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Some Things Should Never Change!

images[5]In my last blog post I mentioned a number of negative things I believe are going on in the church world when it comes to music, which do not lend themselves to a productive worship experience for many people.  Today, I would like to take a positive approach to worship by sharing a couple of scriptures from the New Testament, written through the hand of the Apostle Paul, about what, ideally, our corporate worship should look like.  The Bible says “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a thing shall be established”, so I have chosen two verses which say nearly the same thing.

The first is found in Ephesians 5:19 and 20, “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

The second verse is in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (ESV)

It is pretty clear from these verses that the Early Church used this pattern of worship in its services.  Psalms have been used since the time of David as poetic themes from the Word of God set to various musical patterns.  Many churches, as well as synagogues, use these to this day.  Some use them exclusively in worship.  Psalms are simply passages of scripture dedicated to praise and worship of our Father which, when set to various melodies, can be extremely conducive to entering into His presence in the corporate worship setting.

Last night I attended a choir rehearsal of a world-famous and highly renowned choir.  They were rehearsing the familiar old tune from the 1800’s, “The Lord’s My Shepherd”, which is a musical adaptation of Psalm 23.  The associate choir director, a young man in his 30’s, related the story of how four years ago he had been experiencing severe trials in his life which had led him into a sort of depressed state.  One Sunday, as he walked into church, he heard the choir sing the words from this psalm,

“My table thou hast furnished

In presence of my foes;

My head thou dost with oil anoint,

And my cup overflows.”

He said that immediately a peace came over him and his whole outlook and attitude changed as he thought about our Lord who gives us so many blessings that our cups overflow with them!  It was a major turning point in his life that he never forgot.  God used a simple hymn to transform the life of a young man from feelings of depression to victory!

The second form of musical worship mentioned in the above verses is “hymns”.  These anointed works containing much scripture, worship of God and theologically sound doctrinal themes, have been penned by men and women for centuries as expressions of their love for their Lord, often mentioning the omnipotence and majesty of God, as well as the themes of crowning Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, now and in Eternity!  I could go on and on, naming such great hymns as “Holy, Holy, Holy”, “Crown Him With Many Crowns”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, and “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and so on.  To omit these mighty works, which have endured in the church for literally centuries, from our modern repertoire in favor of some light, fluffy tunes with words that copy current pop or rock lyrics, simply substituting the word “Jesus” for “you, my lover” is missing a sacred opportunity to enter into the presence of the Holy One!

The last type of music mentioned by the Apostle Paul is the term, “spiritual songs”.  I think we all are aware of what “spirituals” are…the African American people learned hundreds of songs by rote, which we still sing, as they were working in hard labor in the cotton fields and wherever they happened to be.  No doubt these songs were a great comfort to them in their physically agonizing times of stress and strain and probably “got them through” much pain and suffering.

Even if we today are not enduring the trials of the American slaves of old, we still have trials and tribulations that cause us to turn to our Creator for peace and help.  This is where many “spiritual songs” have sustained men and women, boys and girls for centuries.  These are “testimony” songs about God’s sustaining grace and power to deliver in time of need; songs about how God rescued us from the pit of despair and put us on the path to Eternal Life; testimonies and praise to Him in upbeat, as well as quiet and worshipful, tunes; and songs simply expressing our heartfelt love and gratitude to the One who has changed our lives!

I believe the Church collectively would do well to consider including music from each of these three categories in our worship services.  Surely this admonition from the New Testament is just as important for us to observe today as it was back when it was written.  Some things are not meant to change!

 

 

A Word About Worship

Worship[1]Perhaps all of us have memories of walking in a forest or looking up at the stars on a clear night while worshipping and praising God for His creation!  However, how many times have we sat in a church pew on Sunday morning being critical, apathetic or “just there” physically, while our minds wandered to other subjects?

Even ministers, experts, and worship leaders have admitted they have had this experience, so should the rest of us be surprised if we also have trouble worshipping at times?  We face many obstacles in today’s active lifestyle and, in addition, Satan does his best to distract us and obstruct our true worship.  His desire to receive our worship instead of God results in his best efforts to distract and stop us from truly worshipping our Lord!  If successful, he has won half the battle. (Isaiah 14:12-14)

In 1961, the late A. W. Tozer rebuked evangelicals of his generation for their inadequate worship, in his book “Worship:  The Missing Jewel of the Evangelical Church”.  In 1982, Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror published a response in “Worship:  Rediscovering the Missing Jewel”.  They wrote, “The jewel is still missing, but at least now many of us know it, and miss it, and want to find it.”

For years some churches have prided themselves on free and spontaneous worship, while others have been equally proud of their staid and reverent attitude towards it.  Perhaps both have a point.  Could the ideal worship encompass both ends of the spectrum?  God is a God of balance and symmetry, and yet we as human beings tend to be off-balance on many issues, swaying first to the right and then to the left, when God is saying that somewhere in the middle we often find the ideal!

In a 1996 issue of “Moody” Magazine, published by Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, Bruce Shelley wrote an article titled, “Then and Now:  How Have Cultural Changes Altered our Expectations in Worship?”  In his informative article, Mr. Shelley details the explosive issues faced by churches attempting to change musical styles in their worship in order to improve their worship experience.  Although the need to do this was basically acknowledged by most, making it a non-controversial issue of the time, the difference of opinion as to how this should be accomplished was considerable.  In addressing the feelings that stir older members when churches change music styles, he told of the sanctified outrage he met with when he mentioned having drums in a service…”like a match dropped on a haystack!”  The room erupted in a corporate groan, followed by an outburst of laughter.  Remember, this article was written nearly twenty years ago when the changes in contemporary church worship were in their infancy.  Shelley went on to elaborate that churches across the country are “torn between the tug of tradition and the pull of style”.  Seniors want harmony; boomers want beat.  “What can be done to relieve this tension?” he asked.

Today, nearly twenty years later,  the “boomers” are the seniors in churches and the “millennials” have undertaken an even more radical approach to worship, shunning nearly all inferences to traditional church hymns or music of any sort, and imitating only the latest songs from the top “Christian” rock bands of the day or trendy pseudo-pop artists.  No matter that the music is absolutely “unsingable” to the average congregation (it sounds great on the radio where thousands of dollars have been spent to sync, digitize, loop and process each song); the lyrics trite and shallow; not to mention that the keys are pitched for high-voiced rock singers, not your average housewife or “man on the street” with zero musical ability.  Is it any wonder that when a person chances to look around the congregation, most of the audience is standing in silence, not even trying to sing?  Is this the way those attempting to come into God’s presence through corporate worship are encouraged to participate?

It is a fact that “loud cymbals” and “high sounding cymbals” are mentioned as a part of worship in Psalm 150:5 and elsewhere in the Psalms.  However, many other musical instruments used in praise and worship to God are mentioned, as well, such as the harp, lyre and ten-stringed instruments.  Should these be toned down and smothered in favor of the cymbals?  Could there be a musical balance that is pleasing to God that makes way for many instruments and styles of music?  Does the Psalmist speak about jubilant shouting in one psalm, as well as “waiting on God” and the “stillness of His presence” in another?  Are some of the anointed older hymns and songs of the past being shunned in favor of trendy fluff  with little or no theological or Bible-based soundness… not to mention, being poorly written from a musical standpoint, generally limited to three chords?  Who decided this appalling trend in music?

Perhaps, as “boomers” reach old age and “millennials” mature into middle age, there will be another generation that will emerge, seeking balance and wondering whatever happened to the hymns of old or the worship songs anointed of the Holy Spirit to bring people into a place of worship not readily experienced anymore.  Will they, then, return to the “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” mentioned in Colossians 3:16?  I pray they will!

Did God Invent “Selfies”?

selfie[1]We live in an undisputed digital age, the likes of which has never before occurred in the history of mankind!  We as “social media conscious” humans enjoy taking “selfies” to share with our friends and colleagues,”tweeting” about our latest conquests or lack of them, “posting” our latest adventures complete with pictures, and generally using our online connections to gratify our need for social acceptance and personal validation.  There is not necessarily anything wrong with this…society accepts this fact and we comply accordingly!  If we are tired of our “selfie” we change it!  If we are bored we “post”!  If we need a pat on the back or a compliment, we brag in a cute way!  You know the old adage, “He who tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted!”  Well, at least it makes us feel better in some sort of way!

But, did you know that God was the original inventor of the “selfie”?  Well, if you don’t believe me, just read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”  (KJV)

Of course, you may say, that means to speak to one another in a corporate setting such as the local congregation.  But wait!  Could it be that God knew we needed to speak some things to OURSELVES first before we could share them with someone else?  Could it be that we needed to reinforce the goodness of God, His provision for us, His blessings in our lives, to OURSELVES so we could really get these facts into our spirits?  Perhaps He really did invent the original “SELFIE”!

Yes, I understand that we are not to be “self-centered” or “narcissistic”, a word derived from the Latin “Narcissus”, a legendary young person from Greek mythology who was constantly looking at his reflection in a pool of water and was turned into the narcissus flower!  We know that in order to be totally fulfilled and happy in Christ we must look outwardly, not inwardly to ourselves all of the time.  We must put God first, then others, and in many ways, ourselves last.  As the old song says, “Jesus and Others and You, what a wonderful way to spell J-O-Y!”  Have you ever known a person who was always unhappy, feeling sorry for himself and seemingly going through endless trials and disappointments in his life, simply because he had never learned to look outside of himself and see how he could be a blessing to someone else probably suffering much more badly than himself?  This is very true and a principle of life! We gain joy by giving of ourselves to others and getting our minds off of our own problems!

However, having said that, could it be that God wants us to look “inward” and “speak to ourselves” for just a moment or two about His love, power, goodness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, healing, abundance, and on and on, so that we actually may “convince” ourselves that this is true?  It is like programming a computer in many ways.  We must first program our minds to think correctly about the Word and what we have been given through Christ!  We must first convince ourselves that He is good, that He is Lord, that He is sovereign, that He is in control in every area of our lives BEFORE we can truly worship Him in spirit and in truth; before we can truly share His love with another; before we can be a blessing to those we come in contact with; before we can spread the truth of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ!

So, why not take just a moment today to speak to YOURSELF in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, meditating and singing about His love, goodness, power and greatness!  After you have finished doing this then SHARE this love with someone nearby.  Then you can share with “one another”, collectively “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (Ephesians 5:20, ESV)  Yes, our praise is directed TO and FOR our Lord not only for what He has done for us, but for who He is!  But, do you suppose maybe we first have to speak to OURSELVES, just like we need that occasional picture “selfie” that makes us feel so special, in order to convince our minds that He really is good and His mercy endures forever?  Looking “inward” in reflective self-examination and introspection is not always a bad thing!  I think that God knew we needed this when He made Ephesians 5:19 a part of Holy Scripture!  Think about this the next time you post that “selfie”!

 

The Power of Music to Lift, Heal and Inspire!

Worship[1]A few weeks ago my husband and I decided to take a trip to the Grand Canyon.  I had never actually been there before (only flown over it several times), and the whole experience was above and beyond my expectations!  I was simply overtaken with awe and wonder at the majesty and grandeur of this magnificent work of art which our Heavenly Father made for us to enjoy!

The verses in Psalm 95:1-5 came to me.  They read, “Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!  Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.  For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods.  In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also.  The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land.”  (NKJV)

The Grand Canyon, which is one mile deep, certainly demonstrates the height of the hills and the deep places of the earth.  We also read that His hands formed the dry land; He also made the sea.  Even if God used the erosion process from the mighty Colorado River to design the gorgeous colored rock formations, it was His hands that guided the flow of the river!

This passage speaks about singing before the Lord and coming before His presence with thanksgiving, joyfully shouting to Him with psalms!  Did you know that God loves to hear our praises?  He is the greatest example of someone singing to the ones He loves.  The prophet Zephaniah writes, “The Lord your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”  (Zeph. 3:17, NKJV)

If God rejoices over us, His children, with singing and gladness, shouldn’t we do the same in worship back to Him?  We have so much to be thankful for, even when we experience sorrow and suffering.  We know that He will ultimately never give us anything to endure that is not for our good and that in the end we will come through each trial in victory!  This alone is something to shout and sing about!

Did you know that for years researchers have studied why and how music has such an enormous effect on people?  They have concluded that one of the most amazing properties of music is that it can reach parts of the brain and evoke memories that speech simply can’t reach!  This is the reason therapists often use music from a patient’s past to connect with them, often bringing dementia patients and stroke victims into the present through hearing a song and enabling them to connect with reality and speak again.  The reason for this is that a different part of the brain is used in singing and making music than in normal speech.  That is why many  people who have a stuttering problem can sing words with no difficulty!

Music has been found to boost athletic performance, help with science and mathematics skills, soothe and heal injuries, help depression, autism, and Alzheimer’s, as well as increase academic performance in general.  Don’t you think our Heavenly Father, the great God of the Universe, knew there was a certain compartment in our brains that only music could fill?  Shouldn’t we be using this beautiful gift He gave us to give back to Him in praise and worship?  After all, the primary reason why we were created is to give praise and glory to our Creator!  Our fellowship with Him will last throughout Eternity, so don’t you think it’s time we started using the gift of music He gave us?  Even if you don’t feel you have much musical ability; even if you don’t think you can hardly carry a tune; even if you don’t play a musical instrument, start in your own way to worship Him!  Try singing some of the Psalms or praise songs, or just worship Him with your own words!  You’ll be amazed at the uplifting effects!  Put on a praise CD and sing along if you are feeling down in the dumps; try singing along to some upbeat tunes as you do your housework or drive through freeway traffic; beautiful soothing worship music can help you unwind at day’s end and heal your troubled heart, helping you get to sleep faster.

We don’t need to know why music has such power in order to benefit from it.  Although it may remain an amazing and wondrous mystery, I believe God gave music to us, in the same way He formed the majestic Grand Canyon, for our enjoyment!  A great musician once remarked, “I believe one of the main purposes in God giving us music is to teach the spiritual principle of unity and oneness.  In a choir, band, or orchestra, each works in perfect harmony for a common goal.”  I agree!  Each time I have been a part of a musical group, the feeling of oneness during the performance has been exhilarating.  Could this experience give us glimpses into the spiritual unity of Heaven?

Some of today’s music, sadly, does not bring peace, nor does it edify; neither does it bring unity or sound harmonious.  Some music may sound more like tuning up part of a symphony orchestra, rather than of the symphony!  Great anthems and hymns of the Church, along with more contemporary praise and worship music that glorifies God, can bring a person into His presence like nothing else!  I challenge you to begin making music to the Lord in any way that you can….He loves to hear your praises!

 

There’s Power in the Name of Jesus!

images[5]  musicnote[1] Do you believe in the statement, “There is power in the Name of Jesus”? Have you ever thought about even singing that Name to the Enemy of our souls, who has to flee?

I just read an amazing story that I was unaware of, but it is well documented.  It has to do with the old hymn we all know and sing in our churches, “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.”   The lyrics, written in 1779 by Rev. Edward Perronet, a British minister and close friend of John and Charles Wesley, have been translated into almost every existing language and the song has often been called the “National Anthem of Christendom.”

In the early 1800’s a missionary by the name of Reverend E. P. Scott was living in India attempting to reach the native people for Christ.  At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but against the advice of his fellow missionaries, he set out alone to visit a remote village, determined to share the Gospel with a dangerous savage tribe.

After a journey of a few days, Scott was met by a large group of warriors who quickly surrounded him, each one pointing a spear towards his heart.  The missionary expected that he would die, so he made a decision to use his last few breaths to glorify God, while hopefully stirring something within the hearts of his captors.  He was a musician who always carried his violin with him, so he took it out, closed his eyes, and began to play and sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” in the native language of the warriors.  He fully expected to feel the agony of the spears being plunged into his heart at any second.

Amazingly, after singing the first verse, the second, the third and then beginning the fourth, Rev. Scott realized he was still standing, and that the angry warriors around him had become peacefully quiet!  As he slowly opened his eyes, he saw every spear lowered!  There stood those mighty warriors, with tears in their eyes.   The power of the Name of Jesus had just been demonstrated once again!

The warriors invited Rev. Scott to stay with them!  He lived among them for over two years, sharing the love of God with them and leading many of them to Christ!  The power of just one song sung in a moment of crisis changed the lives of many that day, accomplishing what a hundred sermons may never have been able to do!

The Apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2 9-11, “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (NKJV)

There is ultimate power in the Name of Jesus!  I challenge you to speak and sing that Name against the onslaughts of the Enemy in your life, whether it be for a physical, spiritual, financial, emotional or other need in your life. He responds when we call His Name out in prayer and praise….He is ever present to hear and answer us, even when things seem darkest.  I hope you will sing the words of this song in praise to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

All hail the power of Jesus’ Name, let angels prostrate fall;

Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all;

Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all.

*****

Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race, ye ransomed from the Fall;

Hail Him who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all;

Hail Him who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all.

*****

Let every kindred, every tribe on this terrestrial ball,

To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all.

To Him all majesty ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all.

*****

O that with yonder sacred throng we at His feet may fall!

We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all;

We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all.

A Word About Worship

As I was going through some of my old “stuff” the other day (you know, the ever-present need to throw some things away!), I ran across an issue of “The East Texas Christian Monthly” newspaper from January 1996.  I used to do a regular monthly column on worship in it and, sure enough, after thumbing through the pages I found the following which I wrote 18 years ago!  I decided to share it with you as I think it is as relevant today as it was back then.  I hope you will be blessed by it:

A Word About Worship

As I was contemplating what type of New Year’s resolutions to try and make (or better yet, try to keep!), I thought of ways in which my worship times with the Lord could become more meaningful this year.  I know that our quiet times alone with God can mean the difference between being productive in His Kingdom, and never really accomplishing what He intended us to do with our lives.

With this in mind, I wrote down four guidelines that I feel are essential to true worship—things that mean the difference between knowing the Father’s heart and will for us, and just haphazardly wandering through life never knowing God’s perfect will and plan for our lives.  Here are the four guidelines to help in developing a worship time with the Lord:

1.  Be consistent.  Make time each day for worship.  This is not easy to do in our hectic “rat race” type lifestyles, but it can be done if we determine it as a priority in each day.

2.  Make quality time for the Lord.  The quantity, or amount, of time is not as important as the way in which we spend it.  Some days we may be able to sit in His presence for an hour or more, reading the Word, meditating, worshipping, singing to Him, letting Him speak to us, etc.; and then, there may be those days where we have only a few minutes while driving to work or getting ready for our day in which to talk to our Lord and listen to His voice in our hearts.  However, if we are sincere, He will speak to us, and we can commune with Him even while going about our work.  We can catch quiet moments alone with Him that are precious beyond description!

3.  I must realize that to be truly effective in ministry to others, I must first worship privately.  I am only as effective publicly as I have been privately in my worship time.

4.  Be obedient to His voice and the impressions given by the Holy Spirit during my worship times.  We can gain much direction for our lives and ministries through His Word and that “still small voice” speaking to our spirits during these quiet times.  This will often be the beginning of direction from God for the plan He has for us and the way in which He wants to use us in some area of ministry.  Always be sensitive to His leading in this way!

I challenge you to begin to have a quality worship time with God this New Year.  Your Christian life will never be the same!

The Story of “Amazing Grace”

Perhaps the most famous, best-loved hymn ever written is “Amazing Grace”, penned by Anglican clergyman John Newton in late 1772 for a prayer meeting. The story of how God brought this hardened sea captain to a knowledge of saving grace is indeed remarkable!

Born in 1725 in London, England to a shipping merchant father and devout Christian mother who died of tuberculosis when he was not quite seven years old, John joined his father on a ship as an apprentice when he was only eleven. A headstrong, disobedient young man, he denounced his faith while still in his teens, joined the Royal Navy for a time and, after deserting, joined the crew of a slave ship where he began his career in slave trading.

After openly mocking the ship’s captain, creating obscene poems and songs about him that became popular with the crew, and entering into violent disagreements with several colleagues onboard, he was ordered to be chained like the slaves the ship carried, starved almost to death and imprisoned at sea. He was then enslaved and forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone in West Africa for several months until his father intervened and one of his ship captain friends picked him up on another ship bound for England.

While aboard this ship called the “Greyhound”, Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met. Even among the sailors, known for their foul-mouthed cursing, Newton was admonished several times not only for using the worst words the captain had ever heard, but creating new ones to exceed the limits of verbal debauchery. In March 1748, while the “Greyhound” was in the North Atlantic, a violent storm came up, so rough that it swept overboard a crew member who was standing where Newton had been moments before. After hours of manually pumping water from the ship’s decks, expecting to capsize at any moment, John Newton turned to the captain and said, “If this will not do, then Lord have mercy upon us!” During the next eleven hours he continued to ponder his divine challenge.

About two weeks later, after the battered ship and starving crew landed in Ireland, Newton remembered a book he had read aboard ship, The Christian’s Pattern, a summary of the 15th Century The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, and his uttered phrase in a moment of desperation. He began to ask if he was worthy of God’s mercy and grace or in any way redeemable as he had not only neglected his faith but directly opposed it, mocking others who showed theirs, deriding and denouncing God as a myth. He began to believe that God had sent him a profound message and had begun to work through him.

Although John Newton pointed to this time in his life as his conversion, he continued in the slave trade through several voyages up the rivers of Africa, now as a captain, procuring slaves offered for sale in larger ports and subsequently transporting them to North America. Two days before he was to embark on his fourth slave-trading expedition, a mysterious illness temporarily paralyzed him. His doctors advised him not to sail. Even though he was subsequently promised a position as a ship’s captain with cargo unrelated to slavery, he never sailed again. The replacement captain of the ship he was to command when he became ill was later murdered in a shipboard slave uprising. God’s hand was upon John Newton!

He was only thirty-years-old when he ended his slave trading career. Teaching himself Latin, Greek and theology, he and his new wife, Mary, took a pastorate in Olney, England, after the Earl of Dartmouth, impressed with Newton’s story of his conversion and renunciation of the slave trade, sponsored him for ordination. Newton soon became friends with people like Charles and John Wesley, who had encouraged Newton to go into the clergy and was the founder of the Methodist Church; George Whitfield, a famous Church of England evangelistic preacher; and William Cowper, a gifted hymn writer (“There Is a Fountain” among others). Newton and Cowper began weekly prayer meetings in 1768 and attempted to present a poem or hymn at each one.  “Amazing Grace” was probably used in a prayer meeting for the first time on January 1, 1773. In 1779 a collection of the poems these two men had written for their services in Olney was bound and published anonymously under title “Olney Hymns”. Newton contributed 280 of the 348 texts and titled his best known poem, “I Chronicles 17:16-17, Faith’s Review and Expectation” with the first line: “Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)”, no doubt thinking back on his remarkable conversion from a sinful life of shame! The entire first stanza, speaking of a “wretch like me”, undoubtedly expresses his regret over years spent in the slave trade.

Newton soon joined forces with a young man named William Wilberforce, the British member of Parliament who led the campaign to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire which culminated in the Slave Trade Act 1807, and became an ardent and outspoken abolitionist.

Years later, in 1847, William Walker assigned Newton’s words to a traditional song named “New Britain”, and published the song in the United States in his songbook, “Southern Harmony”. It was an immediate success and became enormously popular all over the country. A new verse, not written by Newton, was added by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her best-selling 1852 anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, which had been passed down orally in African-American communities for at least 50 years:

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.

“Amazing Grace” continues to be an emblem of the Christian faith today, as well as a symbol of hope during tragedies like the Civil War, the persecution of various groups such as African-American slaves, the Cherokees who sang it while on their “Trail of Tears” as a way of coping with their ongoing battle, and all of us who suffer in one way or another. If it were not for God’s “Amazing Grace” where would any of us be?