One of the great advantages of being human, we can sing. Playing an instrument is an art, but singing is something that comes natural to us all. Admittedly, some can not hold a tune in a bucket, but who told God you had to sing on tune or time to praise him. The New Testament is full of instructions to sing. Paul wrote, “I will sing with the spirit and I will sing with the understanding also” (I Corinthians 14:15). He didn’t mention being ‘in tune’. James shouts, “If any are merry (feeling good), let him sing Psalms” (James 5:13). The Ephesian church were admonished to “Be filled with the Spirit… singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19).
We sing better than we live. We sing to live better. All of us, at one time or another, made up his/her own songs. I added a verse to the familiar children’s song of “Jesus loves me this I know”. Sing this verse to the same tune. “God loves old folks this I know; for the Bible tells me so. Old grey heads to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.” Add another verse. Old folks live by God’s own grace. You can see it in their face; wrinkles, warts and bunions too, God love me and I love you”.
One of the most popular songs of all time was written by a man named John Newton. He was a former rebel, atheist, blasphemer, fornicator and slave trader. Born in 1725, Newton was the son of a Captain of the sea and a master of ships. John’s mother was a strong Bible believing woman. He learned The Book from his mother’s lips. She died of tuberculosis in the summer of l732. He began a sailor’s life at the age of eleven. The wild ways of the sea became his life. His young life was influenced by Shaftesbury’s philosophy of “Do your own thing and get all of life now”. He deserted the British navy and was caught, chained, cruelly flogged and returned to the ship. Finally he was traded off by the captain to a merchant shipman.
Plunging into immorality with slave of slaves, chained, almost starved to death, sick and treated worse than the slaves; his father came and rescued him. Ultimately, John’s partner traded him off and John began to prosper in the slave business. He settled on the African coast, where he lived with a native girl and occasionally thought of Polly.
John Newton boarded a ship for home in January of 1848. He had been reading the book, Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A. Kempis. During the night of March 10 a terrible storm hit the ship. For hours all worked to save the ship. During the night John was heard to say, “May the Lord have mercy on us all”. They worked for days, lost at sea, ran out of food and water before they finally sighted land and anchored. John would never forget those 27 days. He believed a miracle had saved him. He wrote his father and asked his forgiveness. He married his childhood sweetheart, Polly Catlett. He became a tide surveyor and their home became a center of hospitality where he told the story of his rescue by the amazing grace of God. John Newton was given a small church to serve in Olney, England. His popularity led him eventually to preach for London’s greatest Tabernacle. When he retired, the story is told of him making his way from the anteroom to the pulpit in an old Captain’s uniform. A Bible in one hand and a cane in the other, much unlike the gun and whip he used to carry. To a hushed audience he read a poem he had written long before; “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.”
At 82, with eyes blinded and memory fading, Newton spoke these last words. “My memory is nearly gone. I still remember two things; “that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great savior”.
Next time you sing, Amazing Grace, sing all the verses.
“T’was grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come.
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing his praise, that when we first begun.”
The apostle put in words what John Newton put in song, when he wrote, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith… It is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8-10).