Wednesday, December 19, 2007


John Newton wrote this song about the coming day of judgment. Although it holds out the judgment of God for the unrepentant sinner, it also contains prayers for mercy for the believer. In this respect it is quite similar to our confession about Christ coming to judge the living and the dead (see Lord's Day 19, Q&A 52). Stanzas 1 & 3 announce the judgment of God on sin and sinners; stanzas 2 & 4 are comforting words of assurance for believers in Christ. The text concludes with a paraphrase of the words of the Lord Jesus in Mathew 25:34, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."

John Newton was born and died in London, England (1725-1807). His mother died when he was seven years old. At age 11, with but two years schooling, John went to sea with his father. His life at sea was filled with violence and recklessness. He grew into a godless man. He was once flogged as a deserter from the navy, and for 15 months lived, half starved and ill treated, as a slave in Africa.

A providential reading of Thomas à Kempis' Imitation of Christ sowed the seed of his conversion. It was accelerated by a night spent steering a waterlogged ship in the face of apparent death. He was then 23 years old. Over the next six years, during which he commanded a slave ship, his faith matured. He then spent the next nine years mostly in Liverpool, studying Hebrew and Greek and mingling with leading English Christian leaders. He was eventually ordained into the ministry.

Among his greatest contributions to history was encouraging William Wilberforce, a Member of the British Parliament, to stay in Parliament and "serve God where he was", rather than enter the ministry. Wilberforce heeded the ex-slaveship captain's advice, and spent the next twenty years successfully working for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

John Newton wrote many hymns. He is probably best known for Amazing Grace.

The text has been set to several tunes. In our Augment it is set to CORONAE, composed by Willliam Monk (1823-1889). Monk was a teacher and director of music most of his adult life. He was the first musical editor for Hymns Ancient and Modern, the historic hymnal which sold 60 million copies.

Sources: Psalter Hymnal Handbook; Internet

No comments: