and the verse previously included by Harriet Beecher Stowe in Uncle Tom's Cabin were published by Excell between and , and his version of "Amazing Grace" became the standard form of the song in American churches.
With the advent of recorded music and radio, "Amazing Grace" began to cross over from primarily a gospel standard to secular audiences. The ability to record combined with the marketing of records to specific audiences allowed "Amazing Grace" to take on thousands of different forms in the 20th century. Where Edwin Othello Excell sought to make the singing of "Amazing Grace" uniform throughout thousands of churches, records allowed artists to improvise with the words and music specific to each audience.
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It was included from to in Okeh Records ' catalogue, which typically concentrated strongly on blues and jazz. Demand was high for black gospel recordings of the song by H. A poignant sense of nostalgia accompanied the recordings of several gospel and blues singers in the s and s who used the song to remember their grandparents, traditions, and family roots.
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Mahalia Jackson 's version received significant radio airplay, and as her popularity grew throughout the s and s, she often sang it at public events such as concerts at Carnegie Hall. I was not sure the magic worked outside the church walls But I wasn't taking any chances. Collins also considered it a talisman of sorts, and saw its equal emotional impact on the marchers, witnesses, and law enforcement who opposed the civil rights demonstrators. Collins decided to record it in the late s amid an atmosphere of counterculture introspection; she was part of an encounter group that ended a contentious meeting by singing "Amazing Grace" as it was the only song to which all the members knew the words.
Collins, who had a history of alcohol abuse, claimed that the song was able to "pull her through" to recovery. Paul's , the chapel at Columbia University , chosen for the acoustics. She chose an a cappella arrangement that was close to Edwin Othello Excell's, accompanied by a chorus of amateur singers who were friends of hers. Collins connected it to the Vietnam War, to which she objected: I had marched, I had voted, I had gone to jail on political actions and worked for the candidates I believed in. The war was still raging.
There was nothing left to do, I thought It rose to number 15 on the Billboard Hot , remaining on the charts for 15 weeks,  as if, she wrote, her fans had been "waiting to embrace it". Although Collins used it as a catharsis for her opposition to the Vietnam War, two years after her rendition, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards , senior Scottish regiment of the British Army , recorded an instrumental version featuring a bagpipe soloist accompanied by a pipe and drum band.
The tempo of their arrangement was slowed to allow for the bagpipes, but it was based on Collins': It topped the RPM national singles chart in Canada for three weeks,  and rose as high as number 11 in the U. Aretha Franklin and Rod Stewart also recorded "Amazing Grace" around the same time, and both of their renditions were popular.
Cash and his family sang it to themselves while they worked in the cotton fields following Jack's death. Cash often included the song when he toured prisons, saying "For the three minutes that song is going on, everybody is free. It just frees the spirit and frees the person. Library of Congress has a collection of 3, versions of and songs inspired by "Amazing Grace", some of which were first-time recordings by folklorists Alan and John Lomax , a father and son team who in traveled thousands of miles across the South to capture the different regional styles of the song.
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Steve Turner, . It has been mass-produced on souvenirs, lent its name to a Superman villain , appeared on The Simpsons to demonstrate the redemption of a murderous character named Sideshow Bob , incorporated into Hare Krishna chants and adapted for Wicca ceremonies. It is referenced in the film Amazing Grace , which highlights Newton's influence on the leading British abolitionist William Wilberforce ,  and in the upcoming film biography of Newton, Newton's Grace. Spock following his death,  but more practically, because the song has become "instantly recognizable to many in the audience as music that sounds appropriate for a funeral" according to a Star Trek scholar.
In recent years, the words of the hymn have been changed in some religious publications to downplay a sense of imposed self-loathing by its singers. The second line, "That saved a wretch like me! A Vocabulary of Faith characterizes this transformation of the original words as "wretched English" making the line that replaces the original "laughably bland". Newton's Calvinistic view of redemption and divine grace formed his perspective that he considered himself a sinner so vile that he was unable to change his life or be redeemed without God's help.
Yet his lyrical subtlety, in Steve Turner's opinion, leaves the hymn's meaning open to a variety of Christian and non-Christian interpretations.