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30 November 2003

More on "Amazing Grace"

Snopes.com, the great debunker of urban myths, has more amazing facts about the life of John Newton.

Claim: Having survived a horrific storm, a slave trader promptly gave up his livelihood, became a Christian, and penned the hymn 'Amazing Grace' in thanksgiving.
Status: False.
Origins: A number of legends circulate about why John Newton, a slavetrader-turned-minister, penned the hymn 'Amazing Grace.' Most attempt to explain the seemingly inexplicable: How could one who made his living trading in the misery of others have put into words such a powerful message of personal salvation?
. . .
Newton began to express regrets about his part in the slave trade only in 1780, thirty-two years after his conversion, and eight years after he wrote 'Amazing Grace.' In 1785 he began to fight against slavery by speaking out against it, and he continued to do so until his death in 1807.
. . .
Newton did eventually grow into his conversion, so that by the end of his days he actually was the godly man one would expect to have penned 'Amazing Grace.' But it was a slow process effected over the passage of decades, not something that happened with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning. In Newton's case, the "amazing grace" he wrote of might well have referred to God's unending patience with him.


I like the true story so much better than the myth. What people who have not experienced conversion, but have seen it on TV or at the movies, do not understand is what a slow-moving, organic, messy process transformation can be. You go down false paths, you think you are "there" long before you are, and yet all the while, there is in fact a moment or two you identify as "the conversion"; nevertheless, the conversion is but the start of "the conversion process", a life-long endeavour.

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