Thursday, February 11, 2010

Black History Month: John Henry Newton, Part IV

I gave a presentation at my church where I portrayed John Henry Newton, the slave ship captain turned Anglican priest and abolitionist who wrote Amazing Grace. Here is Part 4.

But here in the United States I am not known so much for preaching, or pastoral care, or my work as an abolitionist. I am known as the author of hymns. Some of them are in your hymnal.
  • How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
  • Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken
  • Come, My Soul, with Ev'ry Care
  • On What Has Now Been Sewn

Do you know any of these? Perhaps so, and perhaps not. But perhaps you know my most famous hymn, Amazing Grace. I wrote it as an illustration for a New Year’s sermon. My sermon is long gone, but the hymn has endured. First published in 1779, the hymn really didn’t catch on right away. In England it was hardly ever sung.

In the United States, though, the Second Great Awakening was going on, and my hymn was sung at revivals in the early 1800’s. In 1779, we only published the words. As many as 20 tunes were associated with my hymn. It was not until 1839 that it became associated with the tune “New Britain” here in America. This is the tune that you sing with my hymn today. The tune has been adapted for use in tent meetings, formal church settings, country music concerts, etc. It has been sung a capella, and with accompaniment. It has been arranged for bagpipes, guitar, piano, organ, string quartet, gospel choir … you name it, it’s been done!

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