These famous words penned by John Newton in the eighteenth century have made their way into the hearts, minds, and souls of countless people who have sung them to the haunting melody inspired by the dirge of African slaves. Although the music and lyrics have become so well-known, it is probably fair to say that many admirers of the hymn have no idea that it was written by a reformed slave trader, who heard on his third slave voyage, “one haunting cry arose from among the chorus of groans. Almost a dirge it was.
A single voice at first, then one by one, others joined in. As John listened, it wove itself into a tune of heartbreaking beauty. A farewell lament to a land and a life forever lost. For the rest of his life, that melody would echo in his heart. And one day it would help him sing his own story.” How strange and wonderful that this expression of grief is still being sung today. We must not forget the tragic role of these people who were being transported from their homes and families to a strange new world.
In ‘Once Blind: The Life of John Newton,’ author Kay Marshall Strom reminds us of the circumstances around which this hymn came into being while exploring the life of a man who spent many years in torment. When Newton referred to himself as a wretch in his most famous piece of work, he meant it. Strom reveals how Newton lost his mother at the age of six, began his life at sea at the age of eleven, and gained a reputation as a blasphemous scoundrel at the age of eighteen. This reputation, and the behaviour which precipitated it, began to lessen five years later after Newton miraculously survived a terrible storm at sea. He turned towards the God his mother had told him about so many years before, undergoing a religious conversion that changed his life and his way of thinking about the world and his place in it.
After this conversion, he continued to engage in slave trading, which was considered a legitimate, legal business at the time: “Commerce fueled the operation. The Americas supplied cotton, sugar, and coffee to Europe, but they couldn’t produce those goods without cheap human labor. It was all business and all legal.” It was only many years later that he acknowledged how wrong he was to participate in the trafficking of human cargo and began to fight for the abolition of slavery.
‘Once Blind’ is the story of a man who was able to make a 180 degree turn in his life. It gives us hope that no matter what we have done in our past, there is always hope for the future and a forgiving God to turn to. This story will inspire you and you will never sing or listen to ‘Amazing Grace’ in the same way again. It will be a much more meaningful and inspirational hymn, which will conjure up images and passages from this enthralling biography.
The above review was contributed by: Mary Simmons:Mary is an avid reader who is currently writing a family saga following three generations of women. She has worked as a reporter and is presently occupied with freelance writing and editing a doctoral thesis. Mary also reviews for other sites. Click Here to read Mary's reviews.
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