By Dag Walker
Sometimes, a sinner becomes a saint. For ordinary folks like me, it hardly matters, I still want to strangle bad guys. Forgiveness is too hard. So, it’s better to step aside and allow that vengeance is for the Lord. Let the Lord deal with sinners and saints. He might know more about such things than I do.
Back in the year 1772 a bad guy, a wretched man, sat down and did something good for once. He’d been an English slave-trader until he was 30, such a wretched man that even his companions in an evil business hated him. He was so bad that his ship-mates one day sold him to the notorious slaver Amos Clowe at Sherbro Island. Slaver John Newton became a slave himself in 1748. Not that it made him a better man. He was freed and continued to be as evil as before. That changed by 1772.
John Newton was born in London, England in 1725 and went to sea with his captain father at age 11. Being a nasty boy, he was soon after given away to the British Navy where he was once given 106 lashes for attempted desertion. He became worse over the course of time. There was no sudden change in his behavior, however, even after he survived a storm at sea on the ship Greyhound, during which time, in fear for his life, he begged God to save him. He then returned to slaving in the area that later became Liberia. He did change, though. He’d given up the sea by the age of 30, and by 1764 he had taught himself Greek, Latin, and Syriac in order to become an ordained Church of England minister. He married his longtime love and became a popular preacher. He wrote poetry and songs for his church.
In late 1772, John Newton made history. 1772 is well-known to most of us as a very bad year for the King of Denmark…. Uh, not so good for Poland? OK, in New Jersey, medical practitioners were exempted from licensing if they used a bellows to blow cigarette smoke up the patient’s behind. In other news in 1772, Paul Cuffe, age 13, inherited the family farm with his older brother and soon thereafter set out on a career as a merchant ship captain to become one of the pioneers of the Back to Africa movement. Jehudi Ashmun was born 22 years later, in 1794. More importantly, 1772 is known for John Newton and “Somersett’s Case,” when slavery began to end in England when Lord Chief Justice William Murray, Earl of Manfield, ruled that a slave who arrived in England was free. It was a slow start to a long process that led in its way to the eventual creation of the free nation of Liberia.
In 1772, John Newton sat down and wrote another poem, lyrics for a song that he understood from his experiences in Liberia years before as a slaver who repented his sins and begged God for mercy. He wrote:
“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.
The rest of the song is at the link.
Forgive the repentant? This is not for me to say. We can, however, all join in song and hope we are not judged too harshly.
Dag Walker is an American Writer
Main Photo: Paul Cuffe, Wikimedia Commons