Most songs sizzle and fade but some songs stand the true test of time. Classic songs that we hear our favorite artists sing. We hear many popular artists sing the song and often times don’t know where it came from. The story behind the song. One of these songs is ‘Amazing Grace’ that we’ve all heard many times before. It has been sung by Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Usher, Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and so many more. This is a true classic that has stood the test of time.
The song is loved and revered by many. It has a sense of truth to it. It’s real, raw and authentic. The song had staying power because it actually came from a very authentic place. A story that quite literally has the power to continuously unite the heart of humanity and stand the test of time in doing so.
The song was written by a man named John Newton. John was born in 1725 and lived in Britain. His mother passed when he was just 7 years old and his father was a seaman. Intrigued by the sea he ended up becoming a seaman himself after being taken to sea at just 11 years old by a stern sea-captain father.
After many voyages out to sea and a lot of reckless drinking in his youth John’s next step was the British Navy. He tried to desert his duties, but was found out and received 8 dozen lashes (that’s 96 lashes for those of you good at math) and was reduced to the rank of ‘common seaman’ after that.
He was beaten and treated as less than by the other sea-mates, reduced in rank. This will come in insightful later in the story.
Later he served on the Pegasus ship with an enslaver named Amos Clowe. John did not get along with Amos Clowe as he was left by his former ship crew in West Africa to serve under Amos, an enslaver. Amos gave John his first wife, princess Peye who was an African Royal who treated him vilely as she also treated the other slaves.
During the voyage home from Africa, the ship was caught in a powerful storm off the coast of Ireland and almost sank with all of its crew. Newton prayed to God and surprisingly the cargo in the ship miraculously repositioned itself to fill a hole in the ship’s hull and this bought the vessel enough time to drift to safety.
Newton took this miraculous event as a sign from God and marked it as his conversion to Christianity. He did not radically change his ways at once however, his total reformation was gradual over time.
“I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterward,” he later wrote. He did begin reading the Bible at this point and began to view his captives with a more sympathetic view.
Although now a Christian John continued in the slave trade as it was all he knew, making three voyages as the captain of two different vessels, The Duke of Argyle and the African. He suffered a stroke in 1754 and retired, but continued to invest in the slave trade business. In 1764, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and wrote 280 hymns to accompany his services. He wrote the words for “Amazing Grace” in 1772 which became the song we all know the words of to this day.
It was not until 1788, 34 years after leaving it that he renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a controversial document called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.”
The written tract described the horrific conditions on the ships that Newton accompanied. Newton publicly apologized and made a public statement so many years after participating in the trade:
“It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”
The 50-page document was so eye opening and awakening that it was reprinted and circulated several times and sent to every member of Parliament at the time. You can read the entire 50-page document by clicking here. Under the leadership of MP William Wilberforce, the English civil government outlawed slavery in Great Britain in 1807 and Newton lived to see it, dying in December of that very same year.
It’s as if he was born for the very purpose of influencing the British Parliament to outlaw slavery and for the song ‘Amazing Grace’ which was about his life.
The passage of the Slave Trade Act is depicted in the 2006 film, which is also called Amazing Grace, starring Albert Finney as Newton and Ioan Gruffud as Wilberforce.
John Newton Had A Change Of Heart
Its interesting that John Newton, once an enslaver and slave trader had a change of heart. The same man that was lashed 96 times and reduced to the lowest rank on a ship became that same oppressor that was done to him. Don’t you find that interesting? It’s almost as if he did not go through the lashing and being treated as the lowest member on the ship he would not have seen life through those eyes.
He needed to go through the pain, trauma, abuse and struggle of being disconnected from his mother and father at a young age. He needed to have a taste of what the other side felt like. If he would have been straight laced and done everything right he would have been esteemed and his ego would have been too involved to have a change of heart. But instead, God positioned and postured his life and heart to heal, forgive his oppressors and tell the world “what we’re doing in the slave trade is not right” and I intend to let that be known before I die. He died that same year after releasing a 50-page document and seeing the laws changed. It’s as if his whole life’s purpose was to create change in the slave trade.
This just shows me that if we keep our hearts open we can be an agent and a tool for change as well. This man was not by any means or stretch of the imagination privileged. He suffered and struggled from an early age, and because of that over time he became better instead of bitter. He chose forgiveness, healing and love as opposed to bitterness, resentment and hate.
The heart of humanity is stronger today because one man decided to be brave and change his heart in an area that he knew he was wrong and those were his dying words. This led him to write the song ‘Amazing Grace’ in his lifetime and this became an internationally recognized song that we all sing in unison. Black, white, brown. It doesn’t matter.
We all need Amazing Grace. We all know how sweet the sound of true grace is. We all have been lost. We all have been found. We all need God’s grace in our lives and to be able to give grace and forgiveness to others to give and receive that same grace ourselves. Here’s to Grace, here’s to love, here’s to forgiveness, here’s to healing, and here’s to carrying on the legacy of a man and his song that unites us all to this day hundreds of years later.
Enjoy the different versions of the song ‘Amazing Grace’ below by Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Carrie Underwood, Elvis Presley, Usher, Aretha Franklin and a really great group called Pentatonix that sing it great together as a group.
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