This program features the story of how John Newton, a slave ship captain and self-proclaimed “wretch,” was inspired to write “Amazing Grace.”
How enriching it is to have insight into the most famous hymns we have sung worldwide for decades, from the 19th century pew to the modern day worship service. As expressed in this film, there is, indeed, something about this most compelling music that personalizes one’s theology and relationship with God. Several authors and worship pastors introduce and narrate the stories that reveal the inspiration behind these masterpieces, and they believe that God speaks to us through music, which makes this a powerful and prophetic ministry.The documentary begins with Horatio Spafford’s great hymn of the faith “It Is Well with My Soul.” The losses he endured and his subsequent blessings were akin to Job of the Bible, and the heartfelt sentiments that poured forth onto the page resulted in this great hymn of the faith and reminds us of the faithfulness of that same great biblical figure. Likewise, the story of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” is similarly cloaked in tragedy but highlights a belief that is enriched by hardship instead of diminished by it. As a perfect accompaniment, we see the stories behind the writing of “Silent Night” and “How Great Thou Art,” where the writers are amazed by God’s creation and the holy moments to be experienced in nature. We get the sense that God, Himself, had a hand in helping compose these pieces, and through sometimes seemingly small miracles, ensuring they would become known and endure. Further, it was Charlotte Elliot who penned “Just As I Am,” the famous hymn that facilitated Billy Graham’s conversion in a revival tent meeting and was later used by him at all of his crusades. Charlotte was an invalid and struggled to find peace with her condition and her life in general. Her personal conversion rested in the knowledge these words convey; that is, a very simple call to faith and surrender based on God’s grace and acceptance of us just as we are. This particular story is the only one re-enacted in the documentary, as opposed to being narrated, which is a powerful insertion, serving to bring the entire film to life, especially as a lead-in to the final testimony of “Amazing Grace.” John Newton, the author of this most famous hymn, had a dramatic life and conversion. He suffered great loss early on and resigned to alcoholism, rage, and immorality as a feared and despised slave trader. For his life to have come full circle as he reconnected with the values and beliefs instilled in him as a child is nothing short of miraculous, and I realized that God’s imminent presence, not only at the best but at the worst of times, was the sole inspiration for each of these outpourings of love and gratitude. It is, of course, enlightening to hear these wonderful spiritual renditions performed by the likes of George Beverly Shea and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. By knowing their context, we can experience their music in a deeply rich way. We are proud to award Amazing Grace: Hymns That Changed the World the Dove-Approved Seal for All Ages.