Have you seen the movie Amazing Grace? It’s far from the typical Hollywood movie because it is not intended to shock, titillate, scare, or mindlessly entertain. It’s meant to inspire and empower. I encourage you to see it as soon as possible.
Amazing Grace tells the true story of William Wilberforce and his passion to end the slave trade in Great Britain. In the late 1700’s, Great Britain was the mightiest empire in the world and not only used slaves but engaged in the slave trading business by the “triangular trade.” Cheap goods would be transported from London, Bristol or Liverpool to West Africa and changed for slaves, who would then be sold on the other side of the Atlantic, if they survived. Sugar, spices, molasses and cotton would then be shipped back to Britain.
In 1796, after working passionately for 9 years against slavery, Wilberforce introduced a bill in the House of Commons to abolish the British slave trade. Because of subtle maneuvering and sly tactics, the bill was defeated. Wilberforce was crushed, disillusioned and fell seriously ill. A deeply religious man, Wilberforce questioned his call and wondered if God was calling him to be a pastor rather than a politician.
In his struggle, he turned to his former pastor, John Newton, for guidance. Newton, as you may know, was a former slave trader who converted to Christianity and wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace, as a response to the wondrous change God worked in his life. Newton’s advice to Wilberforce in the movie? “Change yourself before you change someone else.” According to Kevin Belmonte’s biography, William Wilberforce: A Hero For Humanity (Zondervan), Newton said to Wilberforce, “Indeed, the great point for our comfort in life is to have a well-grounded persuasion that we are where, all things considered, we ought to be. Then it is no great matter whether we are in public or in private life, in a city or a village, in a palace or a cottage. The promise, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee,’ is necessary to support us in the smoothest scenes, and is equally able to support us in the most difficult.”
William’s good friend, Billy, the future Prime Minister, challenged him, “Will you use your beautiful voice to praise God or change the world?” When Wilberforce shared with John Newton that Billy had offered him a place of power in the British government, Newton replied, “Why wouldn’t you take it? Just don’t be of the world. William, you have work to do.”
Interestingly, Wilberforce knew John Wesley, who was also a vocal opponent of slavery. In fact, it was to William Wilberforce that John Wesley wrote his last letter in 1791. Wesley said, “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be with you, who can be against you? Are any of them stronger than God? Oh be not weary in well doing! Go on in the name of God and the power of his might then even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.”
Amazing Grace proclaims the wonderful message that one person can make a difference in the world. The movie also reminds us that practicing the principles of Christianity inevitable leads to action. We can use our voice to praise God as well as change the world. In my favorite scene in the movie, Wilberforce’s friends try to convince him to continue his political crusade by saying, “We humbly suggest action as well as meditation.”
In other words, do both!!! It is possible to follow God’s call whatever our profession in life. All Christians are ministers. Yes, some are called to the professional ministry, but every Christian has the power to change their small corner of the world. It’s no surprise, then, that the release of the movie was accompanied by a campaign against slavery in the world today (there are 27 million slaves worldwide) and the promotion of a book published by Zondervan, Be the Change, by teenager anti-slavery activist, Zach Hunter.
Amazing Grace prompts challenging questions:
- How do you empower members of your church to fulfill their call in life and find the place where they ought to be?
- What opportunities does your church provide to enable people to use their gifts?
- How can you encourage children and youth to believe that they can praise God and change the world, whatever their profession might be?
- How important is patience and persistence in effecting change?
Friends, we have work to do! That work involves meditation as well as action, praising God as well as changing the world, being in the world but belonging to the kingdom of God. Not only do we need to model change, but we also need to be the change.
The slave trade was legally abolished in the spring of 1807, 11 years after the first vote. John Newton died the same year, but not before hearing the news from his friend Wilberforce, the defeated crusader who relied on God’s strength to stay the course.
“Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”