'Amazing Grace' is one of the most famous hymns of all time and has been recorded by many famous artists including Diana Ross, Andrea Boccelli and Aretha Franklin.


Who wrote the lyrics to 'Amazing Grace'?

Former slave ship captain and clergyman John Newton wrote the famous hymn 'Amazing Grace' in 1772, for his 1773 New Year's Day service. The hymn's emotional lyrics tell Newton's story, how he believed God saved him and showed him the errors of his ways.

'Amazing Grace' was first published in 1779 as part of the Olney Hymns, a group of hymns he and his poet friend, William Cowper wrote.

'Amazing Grace' lyrics

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

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

Through many dangers, toils and snares
We have already come
'Twas grace has brought us safe thus far
And grace will lead us home

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've first begun

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

Who composed the tune for 'Amazing Grace'?

It was set to the now very familiar tune in 1835 by William Walker (1809-1875), an American Baptist song leader and singing master. Walker set Newton's words to a traditional song called 'New Britain'. The combination was a great success: first appearing in 1847, it was according to author Steve Turner a 'marriage made in heaven.'

'The music behind 'amazing' had a sense of awe to it,' Turner notes. 'The music behind 'grace' sounded graceful. There was a rise at the point of confession, as though the author was stepping out into the open and making a bold declaration, but a corresponding fall when admitting his blindness.;

Walker also compiled four shape note tunebooks (a style of musical notation used in congregational singing). Of these four, The Southern Harmony and The Christian Harmony have been in continuous use since their first publication.

'Amazing Grace' first appeared in The Southern Harmony and helped that book to become hugely popular, selling about 600,000 copies at a time when the USA's total population was a little more than 20 million.

Who was John Newton?

When he left the navy atheist Newton became involved with the slave trade as a ship captain. Although he remained a captain until 1754-5, his conversion to the Christian faith began in 1748 when a violent storm battered his ship, causing him to ask God for mercy. As a result he started questioning his role in the slave trade, and studying Christianity.

More like this

He later became an abolitionist, as well as a clergyman, working alongside William Wilberforce to abolish the slave trade, which finally happened in 1807 just before his death.

Is 'Amazing Grace' about slavery?

The hymn 'Amazing Grace' is not about slavery but it is associated with the trade as its author John Newton was an abolitionist. Other famous songs with slavery links include 'Roll, Jordan, Roll' 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot', 'Steal Away to Jesus', 'Wade in the Water' and 'Go down Moses'

The 2006 film Amazing Grace featured John Newton's and William Wilberforce's fight to abolish the slave trade.

When author Harriet Beecher Stowe published her seminal anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin in 1852, she included a new, additional verse for 'Amazing Grace', that hadn't featured in Newton's original.

Instead, this verse had been passed down orally among African-American communities during the course of the previous half century or more. It goes as follows:

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.

Find more lyrics to famous hymns


Top image by Getty Images