Posted in hymns, theology

O How His Grace Amazes Me – The Hymn that Spawned a Book

By Elizabeth Prata

An interview from 2010 regarding Sinclair Ferguson’s inspiration for his then-new book By Grace Alone.

 

 

Pastor Conrad Mbewe wrote about the hymn and its author, pastor Emmanuel T. Sibomana, an African Baptist pastor in Burundi. (1915-1975). Mbewe wrote-

I think that Oh, how the grace of God amazes me should rank among such hymns as Amazing grace by John Newton. To begin with, it is an experiential hymn. It speaks about our experience of the grace of God. Anyone who “has been there” will immediately identify with it. Something in your soul resonates with the lyrics as you sing the hymn. It is not the senseless excitement of those who are drunk with wine, but an informed warmth of heart because of a godly reflection on what God has done for you in Christ. And by the time you get to the last stanza, you really want the whole of creation to join you in singing your divine Saviour’s eternal praise.

Sinclair said that he had begun a project with the church organist to play through and intently listen to all the hymns in the hymn book at their church. They did this over successive nights. When they came to O How His Grace Amazes Me, Ferguson was struck by the power of the hymn and its progression into all the important doctrines, and unusually, on grace.

The hymn caused him to ponder these things for a good while, until finally breaking forth into the book he decided to write.

When Sinclair is asked if the world needed yet another book on grace, he said the world should be filled with books on grace. Amen! I love the doctrine of grace. I pray that the music at your services cause you to truly reflect on the great doctrines and the awesome attributes of God.

Here is Emmanuel Sibomana’s hymn O How His Grace Amazes Me:

Modern arrangement, 4-min: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s963Kq4sbtk

Traditional arrangement with organ, 7-min- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAsCo_RsHJg

Posted in amazing grace, discernment, hymns, savior, sinner, words, wretch

Do you mind when they change the lyrics to ‘Amazing Grace’ and leave out "wretch"?

Words matter. I was a newspaperwoman for 7 years and let me assure you, the words we choose to put in print color our perceptions of the world, of people, and of concepts. The same goes for poems, stories, and textbooks. I can’t imagine any writer who doesn’t take care with choosing exactly the right word to use at particular points of his or her piece. (Except maybe Proust).

Consider this sentence,

“The large group of activists marched through town”
“The large group of protesters walked through town”

A different take, depending on which word was chosen, isn’t it?

On March 11, 2003 an actual NY Times headline read:
Iraq forces suspension of U.S. surveillance flights

And on the same day the headline reporting the same incident in USA Today read:
U.N. Withdraws U-2 Planes

This is known as bias. As the essay from ‘News Bias Explored: Word Choice‘ defines, “Words are very precise building blocks that form the basis for all communicated ideas…Bias, in many forms, is not necessarily explicit in the words that have been used but can be recognized when seen in the fuller context that the words represent. Journalists do this by manipulating single words in such a way that whole sentences’ meanings are subtly changed…and sometimes not so subtly.

I wasn’t saved by grace until I was 43 years old. That meant I had many years as a youth and a fully grown adult to reject Jesus and all He stands for. I remember several times being in places where the hymn “Amazing Grace” by John Newton was sung. Whether it was a concert or a church wedding, the hymn is usually familiar to even the most oblivious of a non church-going person, like me, because it is played even at so many places other than church where the lost tend to congregate.

Wikipedia says of the song:

Author Gilbert Chase describes “Amazing Grace” as “without a doubt the most famous of all the folk hymns.” Jonathan Aitken, a Newton biographer, estimates that it is performed about 10 million times annually. “Amazing Grace” stands as an emblematic Negro spiritual and exemplar of Appalachian shape note hymnody. In the nineteenth century the hymn was sung by Native Americans enduring the ordeal of the Trail of Tears, by abolitionists, by soldiers in the U.S. Civil War, and by homesteaders settling the Prairies. Today it has attained international popularity…” (Left, John Newton, author of Amazing Grace”)

What an opportunity the lost person has to learn of the grace of the Great Savior! That they are lost, which they do not know! That grace awaits, which they do not understand. They they are a wretch but can be saved, that they need but do not want. In places where bibles are banned and sermons are stopped, songs can be sung with loaded words which carry the grace of Jesus and the first, dawn-like whiffs of hope and deliverance.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24)When I was lost, I liked the hymn. I thought it was pretty, and had a good message and stirred me somehow. Except one part I hated. When it got to the lyric that said, “saved a WRETCH like me.” When it got to that part, I closed my mouth and refused to sing the line. ‘I’m not a wretch’ I’d think to myself. ‘I’m a good person! How ridiculous to have such low self-esteem!’

Of course, that was the point Newton was trying to make. He was a very great sinner, but so are we all. No matter who is singing this song, save one exception in the universe (Jesus), that wretch lyric can and does apply.

Now that we are in such an apostate world, no one likes to believe they are a wretch. But unless we understand how very great of a wretch we are, we will not understand how very great a Savior we have. I heard “Amazing Grace” this week by a new artist. The lyric had been changed. This is what she sang-

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a SOUL like me.”

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (Revelation 3:17)
We all have a soul. Even the most atheistic of people believe we have a soul and it goes somewhere after we die, if even to be annihilated or changed into a centipede. What’s so amazing about grace that saves a soul? Nothing. It is the wretch that is saved that is so amazing.

but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us“. (Romans 5:8)

Jesus didn’t die for souls, He died for sinners, wretched sinners. If you are confronted with a lyric or a verse where it has been changed, please know that it makes a difference. Remember that what you read or hear are words, and words communicate ideas. The most important idea in the universe is that we are all sinners in need of a Savior, and that Savior IS Jesus Christ and no other. We are all wretches, and Jesus as the Sinless One lifted us up and gave us new life in Him. As the article above I’d quoted and linked to states, the lost world likes to change ideas and they do “this by manipulating single words in such a way that whole sentences’ meanings are subtly changed.” Wretch and soul are not the same. Words matter.

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Further Reading:

Here is a short documentary about the song and how it came to be written.

Amazing Grace: The Story Behind the Song

Wretched Radio with Todd Friel