11 March 2007

Amazing Grace

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...we have already come. T'was Grace that brought us safe thus far...and Grace will lead us 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. When we've been here ten thousand years...bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise...then when we've first begun. "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.

Those are the words to the famous hymn by John Newton. Newton appears (as played by Albert Finney) in a new movie that takes the name of the hymn, centered on the life of William Wilberforce (played by Ioan Gruffudd).

To me, Newton is the more fascinating character, and if I had aspirations as a screenwriter I'd be at work making him the protagonist. The only aspiring screenwriter with whom I'm acquainted dislikes historical fiction -- she's allergic to powdered wigs, I guess.

Newton's life, his conversion experience(s), and that song have all been wrapped up in mythology, and the urban myth busting website snopes does its usual good job of untangling the threads of truth and falsehood.
He didn't quit the slave trade because he found God. He appears to have converted to Christianity in 1748. If so, it had no immediate effect on his livelihood. He quit the trade in the mid 1750s, simply because he wanted a more settled life.

Newton composed Amazing Grace in the early 1770s, but still doesn't seem to have expressed any doubts about the morality of his former line of work until 1780.

The real lesson here might be that conversion doesn't mean re-birth, with the implication of that term that there is a specific moment when it all happens. Conversion means, as its etymology suggests, a turning. And the wheel of a life can be a heavy thing, the turning of which, by God and man together, requires years or decades. It is not the birth into a new life but the accomplishment which is a life.

Here's the snopes link.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.