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Summary: As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, God is calling us to abolish modern day slavery

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Amazing Grace Sunday February 18, 2007

Exodus 3:7-8

Amazing Grace is probably one of the best loved Hymns of all time. I understand it has been recorded on at least 1100 albums; there are almost 1000 arrangements for the song. After singing the hymn at Woodstock, Arlo Guthrie said “I’ve been singing it so long because I love the story of the man who wrote the song.”

John Newton’s story

John Newton started his sailing career at the age of 11, and later became a captain of a slave ship. On one journey there was a horrendous storm, so bad, that Newton felt that the ship would sink. He cried out to God for mercy, God saved him, and that began his walk of faith. It took six years before Newton gave up slaving. It goes to show you that not all conversions are instantaneous!

For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion.

He left sailing altogether and From 1755 to 1760 Newton was surveyor of tides at Liverpool, where he came to know George Whitefield, deacon in the Church of England, evangelistic preacher, and leader of the Calvinistic Methodist Church. Newton became Whitefield’s enthusiastic disciple. During this period Newton also met and came to admire John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

Newton entered Christian ministry. His church at Olney became so crowded during services that it had to be enlarged. He and William Cowper would try to write a new hymn each week for Wednesday prayer meetings, one of those hymns was “Amazing Grace.”

While he had realized that a life of slave trading was not compatible with his faith, it was only later in his ministry in London that he took up the cause of the abolition of slavery.

Newton kept extensive journals and wrote many letters. Historians accredit his journals and letters for much of what is known today about the eighteenth century slave trade.

Newton would write later in life, “Only God’s amazing grace could and would take a rude, profane, slave-trading sailor and transform him into a child of God.”

It was in London that a young parliamentarian named William Wilberforce began to attend his church, and that brings us up to why today is “Amazing Grace Sunday.”

William Wilberforce’s story – movie opens march 23rd in Canada

William Wilberforce is not a household name, but this movie may bring his life to the fore. He was born into wealth, and became an MP at the age of 21. At age 25, Wilberforce was a convert of the religious revivals that transformed 18th-century England. He first heard Newton speak when he was young but regarded his real conversion to be confirmed following a series of conversations in 1785-86. At the conclusion of their conversations, Newton said: "The Lord has raised you up for the good of the church and the good of the nation." His life and his vocation as a Member of Parliament were profoundly changed by his newfound faith; he became a force for moral politics: he dedicated the rest of his life to leading the fight to abolish slavery.

Though he was chronically ill and his anti-slavery bills were repeatedly rejected by Parliament, his courage and passion to abolish injustice led him to be referred to as the “conscience of Parliament.” He also worked to collect evidence of the crimes of the slave trade, collected 390,000 signatures to support his cause, and relentlessly crafted anti-slavery bills. After almost 20 years of leading the British abolitionist movement, Wilberforce wept tears of victory when the slave trade throughout the British Empire was finally abolished in 1807.


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