Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder – 9/21

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Let us love and sing and wonder, let us praise the Savior’s name! He has hushed the law’s loud thunder, he has quenched Mount Sinai’s flame: He has washed us with his blood, he has brought us nigh to God!

John Newton, 1774

THE HYMN WRITER

John Newton, portrait 
by John Russell, ca. 1788.

There is little chance that anyone would have ever dreamed that John Newton would turn out to be a hymn writer, a pastor, or even a mildly religious person (except for perhaps his mother). He was born in London on July 24, 1725, an only child to his father, a merchant ship captain named John Newton Senior and his mother, Elizabeth Scatliff. Elizabeth made it her holy mission to fill John’s heart with Scripture and cultivate faith in her little boy. She died, however, before John’s seventh birthday. John’s father remarried, but whatever relationship he could have had with his new stepmother was stunted when she and his father sent him to boarding school at the age of nine. At boarding school, he was frequently getting into trouble and balked at the rigidity of his teachers. John soon abandoned school for good at age eleven and began a new chapter of his life–that of a sailor upon his father’s ship. 

Being a sailor was full of adventure and incredible difficulties. As John entered this life, he left behind any faith he knew from his childhood. He now would be known primarily as a godless scoundrel, a rotten deserter, a slave trader, and an enemy of anyone who followed Jesus. After sailing on his father’s ship, John sailed on with another merchant ship in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1743, while he was visiting friends in England, John was captured by a gang of men and forced to serve in the British Royal Navy. This type of drafting for the military was called “impressment” and often happened to merchant sailors when caught unaware. Unsurprisingly, John soon tried to run away and desert his post as midshipmen. He was caught, however, brutally disciplined and flogged with eight dozen lashes, and was eventually kicked out of the navy and labeled a deserter. 

John sailed on, this time as a slave trader on a ship called Pegasus that was headed for West Africa. The ship’s job was to carry goods to Africa and trade them for people who were enslaved, whom they would then carry across the sea to sell to people in the colonies of the Caribbean and North America. Many “good” men took part in the slave trade as this type of exchange of goods for people was not generally considered wrong. Newton was not even close to being a good man and the crew aboard the Pegasus did not like him much. So in 1745, they left him in West Africa with a slave dealer who gave Newton as a present to his wife, an African queen named Princess Peye. For fifteen months, Newton lived as a slave himself, starving and ill-treated, in complete loss of dignity. Fortunately for Newton, he was rescued by another slave ship sent by his father to collect him.

No sooner had Newton felt the relief of his freedom from the African queen, when his ship was met by a terrible storm. Newton awoke to the sound of pounding rain, deafening thunder claps and heavy waves rolling over the deck, snatching up crew members, provisions and cargo. Newton, who did not know how to swim, was called to go down below deck to retrieve something for the captain and another sailor went up to take his place. Just then a wave came over the side and that sailor was swept away and drowned. Newton fell to his knees and for the first time in his life, begged for God to save him. God listened to Newton’s cry and rescued him, both body and soul. He reached home in May 1748, no longer a godless scoundrel and wicked sailor, but a redeemed man.

For the following six years, John Newton commanded a slave ship, while he grew in his faith and understanding of Scripture. In 1754, he finally gave up his life on the sea to prepare for ministry. His friendships with great men like John and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield, along with his study of Hebrew and Greek helped prepare Newton for ministry. He became the pastor of a church in Olney, England, where he began a lifelong friendship with William Cowper. Newton and Cowper wrote a book of hymns, which included “Amazing Grace,” “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” “There is a Fountain Filled with Blood,” and “Let us Love and Song and Wonder.” Later on, he pastored a church in London and traveled around England telling about his adventures at sea and how God had saved a wretch like him. Finally in 1788, 34 years after he had retired from the slave trade, Newton began to talk about his thoughts about the evils of the slave trade. He wrote and circulated a pamphlet entitled, Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade, in which he described the atrocious conditions of slave ships. His writing included his own confession, saying, “I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” He and a young politician named William Wilberforce joined Hannah More, Cecil, and others who spoke out against the slave trade. In time, their work led to the passage of the Slave Trade Act 1807 which prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire.

At age 82, about a year before his death, Newton said, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things, that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” After 44 years of ministry, in December of 1807, John Newton went to be with Jesus. Written upon his epitaph are the self-penned words: 

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk, 

Once an Infidel and Libertine, 

A servant of slaves in Africa, 

Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour 

JESUS CHRIST, 

Preserved, restored, and pardoned, 

And appointed to preach the Faith 

He had long labored to destroy.

THOUGHTS AS YOU SING – (Can be read as a family devotional)

You could say that John Newton, the author of “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” was in a pretty deep pit of sin for much of his life. He said horrible things, and did horrible things to people. He was a lying, selfish, rude, blaspheming, heartless man, and engaged in all sorts of terrible behavior. He wasn’t even liked by the misbehaving sailors he hung around with! His heart was against God and his commands. He was God’s enemy.

Fortunately for John, God’s love and mercy were deeper than the pit of sin he lived in. God had planned, even before he had created the world (Eph 1:3-7), that John would be part of his kingdom and that he would be used to bring many other people to faith in Jesus. God took this man and his ruined life, forgave him and turned him into a new man. After the Holy Spirit came into his life, he no longer resembled the man he was before! He started living for Jesus and began looking more like Jesus too!

Did you know that all people are born with the sin of their first parents (Adam and Eve) in their hearts? Each and every one of us have soiled hearts that naturally go against the One who made us. If you’ve ever watched a two year old for very long, you’ve probably noticed that they can be little stinkers, and pretty sinful. They are often selfish, throwing tantrums, and sometimes even throwing objects at your face! Did anyone teach them how to sin? No! They are born with sin in their hearts. All of us are born enemies of God. One day, God will justly judge and punish all of his enemies. This is why we need Jesus! We need to be rescued from God’s punishment. If we ask God to forgive us for all our sin, and we trust in Jesus as our Rescuer, then we will begin to change and will look more like Christ, just like John Newton. It is only through Jesus, and being washed in his blood that we are able to come safely to God. When we sing this song this month, remember that no sin is too bad that it can keep you away from Jesus. God’s mercy is always deeper and Jesus’ blood is always sufficient to wash us clean and turn anyone from being an enemy of God into a friend.

HOW WE DO HYMN OF THE MONTH

If you are new to this community, welcome! It is a great time to join in and make family worship a priority if you haven’t already. You may or may not be familiar with this hymn. Either way, we invite you to spend this month meditating on its truths. 

To get you started, we’ve provided free printable lyrics, music and copywork — all found here! 

Also, you can find fresh versions of the hymn on our YouTube channel that you and your family can sing along with. There are loads of fresh versions of our favorite hymns on our hymn of the month playlist.

If you are interested in fleshing out this month’s hymn with activities, coloring sheets, devotional thoughts, journaling prompts, etc. our Fall Hymn Guide, is available for a small fee on Etsy. Thank you so much for your support of Happy Hymnody’s ministry!

When we began singing hymns with our littles about 10 years ago, we kept it simple… We prayed and sang one hymn together every night at bedtime for a whole month. Everyone’s family rhythm is different, so we welcome you to gather up your families, for just a few minutes each day, to sing, discuss and memorize this hymn (following your daily time in the Scriptures and in prayer) whether it is first thing in the morning, or around the dinner table or before bedtime – whatever works best for your family. You can let us know how it’s going by posting either a video or a photo on Instagram. Just tag it with #happyhymnody! As always, if you have any questions or if you’d like to share your heart with us, please don’t hesitate to reach out! God bless you all this month as you worship and follow Jesus together as a family!

With so much love,

April

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Claudia Labial says:

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful printables and lovely videos to teach us how to sing the hymn. Love all your post!

    Like

    1. happyhymnody says:

      Thank you so much for reaching out to share!!! I’m so grateful to worship alongside you all! 💛April

      Like

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