Summary: People struggle with being called "wretches" (like Amazing Grace has labeled us). The question is - are we "wretches", and if we are - why is that important to know?
I love to sing so I’m going to ask you sing a couple old hymns with me:
“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that SAVED A WRETCH LIKE ME. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.
“At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day! Alas, and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? Would He devote that sacred head for SUCH A WORM AS I? At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light, and the burden of my heart rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day!”
Now, if you noticed, I highlighted a couple of phrases in those songs. Amazing Grace has “saved a wretch like me” in it, and “Alas and did my Savior bleed” (At the Cross) has the words “Such A Worm As I.”
Recently, some newer renderings of those songs, have substituted some words. “A wretch like me” has been replaced by some folks as “Saved and set me free,” and “Such a Worm As I” has been rewritten “Someone such as I.”
Now they can do stuff like that. These hymns have far outlived any copyright issues. But the question is… why would folks do that? Why change the words? They didn’t change any other part of those hymns, why change THESE words?
Well, I ran across a girl on the internet whose website helped explain this phenomena. She entitled her article “Revising Amazing Grace To Solve The Wretch Problem.”
“People like me, who DON’T self-identify as “wretches,” have suggested alternate lyrics (for Amazing Grace). These revisionists prefer to replace “a wretch like me,” with “saved and set me free” or “saved a soul like me,” or “saved and strengthened me.” A couple of these options lack the cadence of the original, but they SOLVE the “wretch” problem… A little research reveals that the author, John Newton, may well have merited the designation “wretch,” as he was a slave trader who repudiated his childhood faith and led a debauched personal life. He is said to have experienced a spiritual conversion during a 1748 storm that threatened his life and his slave ship. Soon after, he wrote the first stanza, the part with “wretch” in it.” (http://www.chicagonow.com/mscrankypants/2015/12/revising-amazing-grace-to-solve-the-wretch-problem/)
Now notice, this writer said she doesn’t “self-identify” as a wretch. And she literally said: John Newton “may well have merited the designation “wretch.” Essentially, she’s saying – “NOT ME!!! I’m not like Newton. I’m a better person than he was! I haven’t sinned like he sinned. Therefore I am not a wretch!”
Well, what does “wretch” mean? I looked it up and found that the word has a couple of meanings - and the one this internet author is uncomfortable with is this: “Wretched: a despicable or contemptible person”
Now, I can see why some folks might a problem with that. If you go up to someone on the street and ask “Are you a contemptible person” you’re going to have a problem. At the very least they’re going to look at you like you’ve lost your ever-loving mind! Of course I’m not contemptible – I’m a pretty nice person! Just ask me!!!!!”
And that’s why folks will change hymns like this. They’re not WORMS, and they’re not DESPICABLE, and they’re not CONTEMPTIBLE. They’re nice, righteous, upstanding people … and don’t you DARE imply otherwise!
Now, don’t get me wrong - it doesn’t bother me when folks tinker with old hymns. I’ve been changing Thou & Thine to yours & mine for years now. It’s not that big a deal. But the motivation behind WHY people change these words can be a big deal!
You see, when folks say they can’t “self-identify” as wretches and worms, they aren’t really disagreeing with the author of the hymn. And they’re not really disagreeing with me. They’re disagreeing with God.
Ephesians 2:3 says: Before we became Christians we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Colossians 1:21 “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behaviour.”
Titus 3:3 “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.”
Now - I don’t know (long pause) that sounds kind of contemptible to me!
ILLUS: A couple in our congregation had a problem they had when they got home from vacation. There was a bad smell coming out from under their back porch and they suspected it might have been a dead animal. The wife worked and worked and finally got that dead animal pulled out and discovered it was a… a dead skunk. Now, a live skunk smells bad enough, but a dead one is much worse. And what God is telling us here in Ephesians is before we became Christians – we ALL stank even worse than that Skunk.