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7/24/13 at 10:47 AM 0 Comments

The Words That Once Preceded "Amazing Grace"

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Photo: Flickr/Diane Griffiths - Creative Commons

Today, July 24, is the birthdate in 1725 of John Newton, author of the hymn lyrics now known as “Amazing Grace.” While doing some research related to Newton, I ran across another set of lyrics that are equally powerful but far less familiar.

First off, a few little-known facts about “Amazing Grace”:

* The original title wasn’t “Amazing Grace” at all but “Faith’s Review and Expectation.”

* The words weren’t joined to the familiar “New Britain” tune until 1835, more than a half-century after John Newton penned the first version of the lyrics.

* John Newton and William Cowper wrote a new lyric almost every week for the church members who gathered weekly for prayer meeting in the village of Olney; “Faith’s Review and Expectation” was one of these hymns, penned as a poetic reflection on 1 Chronicles 17:16-17.

* “Faith’s Review and Expectation” was first published in 1779 in Olney Hymns, six years or so after Newton wrote the original verses for a New Year’s Day prayer meeting.

* Hymn texts in Olney Hymns were arranged according to the biblical passage on which each hymn was based—an arrangement that, in my opinion, it would be helpful to recover.

Now for the forgotten hymn: Immediately prior to “Faith’s Review and Expectation” in the original Olney Hymns, there is a set of lyrics entitled “More With Us Than With Them.” These verses reflect on 2 Kings 6:16. The words of “More With Us Than With Them” have been long since overshadowed by the words that once succeeded them, but I find this text to be just as powerful—particularly the final stanza with its call for intercessory prayer (perhaps even from saints who have gone before us) and its clear appeal to the cross:

“Alas! Elisha’s servant cried,
When he the Syrian army spied.
But he was soon released from care,
In answer to the prophet’s prayer.

“Straightway, he saw with other eyes
A greater army from the skies;
A fiery guard around the hill,
Thus are the saints preserve’d still.

“When Satan and his host appear,
Like him of old, I faint and fear;
Like him, by faith, with joy I see,
A greater host engaged for me.

“The saints espouse my cause by prayer,
The angels make my soul their care.
Mine is the promise sealed with blood!
And Jesus lives to make it good.”

For more on John Newton’s historical context, see my video on William Wilberforce in Session Nine of this series.

(I have updated the original spellings in “More With Us Than With Them.”)

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