Summary: This is a Hymnology Sermon Series teaching the stories behind some of the most beloved hymns found in our hymnals.
(Facts compiled from “52 Hymn Stories Dramatized,” and “Living Stories of Famous Hymns,” as well as extensive internet search. It is presented with two people interacting back and forth. The video used for this sermon can be purchased at bluefishtv.)
18 The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 "Is this your son?" they asked. "Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?" 20 "We know he is our son," the parents answered, "and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself." 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. "Give glory to God," they said. "We know this man is a sinner." 25 He replied, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!"
We are finishing up our February sermon series called “Hymnology 101.” We have spent this entire month looking at some of the most famous hymns that we so often take for granted. Every song in our hymnal has a history, every song has a profound story behind it, and every song is rich with God’s love and inspiration. As we learn the history behind these songs, it is our hope… that we look to every song we sing… with more dedication, more understanding, and more focus on worshiping our God.
Pastor: Most Christians who sing “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” don’t really feel like wretches. But the author of the hymn, John Newton, did. And if ever there was a wretch who was marvelously saved by the grace of God, it was the man who penned these autobiographical lines.
J.D.: London-born John Newton, only child of a respectable sea-captain father, was early dedicated to the Christian ministry by his devout mother. His religious training began almost at once, and, by the time he was four, he could recite passages from the Westminster Catechism and the children’s hymns of Isaac Watts.
Pastor: Newton’s mother died when he was just seven years of age, and this would drastically change the course of young Newton’s life. He spent several unhappy years of formal schooling at a boarding school before leaving school early to join his father’s ship at the age of eleven.
J.D.: His early years were one continuous round of rebellion and debauchery. He bounced from ship to ship, living a life that even sailors said was “out of control.” When things seemed like they couldn’t get much worse for John Newton… they did.
Pastor: At the age of seventeen he became a deserter. In very short time he was caught and brought back like a common felon. So severe was his punishment that he plotted suicide. After his imprisonment, he embarked on a career of such wickedness that his friends worried about his sanity.
J.D.: Living for a time among the cruel slavers of Sierra Leone, his heart was hardened even more by the mistreatment by his Portuguese master’s black wife. He later wrote about these days saying, “Had you seen me sneak away in the dead of night to wash my one shirt upon the rocks and afterward to put it on wet that it might dry on my back while I slept; had you seen me so poor a figure than when a ship’s boat came to the island, shame often constrained me to hide myself in the woods from the sight of strangers; had you known that my conduct, principles and heart were still darker than my outward condition – how little would you have imagined that such a one was reserved to be so peculiar an instance of the providential care and exuberant goodness of God.”
Pastor: Escape finally came for Newton in the form of a ship that took him away from Sierra Leone, and this opportunity opened yet another dark chapter in the life of Newton. After serving on several ships, Newton eventually became the captain of his own slave ship. Needless to say, the buying and selling and transporting of black slaves was a cruel and vicious way of life.
J.D.: In 1748, while Newton was returning to England from Africa during a particularly stormy voyage that lasted nearly a month, it often appeared that all would be lost. Fearfully Newton began reading a book by Thomas a’ Kempis titled The Imitation of Christ. Thomas was a Dutch monk who lived during the fifteenth century and belonged to a religious order called “The Brethren of the Common Life.” This book and the Scriptures were used by the Holy Spirit to sow the seeds of John’s conversion during the frightening experience at sea.