Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
Home | About Dr. Phillips | Forest Garden Office | Reading Room | Advice Line Articles | "Office Staff" | Other Services | Psych-mobile | Choosing a Therapist | Affordable Therapy or Life Coaching | Dedication

Amazing Grace!

                       

 

 

 

                                                                AMAZING GRACE!

 

Can you bring Amazing Grace into your life?  And will Amazing Grace remain with you and carry you to Salvation?  Lets learn more about this important song and what it can do for you.  Can it transform your life?

 

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound.”  Just hearing these words, your mind and heart are soaring to the beautiful words and melody of this wonderful song. You probably feel grace and love swelling in your heart as the song raises your spirits and hopes for a blessed life on earth before your transition to an eternal life in the heavenly realm.

 

Did you ever wonder how grace “saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind but now I see.”  The song continues to relieve fears and promises “Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”   Promise and hope lead to a thought that “I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace”… And God “will be forever mine.”

 

What a wonderful promise! The song reveals an important truth that everyone can be saved and enjoy a good life, “The Lord has promised good to me, His Word my hope secures; He will my Shield and Portion be, As long as life endures.”

 

I’d like you to think deeply about these words and thrilling music as they uplift your spirit and hope for a blessed future. Is your future and your eternal life sanctified by the eternal grace of God’s blessing?  You may, as so many do, return to ordinary life and find anger, frustration, and anxiety about the future, all contributing to a life vastly different from that promised in this wonderful song. Even worse, many will go back to their ordinary life feeling justified in their gripes and complaints, maybe yelling at their children and spouse, complaining about their neighbors, twittering their time away, immersing themselves in TV and movies, and finally even forgetting the need to renew their lives and faith as promised in their song.

 

I’m speaking to you, all of you who are blessed and upheld by this beautiful song and wish to understand the important issues and learn to steer your life into the promise of eternal grace. Let’s first look at the origin of this song. Very interesting! You may have heard that the author of this song was a ship’s captain profiting from transporting slaves across the world from Africa. Beset by a terrible storm, he lashed his body to the mast and promised that if saved, he would cease and desist from this terrible occupation and change his life.  There is an important grain of truth in this story. Like all real life stories, and remember your life is a real life, the truth is somewhat more complicated. I want you to know “the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.” The story of the real John Newton can lead you to the real truth and a real earthly life of grace, peace and love as you eventually transition to the love and beauty of eternal life.

 

Yes, John Newton was a real man (1725 – 1807), an Englishman, whose life did end up in

amazing grace after actually being the type of “wretch” he did describe. After being ordained in the Church of England, Newton actually wrote the words to “Amazing Grace” to illustrate his sermon on New Years Day of 1773.  (In 1835, the words were then joined to a song named “New Britain” to which it is most frequently sung today.)  Before his conversion and life change, Newton was quite a “wretch.”  As a psychologist, I can understand perhaps how Newton grew to be a wretched person,   knowing that his mother died when he was six years old and he was raised by an emotionally distant stepmother while his father was away at sea, then spent some time in a boarding school where he was apparently mistreated.  As an adult, Newton looked back at his earlier life, writing, “How illustrious is Satan served. I was formerly one of his active undertemptors and had my influence been equal to my wishes I would have carried all the human race with me. A common drunkard or profligate is a petty center to what I was.”  Apparently Newton made a habit of obscene misbehavior, shocking others with his debauchery, invoking God’s mercy when needed then relapsing into his bad habits.  He did have a career in trading slaves and actually returned to his life of slave trading after the event in 1743 where he lashed himself to the mast and was saved from the terrible storm.  Toward the end of his career as a slave trader, he married the love of his life and at the age of 30 he had an epileptic seizure and was never able to sail again. 

 

How did this obscene slave trader change to be the preacher who wrote these beautiful words and found, “The earth shall soon dissolve like snow, The sun forbear to shine, but God, who called me here below, Will be forever mine”.  Newton found his passion in theology and evangelism. He taught himself Latin and Greek and immersed himself in church work. After writing about his experiences in the slave trade and his conversion, Newton was sponsored for ordination and offered a post as a pastor in the village of Olney.  Newton wrote many hymns for his parishioners including Amazing Grace 25 years after the incident at sea.  Apparently he wrote many of his hymns in the first person often describing his sinful past. Eventually Newton became an abolitionist even in the day when the general public supported slavery.   

 

Just to finish this history the incredibly beautiful last verse of the modern Amazing Grace was not written by Newton but by Harriet Beecher Stowe in her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin where she describes Tom singing these verses.  Another man reaching out to God in a time of crisis! “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.”  This beautiful song handed from slave trader to English pastor to abolitionist: what a wonderful redemptive history!

 

This history is important as is the realization that one impulse and prayer in a time of turmoil will not necessarily lead to a life of salvation.  Nor will singing a beautiful song of God’s grace bring you that salvation.  But some do make that claim which Newton would definitely not support.  For example, this quotation from the Christian Apologetics Research Ministry, “Biblically, grace is unmerited favor. It is God’s free action for the benefit of His people. It is different from justice and mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Justice is getting what we deserve. Grace is getting what we do not deserve. In grace we get eternal life, something that, quite obviously, we do not deserve, but because of God’s loving kindness manifested in Jesus on the Cross, we receive the great blessing of redemption.”

 

What did John Newton write about grace other than his beautiful hymn? There exists an important book brought to us by a professor of Spiritual Theology, Bruce Hindmarsh,Ph.D, “The Life and Spirituality of John Newton”, Regent College Publishing, 1998.  After an introduction, the book quotes directly from letters written by John Newton himself. Understanding what has been written about Newton’s life and conversion, we see that he spent 30 years as a “wretch”, some of those after he first received grace on the slave ship, and his remaining 52 years doing God’s work and  earning enduring grace as a cleric. Newton distinctly described three necessary stages (A, B and C) in developing spirituality and grace. In the first stage, as happened to Newton, “The beginning of this work is instantaneous… He mistakes the nature and design of these comforts, which are not given him to rest in, but to encourage him to press forward. He thinks he is then right, because he has them, and finally hopes to have them always… But ere long… Indwelling sin revives, with fresh strength, and perhaps, Satan returns with redoubled rage.” In the next stage, B, Newton describes this part of life as consisting of conflict: “now faith is stronger, it has more to grapple with… So there are usually trials… Sharper in their measure than what B was exposed to or indeed had strength to endure.”  The last stage which he describes as C, contemplation, C inquires, “What shall I do to be saved?... “His assurance is of course more stable and more simple than when he first saw himself safe from all condemnation… And having found again and again the vanity of all other helps, he is now taught to go to the Lord at once for grace to help in every time of need.” He calls this a stage of “humility… submission to the will of God… tenderness of spirit towards his fellow Christians.  This stage also includes “spirituality… communion with God and progress in holiness… and a union of heart to the glory and will of God.”

 

Very clearly, Newton himself describes a long period of time in which grace is conferred gradually in many years of trial and practice of good works.  So, readers, please do not believe that grace will come to you easily by singing this song or merely petitioning for salvation.  When your time comes to depart from this earth, rest comfortably with years of good works and love to your credit.  Do remember the Lords Prayer:  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Look at the example of Newton’s 52 years of God’s work redeeming his soul and truly loving his neighbors and his parishioners!

 

I thank you for reading this information and hope that you will take it into your heart. Listen to this amazing song frequently and realize, as did Newton, that the state of grace is precious and must be lived and carefully tended throughout your years on earth.  If you understand that we are eternal spirits and will one day return to eternal life, then we will live our lives following the Golden Rule of love!