Forgotten Verses #4: Amazing Grace

February 15, 1779 was a momentous day in the history of English-language hymnwriting. In February 1779, the American Revolution was still under way, and an attempt by French and American forces to recapture Savannah, Georgia had just failed. Armies on both sides were gearing up for their summer campaigns. So it would perhaps be understandable if one of the most momentous days in the history of English-language hymnwriting went unnoticed at the time. On February 15, 1779, John Newton and William Cowper published Olney Hymns.

The hymnal was named after Olney, England, the town where Newton was a minister and William Cowper had lived. It was a small town of about 2,000 people, and very poor; 1,200 or so were employed at very low wages in making lace. So Newton and Cowper wrote their hymns to be appreciated by the common man. Many have aimed for this goal, but few ever achieved it as successfully as Newton and Cowper. This hymnal included the songs “There is a Fountain,” “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” and, perhaps most significantly, a hymn introduced under the rather unassuming title “Faith’s Review and Expectations.”

Now “Faith’s Review and Expectations” was in the first section of the book, songs drawn from specific passages of Scripture, and listed as its source passage I Chronicles 17:16-17: “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O Lord God.”

Perhaps few would guess the hymn this passage inspired (and, if you’re ever in a trivia game, throwing in the original title would serve more to confuse things than to clarify!) But perhaps the most obvious parallel comes from the phrase “that You have brought me this far” and the third verse of the song that we know today as “Amazing Grace.”

Newton’s original first four verses are quite familiar:

1. Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, hut now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

2. ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believed!

3. Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

4. The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Less familiar, though, are the two verses Newton used to conclude the song:

5. Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

6. The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who called me here below,
Will be for ever mine.

The verse we sing today as the last verse, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years,” was a later addition by another writer. There’s nothing wrong with that verse, but it’s also interesting to see how Newton originally intended for his own song to conclude. Ultimately, he comes to the same conclusion, when he says that “God, who called me here below / will be forever mine,” but along the way, he uses more unusual allusions (“within the veil”) and metaphors (“dissolve like snow”).

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19 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. Thanks Daniel for publishing those verses. I had heard it before but had forgotten about it. I would guess that Amazing Grace has been sang more times than any other song in the hymn book.

  2. I would guess most of us have heard the “snow” verse by now since Chris Tomlin’s re-write is so popular. There’s also “The Lord has promised good to me…”

    • Did you see that “The Lord has promised good to me” was already included in the post above?

      • Ooops, sorry, I missed it. Can’t see a thing without my glasses. 😆

  3. I’m proud to say that in fact we sing all 7 verses in our church, and yes that does make the song last forever. I appreciate every verse of that song.

  4. I never have understood why hymnal publishers choose to leave out some of the verses of “Amazing Grace.” New Britain/”Amazing Grace” is common meter (8-6-8-6) with no refrain. Seven verses is still a relatively short song.

    Many hymnals eliminate the “Lord has promised good to me” verse as well to get it down to just four verses. I can only assume those editors must have arbitrarily decided that four verses had to be the maximum length for any hymn, regardless of the melody’s length.

    • The redback has the first three verses, plus the ten thousand years verse. So that’s what I grew up knowing and singing.

    • David I appreciate very very much how (I guess the word is technical) in all your post but yet a dummy like me can understand and learn from what you’re saying. You too Daniel. I just never dig to deep into things for fear of going so far that I can’t get out. Lol. I had no idea there were more than 5 verses in Amazing Grace.

    • Here’s another piece of interesting trivia: Lutherans omit verse 2 for doctrinal reasons.

      They don’t like the “grace taught my heart to fear” part. They believe that the law teaches us to fear, and that there is no overlap between law and grace. Most Christians in most denominations don’t have a problem with the verse, considering that it is okay to use grace to speak of the overall process. (In other words, the general understanding, outside of Lutheran circles, would be that it’s God’s grace that He uses the anything, law or otherwise, to teach us to fear.)

  5. I used to sing a version that had
    “Through many dangers, toils, and snares,
    We have already come
    T’was Grace that brought us safe thus far…
    and Grace will lead us home.”

    • The version I have above is Newton’s original. I think it makes sense that, since he started the first couple of verses in the first person singular, he would continue that through verse 3. I wonder why a hymnal editor somewhere along the line changed one verse and not others.

      (Speaking of that consistency, the consistency is also preserved through the end in Newton’s original but broken by the “When we’ve been there ten thousand years” later addition.)

      • Funny you bring up the first person. When I looked at my music with the verse I mentioned it said “We have already come…” but when I found it in a hymnal it then became “I Have Already Come” it changed back to that first person again.

      • Interesting!

  6. I just wonder how long it will be until someone changes the word” wretch” to a term “less demeaning”, as is being done in many songs today. For example, in “At the Cross”, the line, “would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?” is now “such a one as I”. I find this trend disturbing and indicative of a trend in Christianity toward downplaying the traditional scriptural view of man’s total depravity. Another example, in “I’m Going Thru”, instead of saying, “I’ll take the way with the Lord’s despised few”, I’m hearing it as, the Lord’s “chosen” few. To me this illustrates the discomfort some have with the scriptural principle, “Ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake.”

    • I suspect that most of the changes of this nature are being made by people who would actually agree that describing our condition prior to our salvation as “wretch” is accurate. But they don’t want to offend sinners by letting them hear … well, the truth.

      • Just wondering if you saw the letter in the Nashville Tennessean, Oct 30, concerning the very subject we discussed recently.

        Under the subject line: Hymns Include Adult Content, the writer states, “… the most poplar American Christian hymn is “Amazing Grace.” Its lyrics were written by John Newton, a slave ship captain who was understandably remorseful about the suffering and death he caused. But should a young girl be made to call herself a “wretch” who can only be saved from an eternal hell by “grace”? Christian hymnals contain songs abut ghastly things like being “washed in the blood of the lamb”. Do parents ever consider what such songs may be doing to the children who sing them? The idea of a judgmental God who demands blood is far more terrifying than anything children experience on Halloween, and the terror may last a lifetime.”

        I expect things like this from militant atheists, but what troubles me is the number of Christians who are so pop culture saturated that they agree with it. It leaves me feeling despondent, but more determined to separate from this world’s way of thinking.

  7. WOW! This is truely interesting!

    I wonder if Wintley Phipps knows all these verses exist and can (will) he record all verses. His version is really remarkable. I’d love for him to record all these verses.

  8. The Talleys sing that 5th verse in their version.