Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
From the sketchbook
For a while now, I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to this hymn—one of the most venerable ever written. Former British slave trader, John Newton, penned the words in the late 18th century.
I decided to create a series of sculptures to illustrate each verse of the hymn. I began with the last stanza because its visuals struck me almost immediately. I was able to create three pieces based on that verse. You can see the latest one here.
The first verse’s imagery has eluded me until recently. I was meditating on the words and was suddenly struck by the feeling of complete helplessness expressed by Newton in these opening lines: “That saved a wretch…”
The dictionary defines a “wretch” as someone in such a bad situation that a sense of pity typically goes along with the word. Thus, you’ll often see the terms “poor wretch” or “unfortunate wretch.” Digging a little deeper, we learn that “wretch” traces back to the Old English word “wrecca,” meaning “banished person.” This is very appropriate. As sinners, we, like Adam and Eve, have been banished from the presence of a pure and holy God. As a former slave trader, it’s little wonder the writer identified himself as a wretch.
When I sing the hymn, I, too, identify myself as a wretch. Which I most certainly am without the grace of God. But that’s the power of this hymn. While we acknowledge and own our wretchedness, our sinfulness, our rebellion against God, the focus of this hymn is on the power and grace of God. Because, praise God, He does not leave us as wretches. In fact, we’re not even wretches for the duration of that first verse. Before it ends, Newton writes the comforting words that we’ve been found. What’s more, he tells us that while we were blind, now we see.
At the heart of this first verse is the idea that we are not in control, and we can do nothing to save ourselves. And that is true. All the saving is accomplished by God. We’re the lost and blind ones. He’s the one who finds us and gives us sight. God does all the work. We reap the benefits.
As the country and the world reels from the effects of the Coronavirus, we may all feel like things are out of control. Certainly, we can and should take all preventative measures. But if you’re like me, you may feel stressed and anxious. I created the sketch you see in this post weeks before the virus outbreak, but it seems especially appropriate now.
Choose your perspective
The sketch can be viewed in two ways. We can choose to focus on the darkness surrounding the figure. The darkness seems to overwhelm the figure, much as current events seem to overwhelm our nation, states, and communities.
However, we can also focus on the light. Although there is surrounding darkness, the figure in the sketch stands in the light. Light drives away darkness. It enables sight. It’s comforting. In John 8:12, we read, “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus tells all who follow Him, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Those who have experienced the amazing grace of God in their lives can choose to focus not on the darkness, but on the light. We have been equipped by a loving God to be lights for others, encouragers, even—especially—in these difficult days.
I’ll share more as this piece of art continues to develop. Stay tuned, stay well, and stay in The Light.
Do you know someone who could use a lift? One way to encourage someone is to share some inspiration. Forward this post to a friend and let them know they can subscribe to get their own weekly dose of inspiration using the form below.