This year a movie was released, called Amazing Grace.
It celebrated the 200th anniversary of the banning of the slave trade in Britain. The Welsh actor, Ioan Griffydd, played
Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce. William Wilberforce is a giant of history. He, and his little band
of Bible believing friends, changed the world. William Wilberforce was inspired to his accomplishments, by his friend,
John Newton, who is also a giant, who also changed the world.
Unfortunately, this generation, that has thrown the
Bible away, and decided that its teachings are no longer relevant, has never heard of either Mr. John Newton, or his friend,
Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce. Their gigantic Christian contribution to the advancement of civilization
is almost totally unknown. Except for the people who saw the movie.
People today do not know the story of how the Bible, and
the Christ of the Bible, got hold of the souls of these two men, delivered them from sin, and set them on a course that would
change the entire world for good.
John Newton was born in London, England, July 24, 1725, and
died December 21, 1807. His mother was a very dedicated Christian, called a Dissenter. Dissenter means a person
who disagrees. It was another word for Protestant. She taught him Scripture, but died when he was seven years
old. His father remarried, and sent John to school at Stratford, Essex until he was eleven, in 1736. They
had a different curriculum in those days, and at age ten, he was able to read Latin.
When he was young, he was thown from a horse in a manner
that could have killed him, falling dangerously on a spiked branch. He got a little religious for a while but it wore
He experienced the tragedy of a ferry accident. Ferry
capsized, and friends drowned. It shook him up for a while, and he began to get a little religious, but after a while
that wore off too.
When he was eleven, on his birthday, he went to sea, with his father, who was a captain on a
merchant ship. He made six voyages with his father, until he retired in 1742, to become the governor of York Fort, under the
Hudson Bay company. His father drowned in 1751.
At one point in his travels, he became servant to
a slave trader on one of the Plantane islands, and suffered brutal treatment. Early in 1748 he was rescued from this
life at a place called Kittam by the captain of a vessel whom his father had known, and had asked him to look out for
Once back in England, another friend of his father, Mr. Manesty,
of Liverpool, offered him the job of command of one of his slave vessels. But he preferred the job of first mate.
He took time off in 1750, to marry Mary Catlett, whom he had known and loved since she was fourteen.
He was at times nominally religious, but it was
the believe in the head type of religion that did not answer the needs of the heart.
He wrote in his memoirs, "I saw the necessity of religion
as a means of escaping Hell, but I loved sin, and was unwilling to forsake it."
He later wrote: "I was presently
religious in my own eyes. But alas! this seeming goodness had not solid foundation, but passed away like a morning cloud
or the early dew. I was soon weary, gradually gave it up, and became worse than before. Instead of prayer, I learned
to curse and blaspheme, and was exceedingly wicked.
He went through the normal religious routine of praying,
fasting, etc. but wrote. "It was poor religion. It left me, in many respects, under the power of sin. It
tended to make me gloomy, stupid, unsociable and useless."
He read a book by a man named Lord Shaftsbury, called
Characteristics. It preached a kind of new age religion, that said, believe in a god someplace, but don't feel obligated
to obey him. He lost his faith in anything religious. He wrote,"Thus, with fine words and fair speeches,
my simple heart was beguiled. No immediate effect followed, but it operated like a slow poison, and prepared the way
for all that came after"
In 1742 he was serving a ship called the HMS Harwich.
He had some disagreement with authority, and deserted. He was caught, returned, and in the common treatment of those
days, he was whipped, put in chains, and demoted.
He describes this experience with the words,
"I was now brought down to a level with the lowest, and exposed
to the insults of all"
Stuck on this ship for five years, he went from thoughts
of suicide to thoughts of murdering the captain.
He tells of this:
""The Lord had now to all appearances given me up to judicial
hardness. I was capable of anything. I had not the least fear of God before my eyes, nor, so far as I remember, the
least sensibility of conscience. I was possessed of so strong a spirit of delusion that I believed my own lie and was
firmly persuaded that after death I should cease to be."
He wrote of his attitude. "I now may be as abandoned as I
pleased, without any control" he declared that he sinned "with a high hand" He mocked and made fun and ridiculed.
About this period in his life, he later reflected, "...as
the Lord's hour of grace was not yet come, I was to have still deeper experience of the dreadful state of the heart of man
when left to itself. I have seen frequent cause since to admire the mercy of the Lord in banishing me to those distant parts,
and almost excluding me from human society, at a time when I was big with mischief, and, like one infected with a pestilence,
was capable of spreading a taint wherever I went."
"Neither judgments nor mercies made the least impression
He said he went to bed one night with the casual indifference
he always had but soon found out, "It was the Lord's time."
He awoke suddenly to the force of an extremely violent
storm which broke on top of them. The ship was in chaos and he heard someone shout that they were sinking
On the way up the ladder, as his compartment was filling
with water, he met the captain coming down who told him to get a knife and bring it up. When he returned to get it, someone
else had gone up in his place. That person was instantly washed overboard. The ship was filling quickly and it looked utterly
hopeless. In the space of a few minutes the entire ship was a wreck. He said it was astonishing that anyone survived.
They manned pumps continually against the incoming
sea, but the water was gaining. Doing everything they could do, the ship was full and ready to go down. Towords
daybreak the wind began to die down. They used their own clothes and bedding to repair the leaks and nailed old boards
These men had just left the tropics, and now they were freezing
half naked on a sinking ship.
After doing all they knew to do to save the ship, Newton
heard words coming out of his mouth "If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us!" In the shock of the moment
where he found himself asking for God’s mercy, he remembered his awful life, and asked himself, "What mercy can
there be for me?"
Many scriptures that speak of God’s anger at rebellion
terrified his mind.
Proverbs1:24-31, God says, because I have called, and you refused, you have set at naught all
my counsel, I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear comes. Hebrews 6:4-6 declares “It
is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and partakers of the heavenly gift, if they should fall away, to renew
them unto repentance.
All of these scriptures that speak of the lostness
of reprobate souls seemed to fit him, and he became terrified. He wondered now if it was possible for the
Lord to forgive him. He remembered his own ways and the experiences of his own life; he remembered the times of outwardly
devout but phony put-on religion.
His spirit broke, and he saw himself as an arrogant,
mean-spirited blasphemer with no conscience. He began to fear God and what seemed to him was going to be his sure damnation.
When he heard the news about the water being completely
pumped out, He thought that God had decided to act in their favor and he began to pray.
On every side, he said, he was "surrounded with black unfathomable
despair" but in the gospel he "saw at least a possibility of hope."
In the days leading to their landfall he read parts of the
New Testament and was especially struck by the prodigal son of Luke 15. "The goodness of the father in receiving, in
running to meet such a son, as an illustration of the Lord's goodness to returning sinners, gained upon me." He began to pray.
He even cried to the Lord, now understanding that only God could get him out of this.
He said of this time, "Sometimes I thought I could
be content to die even for want of food if I might but die a believer."
He came to the point where he could accept starving to death,
if only Jesus would only receive him, and let him die forgiven.
He came to understand that God's justice was satisfied
by Christ's death, and that God's mercy was satified by His own repentance.
By the time they reached land, his heart had
been turned inside out and made new.
He retired from the sea, and from 1755 to 1760 he held the
post of surveyor of tides at Liverpool. He became acquainted with Whitefield, a leader of the Protestant faith, and
also made the acquaintance of John Wesley.
He had already studied Latin as a child. Now,
he taught himself Greek.
April 29 1764 he was ordained a deacon. He ministered at the church of
Olney, Buckinhamshire. He published a book of hymns, an account of his life at sea, and he wrote extensively about his
Dec. 15,1790 his wife died of cancer. They
had adopted his neice, Eliza, in 1714. She cared for him in his old age and blindness, until she lost
1806, a friend asked him to give up preaching. He was
to old and blind. John Newton replied with a deep passion, "I cannot stop! Shall the old African blasphemer
stop while he can speak?"
He was asked on the Wednesday before he died if his mind
was comfortable, his reply was, "I am satisfied with the Lord's will."
Part of his last will and testament
read, "I commit my soul to my gracious God and Saviour, who mercifully spared and preserved me, when I was an apostate, a
blasphemer, and an infidel; and Who has been pleased to admit me, though most unworthy, to preach His glorious gospel.
I rely with humble confidence upon the atonement, and
mediation of the Lord Jesus Christ, God and Man, as the only foundation whereupon a sinner can build his hope, trusting
that He will then admit me into His presence in His heavenly kingdom...."
Newton's epitah, which was inscribed at his own request,
on a marble tablet at the last church where he preached, St. Mary Woolnoth, London ,"JOHN NEWTON, CLERK. Once an infidel and
libertine, A servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior, JESUS CHRIST, restored, pardoned,
and appointed to preach the gospel he had long labored to destroy...."
In those days, in that society, the slave
trade was considered an honorable and needed business. But after the light of Jesus entered his soul, the horror of
the things he had done weighed deeply on his mind. “I am a great sinner”, he declared. “But
Christ is a great Savior.”
Newton called himself both an African blasphemer, and a servant of slaves. By this
he meant that his sins against the African were equal to blasphemy against God. And that by having committed them, he
had incurred a debt to them that made him their servant. This is the glorious change that happens to the
redeemed soul by the power of the Holy Spirit.
John Newton wrote the words to the classic hymn, Amazing
Grace. The song that poured out of the heart of one lost soul set free, has come to be called the National Anthem of
heaven. I find that highly appropriate. I learned recently that the scale used to form the music for those
words is the six-toned Scale invented by the African people.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound!
a wretch like me!
I once was lost but now I'm found
Was blind but now I see
T'was grace that taught my heart to fear, and
my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed
the Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures
will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures,
And when this heart and flesh shall fail,
mortal life shall cease,
I shall posess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
shining as the sun,.
we've no less days to sing God's praise
than when we first begun.
A small group of people were meeting at a house at a place
called Clapham, and came to be known as the Clapham sect. These were a very small group of evangelicals
and Quakers, whose consciences had received the light of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, and they decided that, in
the Name of Christ, they had to do something. They formed a group called the Society for the Abolition of the Slave
They asked a young man named William Wilburforce
to be the spokesman in Parliament for their cause.
William Wilburforce was born August 24, 1759, in Hull, England.
He came from a wealthy family, but his father died when he was young, and he was raised for a time by his aunt and uncle,
who were followers of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church. His mother objected to all that straight-laced
religion, and brought young Wilbur home to the family estate, and he spent his youth in the careless, selfish lifestyle
that was expected of a rich young man.
When he was 20 years old, he stood for Parliament, and was
elected to the House of Commons.
In 1784, he had genuine encounter with Jesus and His salvation,
and he joined the small Clapham group. This brought him in contact with the elderly John Newton, who, as a new minister,
and a member of the Clapham group, was eager to bring the Gospel to as many souls as he could, and to shake the consciences
of the people regarding the slave trade.
In those days, even good and decent people lived their lives
in blissful ignorance of what kind of horrors were really going on, on the other side of the world.
At first, Mr. Wilburforce wrote to the leader of the group,
a Mrs. Middleton, and complained that the job was to big for one man. He said, “I feel the great importance of
the subject, and I feel myself unequal to the task allotted to me”.
But later, after he had made an investigation into the horrors
that were going on, he declared,
“So enormous, so dreadful, so irremedial did the slave
trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be
what they would. I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had affected its abolition.”
Wilburforce began to introduce a Bill into the House of Commons,
to abolish the slave trade in all of Britain.
He had to endure the pain of his own chronic digestive
illness, that the doctors did not know how to treat. But he kept pressing on. He experienced delay after delay.
Some people who were originally on his side left the fight.
He continued to educate the public. He continued
to gather signatures on petitions.
A war with France and opposition from certain parties in the West Indies brought
about a time when it seemed no one was interested in this question. But Wilberforce continued to re-submit his Bill.
He would again introduce the Bill, and it would be
voted on again, and defeated again.
During the 1790's, Mr. Wilberforce submitted the Bill
once each year. He would not give up. And once each year, it was turned down, again.
Along about the turn of the century, people started to pay
him attention again.
And February 23, 1807, the House of Commons voted again.
And this time
they voted yes.
The Bill received the formal Royal Assent, and it was officially
passed March 25, 1807.
There was great cheering in the hall of Parliament.
An MP named Samuel Romilly praised Wilberforce for his perseverance, and marvelled at the peace of soul that must be his,
for persevering in so noble a task, while Mr. Wilberforce sat in his seat, his face in his hands, crying like a baby.
He later said, "I was myself so completely overpowered by
my feelings that I was insensible to all that was passing around me."
In 1825, he resigned Parliament, and retired to Mill Hill,
a town north of London.
But there was still unfinished business.
His Bill was passed March 1807. This stopped the trade.
But what about all the slaves that still existed? He worked with his replacement in Parliament, Thomas Fowell Buxton,
and July 26, 1833, another Bill was passed. the Emancipation Bill, which freed all existing slaves in the British Empire.
This Bill provided for money to be paid to the slave owners,
Mr. Wilberforce said, "Thank God that I have lived to witness
a day in which England is willing to give 20 million sterling for the abolition of slaves."
Three days later, July 29, 1833, William Wilberforce died.
He was buried, with all due honor, in Westminster Abbey.
Jesus said, in John 14:12, truly, truly, I say to you,
he that believes on Me, the works that I do shall he do. These two dedicated men, and their anonymous friends
in the house on Clapham street, saw a huge world of iniquity and evil, and decided that, in the name of Christ our Savior,
we must do something to stop this.
A handful of people read the Word of God, and decided that
they had to correct a great wrong.
One man, with his conscience surrendered to the Savior Jesus
Christ, decided that he had to dedicate his life to the destruction of a great evil.
And by the power of the Word of God, and the
power of the resurrected Jesus, they moved the world over.
Thank you for your kind attention. Until next time,
just keep praising.