Went with the Mrs. to see “Amazing Grace” today. For me, the final scene was well worth the price of admission…or, hold on…ten bucks?…(oh, what am I complaining about? It could’ve been twenty except for the fact that Regal cinemas lets my wife get in free as my “attendant”, God bless them)…yeah, okay, I guess it was still worth it. Anyway, the scene I mentioned is a brigade of bagpipes playing the theme song complemented by horns and such…ooooh, can you say ‘spine-tingly’?
Amazing that such a song can overpower you with its winding-river grace. I speak, of course, of the old hymn penned by a former slave trader, John Newton (who is also featured on my ‘biography page’). I discovered that Mr. Newton, though marking his own conversion to Christianity in the mid-1700s, remained in the slave industry for a number of years, but finally made a clean breast of things after falling in with the likes of John Wesley and George Whitfield. Afterward he became a preacher of the grace that so gently lifted him from the vomit bucket of the world. That’s right: this venerated clergy-poet had once, during the lowest abyss of his debauchery, offered himself to the service of satan.
It was during a giant storm at sea, Newton testified, that he heard the voice of God speaking to him out of the tempest, calling him to Himself. In the days leading up to the nor’easter, the Lord had been thawing out the sailor’s cold heart for He had him reading a Kempis’ book, The Imitation of Christ. But with the onslaught of the storm, the embittered slave ship captain’s ever so gradual turn to the Eternal Giver of Grace was hanging in the balance. With water filling his cabin and timbers being jerked free from the hull, Newton frantically pumped water alongside his crew but to no avail. Finally he lashed himself to the wheel, hoping to steer the ship through, but at the height of peril cried on the winds, “Lord, have mercy on us!”
In his journal Newton said of this very occasion that he promised God he would be “His slave forever” if only He would rescue them. God in His great mercy did just that. And John Newton, former slave ship’s first mate, former slave himself, and former slave captain, was ardently captured by Grace.
I also learned today (not from the film) that the Cherokee nation considers this song to be a national anthem of sorts as it was sung on the Trail of Tears by their ancestors. Same tune, slightly different words but still a testimony to redemption through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. It was also the most-oft sung hymn during the Civil Rights marches of the 1960s. Through many dangers, toils and snares indeed…
Amazing Grace. Go see it. The tagline of the movie says, “Behind the song you love is a story you will never forget.” How true. It is thought that the melody came from slaves songs which haunted Newton throughout the years of his herding innocent victims. It is a delicately simple tune, built on the pentatonic scale, and played on the black keys. Five notes. That’s it. But what an amazing song whose enduring message can change the world.