Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
- Galatians 3:15-18
“Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.
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.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.”
- John Newton, Amazing Grace, stanzas three through six
“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise,
Than when we first begun.”
- “unknown?”, Harriet Beecher Stowe?, or John P. Rees? – the added verse in 1854
Through many dangers, toils, and snares… I have written about a few brushes with death that I have had. You can just imagine the life of John Newton, captain of a slave ship in the mid 1700s. In 1748 while just a mate, in a horrible storm he watched as a crew member was washed overboard, standing where he had just been standing a moment before. As he and another mate tied themselves to the pump to pump the bilge and tied as to not be washed overboard themselves, he prayed to God for mercy, but it took him a few more brushes with death and much soul searching before he came to Jesus. Yet, in looking back, his prayer for mercy, his finally reaching land in Ireland two weeks later and at the verge of starvation for all onboard… That was the turning point.
Just knowing that we are wretched people is not enough. As we compare ourselves to the recognized Saints in the world, we seem dirty and insignificant, but there is always someone else that we can compare ourselves to. Although we are wretched, there is probably someone worse off. But when we know that the only way we have gotten here this far is through God’s Grace, we know that it is only God’s Grace that will bring us home to Jesus.
And now, once we have accepted Jesus, we are part of the promise that was handed down from God to Abraham and eventually to the true believers on earth. God promises us GOOD. It may not all be good at the time, but it works within us to make us more like Jesus, and that is the only true “Good” that we can have in this life, for it is the only good that we can take with us to the next life. But until our body falls apart, God will be our shield and portion and our secure Hope.
The stanza just discussed is in many hymnals but is usually skipped in recordings. And now for the lost verses 5 and 6. Newton speaks of his physical body falling apart. It does not require a prophet to state that our body will fall apart, but his beloved wife died in 1790. After writing a book regarding their letters, his own health started to fade, losing his eyesight and eventually his life in 1807. After years of preaching for abolishing the slave trade, he saw abolition of slavery in Great Britain a few months before his death. Yet, these words were written while he was fairly young. Where in the fourth verse he speaks of Hope, even with the knowledge that his body would succumb to eventual death, he sings of Joy and Peace in the fifth verse.
The sixth verse speaks of prophecy from Revelation. This world will also come to an end. It is his idea, as good as anyone else’s, but it is quite poetic that the earth would dissolve like snow. Anyone who has seen snow can picture it. And even so, God still holds onto those who trust in Him.
And even though John Newton did not write the last stanza that seems to always be recorded, except in the Celtic Women version for some odd reason, it does not seem natural in this century, or indeed for much of the last century, to sing the hymn without thinking of being in Heaven with Jesus for 10,000 years, and knowing that we still have as much time to be in His presence as when we first begun. Being an engineer and dealing with science, I may understand technically what infinity means, but for the poet in all of us, these words, who cares who wrote them, make my heart skip a beat. I might understand intellectually, but the author of these words understood with their heart. And hundreds of millennia in the future, we might look back at this hymn and say, “10,000 years? What an understatement!”
The following recording with Russ Taff, the Booth Brothers, and the Gaither Homecoming crowd is the one that I listen to when driving back and forth to the dialysis center, and maybe the reason why I felt a need to write about the hymn. This recording is linked to the next hymn on that DVD, so it will continue to play a variety of hymns. You can close it when you feel like do so.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.