“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.”
Strong words made even stronger by the fact that they are autobiographical. The British author, John Newton, grew up in a seafaring family in the early 1700s. He was at sea, performing the backbreaking work of a yeoman crew member, when he was 11-years-old. He took a succession of jobs on various ships and then was impressed into mandatory service on a war ship. By his late teens he grew tired of the intolerable living conditions and the rigor of service and deserted his ship. He was captured, flogged, and in order to make a legal exit from his commitment, he volunteered to serve on a slave ship. He’d found his niche.
He rose to the rank of steersman. He and his crewmates made many voyages, picking up and delivering slaves, to and from many ports. Newton was a typical ship’s mate of the time, fierce and foreboding at times and profane, disrespectful and rebellious most of the time. He displayed little if any compassion toward the human cargo, the slaves, whom he considered little more than sub-human savages. These views, again, were typical of the time.
During one fateful voyage, though, Newton had an epiphany that changed his life. His ship sailed into a terrible and violent storm and was tossed about like a leaf in the wind, near to capsizing with every wave. Newton was certain that he, the crew, and his freight-load of slaves would soon meet their death. In a last-gasp effort for survival, Newton met with the captain and prayed for mercy. He was not a religious or spiritual man, and this act was out of character. Somehow, someway, Newton and his ship survived. Newton contemplated what had happened, and upon reaching the shore of his destination, was a changed man. Newton described it as a miracle, and called it his “great deliverance.”
Thereafter, Newton treated slaves with compassion and concern. He became a captain on a non-slave ship for a time, then abandoned his trade, his ship, and his acceptance of slavery in lieu of tolerance and a role as a minister. He studied theology and wrote many songs, foremost among them “Amazing Grace.” It is estimated that “Amazing Grace” is performed 10 million times each year, and the words resonate every time they’re sung. Newton was a wretch and a scoundrel who thought himself beyond redemption - he learned that, no matter the past transgressions, it is possible to change and become a man of greatness. Change if you must, and fulfill your destiny, like John Newton.
From November 2010, http://raising-a-man.tumblr.com