Summary: A message of grace based on the life of William Wilberforce.
Somewhere between 10 and 15 million people were taken from their homes and surroundings, placed on ships, chained together, and transported to a place they had never been where they would serve as slaves. During this passage, the conditions were too inhumane to discuss in this setting. Those who died during the journey were often thrown overboard. Even worse, many who got sick during the passage were thrown overboard while still alive.
In addition, approximately 10 million people died on the trip from their home to the coast where they were to be put on a ship.
It is one of the darkest realities of human history that people were once seen as commodities and treated with no more respect and decency than animals, and often with even less. The clips you just saw are from the movie that was released this weekend called Amazing Grace. It is the story of William Wilberforce’s campaign to end the slave trade in Britain.
It’s called Amazing Grace because Wilberforce was friends with John Newton, a pastor who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Wilberforce thought of Newton almost as a parent. You probably know at least some of the words to the hymn “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.”
John Newton experienced several changes or transformations in his life that led him to write that hymn. I’ll say more about him in the next few weeks. Today, I just want to talk about this word “grace” and what makes it so amazing. We use the word “grace” often in our conversations. We talk about saying “grace” before we eat. We talk about certain people having “grace.” When someone trips we say, “Nice going Grace.” We name our children “Grace.” My youngest child’s middle name is Grace.
But what is God’s grace? What is this “Amazing Grace”? The clearest place to find an explanation of God’s grace is in Ephesians 2. Ephesians is in the middle of the New Testament. There are 4 small books that come after I and II Corinthians: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Find Ephesians chapter 2.
Paul wrote all 4 of these letters, and to be short letters they are filled with incredible insight about Christ, about God, and about the Christian life. In the first chapter of Ephesians, Paul talks about many of the wonderful things that we have because of Christ. He writes, “In him we have redemption through is blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” Ephesians 1:7-8
We have been given these wonderful gifts because of Christ. We live in the wonderful and mysterious realm of God’s grace. But when Paul gets to chapter 2, we have a flashback. Paul reminds us what our life is like without God and without Christ. Look in your Bible as I read this out loud. (1-3)
What does that mean? Well, we recognize evil in the life of someone who would buy and sell other people. If you would kidnap someone from their home, traffic them to another part of the world, treat them as if they were objects and not humans, and then enslave them as if they were your property, you have a serious problem with evil in your heart.
If you would fly an airplane into a building filled with thousands of innocent people, it’s easy to see that you have a serious problem with evil in your heart. If you would engineer the murder the 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, then it’s easy to see that your heart is filled with evil. If you would abuse children or murder or rape, we would all agree that there is something evil going on in your heart.
But Paul says that same evil is at work in all of our hearts. There is wickedness in every person’s heart. There is darkness in our souls. We can’t just point to slave traders or murderers or terrorists and say, “They’re the ones who have a problem with evil.” Paul says we all have a problem with evil. It is in us.
And I know some will make the argument, “Ken, aren’t you going a little over the top when you use the Hitler as an example? Aren’t you going a bit too far when you talk about terrorists? Yes, there are some really bad people in the world, but most people are good and decent and moral.”
Obviously, not everyone is a murder. Not everyone enslaves people. Not everyone commits vile acts, but Paul is saying the capacity for great evil lurks in the heart of every human being. In other places in the Bible, he even says that we are slaves to it. We, like Africans from past centuries are in chains: chained to passions and desires and ways of thinking that are deadly.