In early December, the Oak Ridge Boys came to sing at the funeral of George Herbert Walker Bush in Houston. They had at some point in time promised him that they would be there. At his funeral they sang “Amazing Grace.” This song never sounded better. The singing of this song brought honor to the former president, comfort to the grieving Bush family and inspiration to the hearts of millions of Americans. I know somehow that shining point of light with the kind and gentle voice would be very proud.

“Amazing Grace” is the most performed song in the history of the United States. John Newton wrote this song in 1772, and it is an expression of the forgiven heart of its composer. In his younger years, Newton was involved in the slave trade. As he matured, he repented of the evil abuse that he was involved in and experienced the amazing grace and forgiveness of God, which is expressed in this song. At the time, Newton served as an Anglican minister in a church in Olney, England. Since the Church of England only wanted songs that were based upon the Psalms to be sung in its services at that time, “Amazing Grace” remained closed in a hymnal for the remainder of the 18th century.

In 1835, William Walker of South Carolina adapted an American folk music tune called “New Britain” as the music for the song “Amazing Grace.” In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe included words from this song in her work, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” She included a verse that John Newton did not write, “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.” No one knows exactly the origin of the folk praise tune “New Britain.” Many believe this folk music tune may have originated in the black community in the South.

How wonderful it feels to be totally forgiven! Receiving forgiveness and experiencing freedom go hand in hand. In Jesus Christ, we find total forgiveness. It is ours for the asking.

This song is an expression of joyful praise to God for the release from the bondage of sin. “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see.” It is so wonderful to be free!

God gives us grace and He expects us to extend grace to others. It is not easy for us as human beings to forgive. How many times in life do we hold grudges when we are wronged? I believe the ability to forgive is a gift from God. Forgiveness involves a certain amount of pain in our souls, but the act of forgiveness brings freedom to the heart and soul — we are released from bondage. To be trapped in a state of unforgiveness leads to the outward manifestation of bigotry, hatred and prejudice. In addition, we need to be able to forgive ourselves — total forgiveness brings peace and freedom into our hearts.

Always remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, NLT)

As Newton reflected upon his life in his latter years, he told someone that he had forgotten many things, but there were two things that he did remember. One was that he was a great sinner. The second was that he had a greater Savior.

God’s grace is truly amazing. One second after we turn to God in repentance, Jesus forgives from the cross — a forgiveness that breaks decades of bondage and brings total peace and freedom to the inward soul. The work of Jesus on the cross brings healing to our hearts.

“Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ‘tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

Mark Nelson is a member of Grace Communion International.