by Mike Ratliff
5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5-6 ESV)
I saw the movie “Amazing Grace” last week. I had been anticipating seeing it for some time and when my daughter and son-in-law came to visit this last week, we made a point of doing so. It was a very good movie that never flinched from the Christian message of repentance and salvation. It was a story of the battle to end the slave trade in Great Britain by passing laws in Parliament to outlaw it. The primary character in the movie is William Wilberforce, but he was not alone. His best friend was William Pitt and his spiritual advisor was John Newton.
John Newton was the writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” He was a former slave trader who was responsible for the transport of over 20,000 Africans to the West Indies. However God saved Him and he repented. He became a preacher in the Church of England. It was during this time that he became involved with John Wesley and George Whitefield. He was also the pastor of a young William Wilberforce. Even though he preached the gospel and walked in repentance there was a wall in his life blocking him from becoming broken over his former life as a slave trader. He did refer to his “20,000 Ghosts” sometimes, but few knew what he meant.
In the movie we only see the period from when Wilberforce has become a member of Parliament through the period of his fight to end the slave trade. There is a very interesting scene where William goes to see his old pastor to ask his advice whether to become a preacher or stay in Parliament. Newton recognizes him and tells him that he (William) has much work to do and that a life as a pastor or preacher did not fit him. Wilberforce then asks about the slave trade and Newton’s 20,000 Ghosts. The anger from Newton is great. It is obvious that this is treading on a tender spot in his Soul. Perhaps a thorn? Newton angrily tells Wilberforce to do all he can to outlaw the filthy trade.
Wilberforce introduces a bill to end the slave trade every year for 20 years with no success. His health deteriorates. Early in this period there is a telling scene in the movie where a young William Pitt races a young William Wilberforce barefoot across a large grass lawn into an English garden. Pitt wins. Then as they recover they discuss the battle to end the slave trade. Wilberforce is ready to quit. He is discouraged. He is continually under attack from pro-slavers. Pitt wants him to continue. Then as they walk across the lawn, Pitt grimaces and acts as if he has stepped on a something sharp. Then he asks, “Did you ever notice that you can only feel the thorns when you quit running?” Wilberforce got the message.
Another scene that is very powerful starts as a blind John Newton dictates to a secretary his own attack against the slave trade. This pamphlet is very direct and shows the cruelty and inhumanity of the trade in great detail. The secretary detects someone approaching so he quits writing. Newton asks why. The secretary tells him that “William” has come to call. Newton dismisses the secretary and greets WIlberforce warmly. The anger from before is gone. He then tells William to please publish the pamphlet. Then he begins weeping and proclaims, “My memory is fading, but I know two things very well. I am a great sinner and Christ is a great saviour!” Of course I’m having trouble not weeping myself at this point because then he describes his brokenness over his 20,000 Ghosts who were not “its”, but people. He cries out, “Once I was blind, but now I see! Didn’t I write that too?” Wilberforce puts his hand on his shoulder and says yes. Then Newton says, “Well at last it’s true.” We were all reaching for tissue at this point. Isn’t this how God breaks through our blindness? Don’t we become broken and amazed that we could not see that we were in darkness before?
Of course, the movie ends with Parliament finally voting to end the slave trade. It has taken over 20 years. Pitt is dead. Wilberforce is no longer young. Newton is blind and in the last year of his life. The message for me from “Amazing Grace” was that our ministries, our walks, all we do for our Lord are not cake walks. There are thorns. There are temptations. There are oppositions that we never saw coming that suddenly appear and bring us to places where we must walk by faith rather than by sight.
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
As we run this race, keeping our eyes on our Saviour there will be thorns along the way, but we do not feel them until we quit running.
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