John Newton (1725–1807) wrote hundreds of hymns, and a handful are still sung by Christ’s people nearly two and a half centuries later. “Amazing Grace” is of course the most famous, but I’d like to introduce you to several others through my writing here. A couple of Newton hymns have a place in my personal Top 5, one of which is “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder.” Dani and I have loved this hymn for years; we even used it as the processional and first congregational hymn at our wedding.
One reason this particular hymn has stood the test of time is because of its memorable poetic structure. Check this out: the first two lines of verse 1 serve as an outline for the rest of the hymn:
Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Savior’s name!
Verse 2 then begins,
Let us love the Lord who bought us . . .
Verse 3 begins,
Let us sing, though fierce temptations . . .
Verse 4 begins,
Let us wonder, grace and justice . . .
And verse 5 begins,
Let us praise, and join the chorus . . .
If you give me the first line of a verse from a popular hymn, I can often finish the the rest of the verse for you. But remembering the order of all of a hymn’s verses can be a tall order. Incidentally, I find “Amazing Grace” particularly challenging in this regard. I know it starts with “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” and I know it ends with that “ten thousand years” verse (which Newton didn’t write), but knowing how many verses come between and in what order is nigh impossible. Not so with “Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder,” which exemplifies memorability with its overarching poetic integrity.
We find even more poetic beauty if we zoom in on the hymn’s verses and lines. My favorite verse in this respect is verse 4:
Let us wonder, grace and justice
Join and point to mercy’s store;
When through grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles, and asks no more.
I can’t get over the brilliance of rhyming “justice” with “trust is,” not once, but twice, and in such a way that it does not sound cheesy, because the second instance of “justice” is hidden at the beginning of a line. The musical setting we sing at our church (see below) highlights this poetic emphasis well. The melody makes me feel the first three lines of this verse joining and pointing up to the cross, and the descending melody of the fourth line reflects God graciously smiling down from heaven.
My favorite theological feature of this hymn also shows up in verse 4, which highlights the glorious twofold nature of Christ’s cross: it demonstrates both God’s mercy and His justice. Our lyrics about the cross are often lopsided, emphasizing only the greatness of God’s love, while we neglect the truth that the cross is also a demonstration of God’s terrifying judgment on sin. But the cross is worth wondering at because it is the place where God’s love and wrath are reconciled. It is on the cross that “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10). As Newton writes that “grace and justice join and point to mercy’s store,” he illustrates the truth that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom. 3:26). These two truths are inseparable, so much so, that if we neglect the cross as a demonstration of God’s wrath, we fail to do justice to the cross as a demonstration of God’s love.
“Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder” was published in 1779 in Olney Hymns, a collection of hymns written by Newton and by his close friend William Cowper. It was included in a section called “Praise” and given the specific heading “Praise for redeeming love.” Here are the original lyrics in full:
1 Let us love, and sing, and wonder,
Let us praise the Saviour’s name!
He has hush’d the Law’s loud thunder,
He has quench’d mount Sinai’s flame:
He has wash’d us with his blood,
He has brought us nigh to God.
2 Let us love the Lord who bought us,
Pity’d us when enemies;
Call’d us by his grace, and taught us,
Gave us ears, and gave us eyes:
He has wash’d us with his blood,
He presents our souls to God.
3 Let us sing tho’ fierce temptations
Threaten hard to bear us down!
For the Lord, our strong salvation,
Holds in view the conqu’rors crown:
He who wash’d us, with his blood,
Soon will bring us home to God.
4 Let us wonder, grace and justice,
Join and point to mercy’s store;
When thro’ grace in Christ our trust is,
Justice smiles, and asks no more:
He who wash’d us with his blood,
Has secur’d our way to God.
5 Let us praise, and join the chorus
Of the saints, enthron’d on high;
Here they trusted him before us,
Now their praises fill the sky:
“Thou hast wash’d us with thy blood,
Thou art worthy, Lamb of God!”
6 Hark! the name of Jesus, sounded
Loud, from golden harps above!
Lord, we blush, and are confounded,
Faint our praises, cold our love!
Wash our souls and songs with blood,
For by thee we come to God.
The sixth verse is sometimes left out today. There may be several reasons for doing so. The lyrics are a bit more archaic, with words like “hark” and “confounded,” and references to “golden harps.” When I’ve seen this verse included, the lyrics are usually modified to account for this. Verse 6 also does not flow from the outline given to us in verse 1, so it feels a bit artificially tacked on to the end. And, pragmatically speaking, six verses is a lot of verses to keep track of.
However, this final verse contains what is typical of many Newton hymns, a feature which we tend to avoid in our worship: distress at the coldness of our love for God. Such a theme feels discordant with our modern obsession with proclaiming our deep passion for anything and everything. It seems to us out of place to declare our lack of passion for God in a song about how much we love Him. Not to John Newton. He commonly wrote such lyrics, and I find myself resonating with Newton’s sense of his own weakness in worship. I plan to open that up more fully when I write on another of Newton’s hymns, “I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow.”
Find It Today
- The oldest version I could find online is a scan of the third edition of Olney Hymns, published in 1783. It appears as hymn #82 in book 3 on pages 359–360. Note that these hymns were published simply as text with no music. Depending on their poetic meter, they would have been sung to any number of common tunes used in churches at the time, some of which we still use today. (“Amazing Grace” was published in this same volume as hymn #41 in book 1 on page 48; it includes two or three verses which may be unfamiliar to you.)
- The hymn is published (sans verse 6) as hymn #172 in the Trinity Hymnal (1990 revised edition) used by many Reformed churches. It is set to the tune All Saints from the German Darmstadt Gesangbuch (1698). You can listen to the congregation of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle sing it to that tune here (including verse 6, but with some lyrical alterations throughout).
- The musical setting we use in our worship services at Christ Church is by Laura Taylor (2001) of Indelible Grace. Here’s a good recording on YouTube, or you can listen to it on Spotify. Taylor’s version is lyrically very close to the original, though it too omits the sixth verse. Sheet music and other resources of this version are available for free here.
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