An Amazing Gap in the Hymn Amazing Grace?
Who am I to be even suggesting that this beloved hymn by John Newton is lacking or deficient in any way? I must be nuts! Don't get me wrong everything that these lyrics proclaim is true and indeed wonderful. God's grace reflected in Newton's words is indeed amazing and the lyrics themselves capture this. Yet I have been mildly bothered by what is not said or what appears to me to be missing. I don't think it is a minor matter either.
Of course, all that we sing in this hymn is Biblical, but more can be and I think must be said to really capture why God's grace is so amazing. So what is missing? The work of Christ is missing. The subjective work of God's grace through the Holy Spirit is captured that enables us to spiritually see. The preserving grace of God is captured that keeps us and the wonder of this grace that will be our eternal song is there too. Yet not a stanza about the work of Christ.
I am not sure why Newton did not include at least a stanza about the gracious, objective finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ in this great hymn (and it is a great hymn). For the work of Christ is the very cornerstone of God's Amazing Grace. Now by Christ's work I mean both his active and passive obedience culminating in his resurrection. Paul writes of Christ's active obedience when he contrasts Christ's obedience that secured the believer's justification and Adam's disobedience, which brought condemnation to the entire human race. This aspect of Christ's work is based entirely upon grace or what Paul calls God's free gift: "But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through the one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for the many...For as by one man's disobedience the many were made (constituted) sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many were made (constituted) righteous" (Romans 5:15, 19).
Christ's redeeming work is described under the rubric of obedience. Indeed he came not to do his will but the will of the one who sent him (John 6:38). He came to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). He learned obedience by what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Jesus unlike Adam obeyed God and secured the right standing of his people before God. He obeyed the Law and secured a righteous life not for himself but for all who would come to believe on him. He entered our world as an innocent babe but left as a perfectly virtuous man.
Christ's saving work also includes his passive obedience. He accomplished our redemption from sin by his once for all sacrifice that secured propitiation with God. This was also by God's grace. Paul again writes: "But now a righteousness from God has been manifested apart from the law...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith."(Romans 3:21-26) Grace is the source of Christ's saving death whereby he died as the sinner's substitute and paid in full the penalty of our disobedience to God's law, securing justification. In doing this, God's law is satisfied and his wrath removed. What undeserved favor is this! It is truly amazing.
The late John Stott wrote in his commentary on Galatians about how the grace of God and the work of Christ are inextricably linked: "The two foundation planks of the Christian religion are the grace of God and the death of Christ. The Christian gospel is the gospel of the grace of God. The Christian faith is faith in Christ crucified."
John Newton knew this and believed it. Here is a bit of what he said:
“I commit my soul to my gracious God and Savior, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a blasphemer, and an infidel, and delivered me from that state of misery on the coast of Africa into which my obstinate wickedness had plunged me; and who has been pleased to admit me (though most unworthy) to preach His glorious Gospel. I rely with humble confidence upon the atonement and mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and Man; which I have often proposed to others as the only Foundation whereon a sinner can build his hope; trusting that he will guard and guide me through the uncertain remainder of my life, and that he will then admit me into his presence in his heavenly kingdom.”
- (Newton, John. The Letters of John Newton (Kindle Locations 21596-21598). Monergism Books. Kindle Edition).
I am just not sure why he did not write a stanza about Christ's finished work in this hymn. Again, who am I to criticize an otherwise great and widely received and loved hymn? What may appear even more impudent is my offer of an additional stanza for the hymn, but since it is not under copyright, and I don't think brother Newton would have minded, I humbly offer it:
For by Christ’s blood my sins were paid
Redemption full and free
The sacrifice that once was made
Was made by grace for me!
Here is the hymn:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be forever mine.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.