Amazing Grace

‘Amazing Grace’ was written by John Newton in 1772 and was first published in 1779 in a collection called ‘Olney Hymns’ in which all the lyrics were by either Newton or the poet William Cowper. We have no idea what tune was originally sung to this hymn.

‘Amazing Grace’ became very popular in 19th century America and it was there that it was first sung to the American folk tune we now associate with it.

Interestingly, Newton’s original final verse was different from the ‘When we’ve been there ten thousand years’ verse that we now sing. The substitution was made by an American editor, who replaced the original (which he apparently felt was too Calvinistic?) with the words now familiar to us. The difference is easily noticeable in that Newton’s original verses are all in the first person singular, while the new verse is in the plural.

I have written my own tune to ‘Amazing Grace’, and have chosen to sing Newton’s original words, not the later American edition.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788): ‘Author of Every Work Divine’

I came across this hymn lyric in Bruce Hindmarsh’s brilliant book ‘The Spirit of Early Charles_WesleyEvangelicalism‘, in a chapter describing the attitude of early evangelicals (the Wesleys, Jonathan Edwards,  George Whitfield) toward the emerging science of their day. It turns out that they were very curious about it and wrote extensively on the subject.

I find this lyric interesting. It is addressed to God the Holy Spirit, who traditionally is seen as being involved in creation (‘and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters’ – Genesis 1.2 KJV). However, in today’s evangelicalism I think it would be rare to find much discussion about the Holy Spirit’s role in the creation and sustenance of the universe; the emphasis would be almost entirely on the Spirit’s role in the work of human salvation. This lyric, then, is a salutary reminder to us of the attitude of an earlier generation: ‘Author of every work divine who dost through both creations shine’ (i.e. the old creation of the universe, and the new creation in Christ). The Spirit is not only the God of grace, but also the God of nature.

Charles Wesley: ‘Author of Every Work Divine’

Author of every work divine,
Who dost thro’ both creations shine,
The God of nature and of grace,
Thy glorious steps in all we see,
And wisdom attribute to thee,
And power, and majesty, and praise.

That all-informing breath thou art,
Who dost continued life impart,
And bidst the world persist to be;
Garnish’d by thee yon azure sky;
And all those beauteous orbs on high
Depend in golden chains from thee.

Thou dost create the earth anew,
Its Maker and Preserver too,
By thine almighty arm sustain;
Nature perceives thy secret force,
And still holds on her even course,
And owns thy providential reign.

Thou art the Universal Soul,
The plastick power that fills the whole,
And governs earth, air, sea, and sky;
The creatures all thy breath receive,
And who by thy inspiring live,
Without thy inspiration die.

Spirit immense, eternal Mind!
Thou on the souls of all mankind
Dost with benignest influence move;
Pleas’d to restore a sinful race,
And new create a world of grace
In all the image of thy love