Amazing Grace (2)

Every Friday in 2015 we consider a verse from our “Hymn of the Month.”

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

We usually think of fear as being a bad thing. We all have our particular “phobias” that plague us in life. However, biblically speaking, fear can be a bad thing and sometimes it can be a good thing. John Newton explores this tension in his second verse of Amazing Grace.

Notice the order that Newton writes of in the first two lines of this verse: it was grace that caused fear, and then it was grace that relieved fear. Why would fear ever be considered a gift of grace? It’s because fear can be a good thing.
We read, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). Contrast that with the beginning of foolishness: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1). An understanding and acknowledgment of God’s existence and majesty is necessary to be wise. It is having a fear, or awe, or reverence for those truths. But Newton knew that when he experienced that fear, it was actually a gift from God. Where he “once was blind,” he now saw the reality of who God is and it caused a right fear.

But he follows that up by noting that his fears were relieved. That is because in Christ, “perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (1 John 4:18). In the Christian life there is a right reverence we are to have for God, but it is not a reverence accompanied by dread of coming retribution. For “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). Rather, it is a reverence accompanied by thankfulness for that precious grace shed upon us, as Newton put it, “the hour I first believed.”