Not too long ago, Windsor Chapel’s Worship Team introduced us to a new song as an offertory. “Broken Vessels” is a beautiful contemporary version of “Amazing Grace.” Indeed, it even includes the Christian classic’s first line: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” It stands with other contemporary versions of “Amazing Grace” and joins countless versions and arrangements that have appeared since the hymn was first published in 1779. But why has just one of over 200 hymns of a relatively obscure believer in 18th Century England generated such a legacy? I think there are two very significant pieces to the story of “Amazing Grace.”
First, its message. I believe that the old hymn has endured because its message is a succinct and memorable proclamation of the Gospel: I am a wretch, helpless and hopeless in my sin. But by the grace of God, I have been rescued from my sin: Christ as paid the penalty for it, and He invites me to live a new life in Him.
This is an old message but no less relevant than when Newton or Christ or the Apostles proclaimed it. In today’s culture, it is often regarded with disdain and distaste. Since human beings are regarded as intrinsically good, we need merely develop and share that goodness. But it isn’t true. We aren’t good. We don’t need remediation; we need salvation.
The salvation offered by Christ is a multi-faceted gift of redemption. His death on the cross on our behalf covers our sins, “buys us back,” so to speak. We can enjoy a right place before God and confidence before His throne. But it reaches far beyond that as God takes even the ugliest and most painful parts of our history and remakes them into blessings.
The redemptive work of God is what “Amazing Grace” is all about. It is a story within a story: not only is it a powerful proclamation of the Gospel, it is the story of its author. Most of us are at least somewhat familiar with John Newton. He is best known as a slave trader who received Christ and became a force for great good in his world. Less known are the difficulties he faced as a boy losing his mother and as an impetuous young man who endured mistreatment and even slavery himself. The amazing grace he experienced as God saved him and worked his past for his good became the story of his life.
This is where the story of John Newton intersects with the story of our lives. We, like Newton, have been rescued from our sin through the grace of God. And now we get to experience God’s redemption as he weaves all the threads of our past—all the sin, all the hardship—into a tapestry of life that manifests His good purposes for us and reveals His glory. And you never know. God may use us in a way that echoes for generations to come.