The song Amazing Grace is one of the most popular hymns of the past couple hundred years. It was written by John Newton, former slave trader, in 1779.
It is also one of the most ecumenical hymns. It is sung by many if not all Christian denominations as well as Catholics, Mormons, and some rogue Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even some with no religious affiliation sing the song which talks about grace in life despite troubles, suffering, and personal inadequacy.
The song has been said by conservatives to describe God’s grace freely justifying the sinner by faith through the redemption that is in Christ’s blood shed on Calvary’s cross… but does it?
On closer inspection we see that the name of Jesus is not mentioned once in the entire song. Also missing is the word faith.
On closer analysis we see that these important gospel words are missing from the song altogether: sin, cross, blood, calvary, faith, Jesus, Christ, Lord, judgment, salvation.
God is only mentioned if you sing long enough to get to the last verse. For this reason even unbelievers have sung the song.
The only word of a theological nature in the song is “grace”, which is a very controversial subject in theological circles.
What does grace mean? Is it accompanied by works? Does it describe God’s Calvinistic election? Is it prevenient, particular, universal, or conditional? Is grace a message or an invisible force to? Is it saving their soul, or just saving them from life’s troubles?
The song does not hint at any answers.
Singing Between the Lines
A good reason for it to be accepted by so many religious traditions is because of the missing words or ambiguous use of God and grace.
What inevitably happens is that the singers interpret the song by their beliefs and insert their meaning into the song.
Protestants sing it proclaiming “sola gratia”! However, Roman Catholics have sung it with as much fervor after their sacraments of grace.
Calvinists sing it dreaming of God’s irresistible grace that causes the elect to believe, while the Arminians see the grace as being applied to all.
Although the Lord Jesus is not mentioned he was in the thoughts of the Anglican writer.
Mid-Acts Pauline right dividers also sing this song as a testimony to the dispensation of grace uniquely given to the Apostle Paul. The same grace that saves us through faith in the finished work on Calvary’s cross.
What is Not Said
What is missing from Amazing Grace is an explanation of the gospel.
While we gladly sing Amazing Grace with joy in understanding the gospel, not everyone will know what is missing. No one could be saved from singing this song without knowing some of the missing parts.
While the words of Amazing Grace are touching and wonderful, there are some things missing.
Amazing Grace, then, is like many of the churches that sing it. They sound religious and may use some Bible words, but avoid talking about the most important doctrines of the gospel of grace, the mystery of Christ, and right division.
Sometimes what is not said makes all the difference.