JUDY Collins had a huge hit with a secularised version of Amazing Grace in the 1970s.
Rock journalist Steve Turner tells the story of how this happened in his book Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song.
Collins was part of an encounter group in New York when rage was getting out of hand.
To calm the group’s members, she began to sing the song she knew from her Methodist childhood. Amazing Grace had its desired effect, and her producer, who was part of the group, urged her to include it on her next album. A single version topped the charts in Britain and the US.
Strangely, Collins told Turner that she didn’t understand why anyone would think of Amazing Grace as a religious song.
And singer Arlo Guthrie thought it was a song about self help.
Newton would not have agreed.
JAMES Newton, as Turner points out, meant the exact opposite; that he had reached the end of his tether, that he tried every means of reforming his own life.
It was only then that he realised God’s great gift — grace.
That’s the message that sets Christianity apart. You cannot save your soul through good works, education or social standing. Only through admitting that we can achieve little without heavenly help.
C.S. Lewis said grace was Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. He said grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . and grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. That’s what is so amazing about grace.
Sociologist and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said all men with any degree of serenity live by some assurance of grace.