Summary: This is the fourth in a four part series adapted from David Jeremiah’s book, Captured by Grace. It explores the man, melody and message behind John Newton’s timeless hymn Amazing Grace. Email me for the PowerPoint slides.
AMAZING GRACE: VERSE FOUR
Scott Bayles, pastor
Based on David Jeremiah’s Captured by Grace
First Christian Church, Rosiclare, IL
If you’re visiting with us this morning or you just happened to miss the past three Sundays, we’ve spent the last few weeks with our Bibles in one hand and a hymnal in the other as we’ve been exploring the man, the melody and the message behind John Newton’s timeless hymn, Amazing Grace.
Packed tightly into every single verse of this wonderful song is the message of God’s amazing grace—a grace so amazing that it transformed a ruthless slave trader into a tireless servant of Jesus Christ. Newton’s special joy as a pastor was to craft hymns to accompany his sermons. While the other hymns he composed have been long forgotten, Amazing Grace has endured for more than two hundred years and continues to encourage, uplift and inspire worshippers all over the world.
Within the lyrics of the first verse, we discover the captivating presence of grace, the compassionate purpose of grace, and the changing power of grace. In the second verse, we find the confusing paradox of grace and the connecting point of grace. The third verse highlights the comforting provision of grace and the confident promise of grace.
But it may surprise you that what we normally sing as the fourth verse to Amazing Grace wasn’t actually written by John Newton. The closing stanza you and I know and love first appeared in 1909. Edwin Excell, who was an accomplished composer, discovered a version of Amazing Grace that added these lines:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shinning as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.
Excell admired this version with its vision set in eternal glory, so he grafted these new lines to the existing ones and we’ve sung them that way ever since. Like the others before it, this final verse of Amazing Grace opens our eyes to two fantastic aspects of God’s grace, beginning with the compelling prospect of grace.
• THE COMPELLING PROSPECT OF GRACE
The opening lines of this final verse are as timeless as the hymn itself: “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shinning as the sun…”
Eternity—it’s a compelling prospect, isn’t it?
It excites hope and defies understanding.
If we could envision, just a little, what that world will be like, we would no longer fear death. If our limited minds could manage to hold the briefest glimpse of eternal glory, that vision would change everything about the way we live now.
John Newton had some idea of eternity and he had no problem with death. In fact, in his later life Newton’s letters and diary entries looked more and more to the hope of paradise that lay just over the horizon of his lifelong voyage. In 1804, he wrote plainly yet profoundly, “Time, how short! Eternity, how long.” His friends noticed a growing tendency toward morbid humor. He once told a colleague that he was “packed, sealed, and waiting for the post.” He was ready for heaven.
While he still possessed life and breath, however, he tended to his beloved sermons and hymns—Amazing Grace among the latter. While the final verse would be penned by another hand, Newton did provide three other seldom heard verses:
The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endure.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
and mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
Forever. Our minds can hardly grasp the concept, yet Jesus promised it over and over. He told Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NIV). He assured the woman at the well, “those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life” (John 4:14 NLT). He announced to the scribes and the Pharisees, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24 NIV).
Many people today just hope for a long and happy life, but Jesus offers so much more. He offers forever. He offers eternity. The promise of eternal life is the heartbeat of hope. It’s what we, as Christians, long for and look forward to. As we grow to feel more and more in life the limitations of 24 hours and the limitations of a seven-day week, and the limitations of a month and the fact that there are only 12 months in a year through which to distribute the demands being made upon our time, we should marvel at the gift God has promised us. Because of his promise of eternal life we have an unshakable hope and a bubble of delight within—we are heading for forever! The apostle Paul put it this way: