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.
T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
'Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
and Grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
These words were written in the late 18th century by a man named John Newton. Born in London, England, in 1725, John Newton served as a noble shipman for a great deal of his life. He eventually was pressed into the Navy and later became a seaman on slave-trading ships across England, Africa and many other countries around the globe.
One particular day, as Newton was traveling home from a job, a rough storm attacked his ship. At this time, fearful for his life, Newton called upon God for mercy. It was then that Newton experienced what he called the beginning of his spiritual conversion. Following the ship’s safe victory over the storm, Newton began reading the Bible and by the time his ship arrived in Britain, on May 10, 1748, Newton had fully accepted the principles and doctrines of Christianity into his life. After that miraculous journey, he discontinued his consumption of alcohol, gambling habits and use of profanities and worked to turn his life into something meaningful.
Just over 14 years later, he completely removed himself from all slave-trading practices and became fully involved in the idea of the abolishment of slavery. In 1764, Newton was ordained as a priest into the Church of England and worked as a curate in Olney, Buckinghamshire for over 16 years. It was while serving in Olney that he wrote those beautiful words to the deep and moving hymn, Amazing Grace.
In 1779, John Newton moved back to London where he was invited to become Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth’s Church. It was after moving back to London that a man named William Wilberforce approach him.
William Wilberforce was born 34 years after John Newton, on 24 August 1759. After growing up in school across London, Wilberforce attended St. John’s College in Cambridge where he received a Masters Degree and met William Pitt, the future Prime Minister of England, a man who would be Wilberforce’s long time friend. While at university, Wilberforce became heavily involved in politics and was elected a Member of Parliament in 1780 at the age of 21 as a declared Independent. He would remain heavily involved in politics for the rest of his life.
Although born a member of the Anglican Church, Wilberforce became interested in the Protestant Church when he was just 11 years old much to the dismay of his family. However, later in his life he was converted back into the Anglican Church. This reconversion changed many of his old habits. After he began applying the Bible a great deal into his life, some called him a much happier, tactful and respectful person; however, inside he was facing a deep personal struggle.
At this time, Wilberforce was questioning his involvement in politics and wondered whether he should continue to devote his life to man or rather devote his life to God. It was upon facing this inner conflict that he met with John Newton in at St. May Woolnoth London. During Wilberforce’s visit, Newton counseled Wilberforce that he should remain in politics as he could serve both God and man at the same time. From that time on, Wilberforce worked to promote Christian views and ethics throughout the country.
On 22 May 1787, William Wilberforce introduced to the House of Commons the idea of the abolishment of slavery. Wilberforce had been meeting with abolitionists for many years and had been researching the slave trade a great deal. After much consideration and contemplation, Wilberforce believed it was the time to bring forth some change in England.
Wilberforce’s fight for the end of slave trade in England was not an easy one. Initiated in 1787, and thought of even before that, the slave-trade bill was not passed until 1807 after a long and tiresome battle.
Through opposition and a grave illness, Wilberforce was weakened by the battle and not also confident in his proceedings. However, he was able to gain support from fellow Members of Parliament and other outside sources. Together they were able to find evidences of the horrors of the slave trade to present towards the abolishment of slavery and work to sway his follow politicians towards passing the bill.
When Wilberforce first introduced the bill to the House of Commons, it was defeated by a vote of 163 to 88. In 1807, when the bill was finally passed, it won with an astonishing majority of 283 votes to 16.
William Wilberforce was a man with passion, desire and a consistent resolve to bring good will upon the earth. Through rough battles with politics, illness, evil and unfavorable circumstances all over the globe, William Wilberforce was able to make a change in the world and remains a great example of positive progression to all people.
William Wilberforce passed away on July 29, 1833 in London. Just one month later the Slavery Abolition Act, an act that abolished slavery in a large portion of the British Empire, was passed. Wilberforced was buried in Westminster Abbey in London next to his oldest friend, William Pitt. William Wilberforce is remembered today in Britain and across the world as a leader in the abolishment of slavery and a very powerful and moving man.
In 2006, director Michael Apted depicted the hero of William Wilberforce in his film Amazing Grace. In this moving picture, Apted showed William Wilberforce, a man forever changed by John Newton and his profound hymn and devoted to the cause of fairness throughout the entire latter of his life.
This movie is a very poignant history of one of the most revolutionary movements of all time. It gives views a true access into the emotional story of the abolishment of the slave trade in England and shows the struggle thousands of people faced due to slavery across the globe.
At the end of the movie, after the anti-slave-trade bill was passed, Lord Charles Fox, stood and spoke to the House of Commons saying,
“When people speak of great men, they think of men like Napoleon - men of violence. Rarely do they think of peaceful men. But contrast the reception they will receive when they return home from their battles. Napoleon will arrive in pomp and in power, a man who's achieved the very summit of earthly ambition. And yet his dreams will be haunted by the oppressions of war. William Wilberforce, however, will return to his family, lay his head on his pillow and remember: the slave trade is no more.”
William Wilberforce was truly a great man, a man full of wisdom and a strong spirit. He was a driven man influenced by the spiritual convictions on his youth. He was devoted to the movement of peace and equality through the earth and was determined to increasing morality wherever he could. William Wilberforce is a hero. He is a man to be remembered and cherished for all time.