‘Amazing Grace’: The Meaning and Its African Connection


So often, I see situations wherein some of us are misusing God’s grace, something we don’t even deserve, and it grieves my heart. Therefore, this is an opportune time for me to share this Word again, with a few changes, that I wrote exactly five years ago. I hope that it will help somebody before it is too late. One of the most popular songs in the hymnal is “Amazing Grace.” That song is one of a testimony for many when they come to Christ. It is a soothing balm for those whose inner souls are bound with the chains of grief, pain, misery, trials, and tribulations. It is often used as a devotional song in some churches on Sunday mornings or mid-week prayer services. Often it is the opening hymn on Sunday mornings at many houses of God. Before I move any farther into this message, let’s make sure that we understand the meaning of “grace.” “In Western Christian theology, ‘grace’ has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as ‘the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it.’” Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV) clearly states, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Justin Holcomb said, “Grace is the love of God shown to the unlovely; the peace of God given to the restless; the unmerited favor of God.” Each day we live, it is only because of God’s “grace,” and that is why we should give thanks to Him before we do anything else when we wake up in the morning and before we retire each night. Further, we should thank Him every opportunity that we get, no matter the place, time, or the company. “Grace” is our hope beyond death, and it is so amazing because God does not leave us in our dirt, our misery, our fears, and our pain. The lyrics to this hymn, “Amazing Grace,” that so many in the Christian world love, were penned by John Newton, a powerful, popular Anglican priest who use to be the captain of a slave ship before he accepted Christ into his life. His mother died when he was only seven-years-old, but his Christian training through her soon left him. He went on several voyages with his father, engaging in slave trading. It was one day while on the sea, and there was a raging storm that frightened him to the point that he thought he was going to die that he experienced the conversion. When he penned this beloved hymn, he referred to himself as a “wretch.” Some may look at that as deliberate exaggeration, but he was, as I use to hear my maternal grandmother say, “A wretch undone”! Newton knew he had done so much wrong throughout his life and publicly admitted it. Most of all, in that terrible storm, he cried out, “Lord, please save us.” Further, Newton probably felt within his soul that if God’s grace was going to save a “wretch” like him, it had to be

“amazing”! Consequently, just look at what a testimony he left behind in this song that serves as a method to deliverance from one’s wicked ways of the world! Then, what is the African connection? As you have already gathered in this message, John Newton was in the slave trading business. There are historical accounts that indicate that the tune of his hymn sounds much like a West African sorrow chant, and Newton may have heard this chant during one of his slave-trading voyages and could have possibly penned his hymn, “Amazing Grace,” to the melody of this chant. In some hymnals, the word “Unknown” is given for the melody as the name “John Newton” is attributed to the words. As I continue to share with you the African musical connection to this revered hymn, I invite you to watch a performance at Carnegie Hall by famed Gospel singer, Reverend Wintley Phipps, that renders a hair-raising message about the history of the tune, his research, and his singing of “Amazing Grace.” He sings it in a way that you probably have never heard before. I have listened to this performance over a dozen times, and I get goosebumps every time I hear it. If it doesn’t “move” you the first time you hear it, listen again. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNuQbJst4Lk . It is only just a little over eight minutes long. Rather than go into more detail about what it entails, I would rather let you hear it for yourself. Please listen and share with the saved and the unsaved. Always abound in the faith, and never leave home without Him!