Amazing Grace (Reprise)

More evidence of hymn-writer’s love for the Jews.

By Charles Gardner.

Further to my recent article on Amazing Grace, the hymn that changed the world, I have since gained deeper insight into the part played by its author in Israel’s restoration, thanks to a kind reader.

I had outlined how John Newton, a key witness in the long campaign leading to the abolition of slavery, had persuaded William Wilberforce to stay in politics rather than pursuing a pulpit ministry which he was seriously thinking of doing.

This, of course, enabled him not only to drive through the Abolition Bill, but also influence men in high places to pursue other great causes including that of the Jewish people.

Wilberforce was co-founder in 1809 of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), thus helping to facilitate both the physical and spiritual revival of God’s chosen (CMJ’s focus to this day) through influencing politicians of the era.

In the end, Britain played a key role through the Balfour Declaration and their subsequent Mandate to prepare the Jewish homeland for statehood.

It turns out, according to my source Marylynn Rouse, of Kettering in Northamptonshire, that Newton had also expressed his love for Jews in a personal way.

In 1780, as recorded in a letter to his close friend, the poet and fellow hymn-writer William Cowper, he took his servant Phoebe to a London synagogue – presumably because she was Jewish – to her obvious great delight.

Later on, before the founding of CMJ and shortly before Newton himself died at the close of 1807 (after the passing of the Abolition Bill), he was mentioned as having attended a series of lectures for Jews at London’s Jewry Street Chapel.

Joseph Frey, a Messianic Jew who was to become the chief founder of CMJ, records: “Among the many ministers who attended was the late Rev John Newton, who was so affected that he wept like a child.”

In addition, Newton’s adopted niece Betsy Catlett, who lived with him from the age of five, left £50 (a significant sum in those days) in her will to CMJ, then known as the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews.

Christians around the world have been celebrating the 250th anniversary of Amazing Grace – even the BBC’s long-running Songs of Praise dedicated their weekly programme to the hymn.

During his 16 years as curate (assistant priest) at Olney, Buckinghamshire, Newton and Cowper between them wrote a new hymn each week for the church prayer meeting.

Amazing Grace was written to accompany Newton’s 1773 New Year’s Day sermon – an exposition and application of 1 Chronicles 17, specifically verses 16 and 17, expressing God’s graciousness in allowing King David (with all his faults) to rule forever – through his progeny – as ancestor of the Messiah.

It was in effect David’s own testimony of God’s Amazing Grace, as indeed the hymn told how the Lord had saved a ‘wretch’ like Newton – the former slave ship captain – to proclaim the mercy of the gospel to others. It has since also become the testimony of millions.

Here are a couple of examples of how the hymn connects with the Chronicles passage: verse 8, which reads “I (Yahweh) have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you”, becomes “through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come”.

And verse 26, “…you have promised this good thing to your servant”, becomes “the Lord has promised good to me”.

With grateful thanks to Marylynn. For more information, see her website on the John Newton Project –