There is a famous hymn that was originally titled: "Faith's Review and Expectation." Do you know what it is? The original author would probably be surprised to find that not only has his hymn lost its title, but at least two of its original stanzas are also gone. Plus, it has gained four lines which did not come from his pen. He would most likely approve of the tune we sing the words to, but seeing that it was not applied until many years after his death, it never graced his ears.
Nonetheless, in its current form, "Amazing Grace" is one of the best-known and best-loved songs in the English language. Because the original hymn is prefaced with "1 Chronicles 17:16-17," it is likely that its author, John Newton, composed it to accompany a New Year's Day sermon he preached from that exact passage at the dawn of 1773.
Those verses read: "And David the king came and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is mine house, that Thou hast brought me hitherto? And yet this was a small thing in Thine eyes, O God; for Thou hast also spoken of Thy servant's house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O Lord God."
Comparing the words of the hymn with his sermon notes, it seems that the message on Mr. Newton's heart that day is one which remains relevant for us more than 200 years later.
Who Am I?
Those who claim Jesus Christ as Saviour will be the first to admit our unworthiness of God's blessing. In the same way, David was declaring that God's favor to him was undeserved.
Thou Hast Brought Me Hitherto
Because of his colorful history, John Newton could easily identify with David in tracing the remarkable ways in which he had been rescued, pardoned, and protected by God.
You Have Spoken About the Future
To the believer, God's past blessings are "a small thing" compared with the promises He gives to His children. In light of this, Mr. Newton encouraged his hearers to continue in love, gratitude, and obedience toward Christ, trust and confidence in God, and patience through the trials of life. He closed his sermon with the following warning: "We are spared thus far—but some, I fear, are strangers to the promises. You are entered upon a New Year. It may be your last. You are at present barren trees in the vineyard. O fear lest the sentence should go forth—'Cut it down.'"
It is probable that "Amazing Grace" was sung for the first time at the end of this message. As the words reverberated through the church, the following stanzas were included:
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 for ever mine.
These words stand as a challenge for us today. If by faith you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Saviour, God's Word secures your hope: "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life" (1 John 5:13). If not, it secures your doom: "He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36).