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Amazing Grace and The Abolition of Slavery

by | Tue, Jan 24 2023

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Author: Jacquelin Melilli

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.

The famous hymn, Amazing Grace, is known and sung by multitudes across cultures and generations worldwide for its poignant lyrics that stir emotions with its message of mercy, redemption and forgiveness.

January 1, 2023, marked the 250th anniversary of the first time the famous hymn, Amazing Grace, written by John Newton, was ever sung, according to the Museum of the Bible. Amazing Grace was written in 1772 and published in 1779 and has since been translated into over 140 languages.

That Saved a Wretch Like Me

John Newton became a sailor at age eleven and was known as a blasphemer with a reputation for profanity and debauchery. He was as rough as they come, leading many away from God with his foul mouth. Yet, his mother, who had taught him many scriptures as a child, faithfully prayed that he would become a minister until her death when Newton was seven years old. It wasn’t until he was caught in a fierce storm out at sea with little hope of survival that he recalled Proverbs 1:24-33.

‘Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded,

Because you disdained all my counsel, And would have none of my rebuke,

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes,

When your terror comes like a storm, And your destruction comes like a whirlwind, When distress and anguish come upon you.

“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.

Because they hated knowledge And did not choose the fear of the LORD,

They would have none of my counsel And despised my every rebuke.

Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, And be filled to the full with their own fancies.

For the turning away of the simple will slay them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them;

But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil.’ Proverbs 1:24-33 NKJV

On March 21, 1748, at the helm of a doomed ship, Newton submitted his life to Jesus, and through God’s amazing grace, he was reformed from an obnoxious slave-trading sailor to a child of God.

Newton continued slave trading for a time. As he studied the Bible and prayed for guidance, he gave up his life as a slave-trading sailor, and at the age of thirty-nine, his mother’s prayers were answered. John Newton spent the next forty-three years preaching the Gospel of Christ.

The Abolition of Slavery

William Wilberforce, born in 1759, was a man of wealth and nobility who, at age 21, ran for Parliament and won. As a new Christian, Wilberforce was strongly influenced by John Newton’s preaching. When he contemplated leaving politics to serve God, Newton encouraged him to stay in politics and let God use him for the good of His church and the nation.

Soon after Newton’s counsel, God stirred Wilberforce’s heart with the mammoth task of fighting to abolish slavery, a trade that brought enormous wealth to immoral business owners. Plantation owners, merchants and some of Britain’s MPs who were powerful and wealthy enough bribed other MPs to support them against abolishing slavery.

Between 1787 and 1838, Amazing Grace was sung at many protest rallies in the movement to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire. Wilberforce’s battle continued for almost three decades. In 1825, Wilberforce was forced to resign from his role in Parliament due to ill health. Nevertheless, the cause to free all slaves persisted until 1833 when, on his deathbed, Wilberforce received word that the Parliament had decided to free all 800,000 slaves throughout the British Empire.

Amazing Grace United All Classes

The power of the hymn, Amazing Grace, not only pushed the abolitionists’ momentum forward; it also helped give those fighting for freedom a voice. Amazing Grace served as a bridge among all classes aiming to create social change. It inspired audiences regardless of religion or ethnicity and was a powerful alliance with Wilberforce’s cause to abolish slavery that had exploited and afflicted millions for centuries prior.

While there were still many battles yet to fight against racism and inequality across the Western world, Amazing Grace would remain an essential anthem that resonates deeply against oppressive systems where injustice remains to this day.

Amazing Grace and the Abolition of Slavery Sadly, slavery still continues today as a hugely profitable business, with reports estimating the value at $32 billion. The most devastating is sex slavery, where girls are as young as nine years old. The documentary Nefarious takes a chilling look at the reality of modern-day slavery. Click here to purchase a copy from the Vision store.


Further reading

50 Years Since Christian Hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ Topped the UK Charts – Vision Christian Media

What is National Christian Heritage Sunday? – Vision Christian Media

The Coming of the Light Festival