You can only feel the thorns when you quit running.

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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11 thoughts on “You can only feel the thorns when you quit running.

  1. I am glad they did not cut out the Spiritual part. As you know I have mixed emotions about political involvement but it might interest you to know who spoke out against slavery in America.

    Finney. (sorry)


  2. Rick,

    Wilberforce wanted to be a preacher and felt that the being in politics was going to separate him from doing God’s work. He was pursuaded to take on the Slave Trade by Newton, Pitt and many abolistionists. Some of them were preachers some were wealthy like him and others were simply activists.

    Don’t apologize for Finny. 🙂 If I had been living at that time in America I would have been an abolistionist.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  3. I’m glad to hear that this movies stuck to Scripture. I was refusing to go see it because I’ve been burnt by Hollywood too many times, but I think I will go see it since you recommend it! Good post!


  4. Hi Mike, This post and story has been very touching. Wish there were some movies like this running in our place. But such movies would never make it here 😦 well, anyways these stories are always there to read. The stories of those who lived and died for Christ and fought all their lives against unrighteousness. These all are still used by God to inspire us to live and be an example and shining light to guide others. And the story of William Wilberforce wanting to give up his profession and serve God alone is something I think most true christians who are not purely into the missionary work wish for, At least I wish for that.. perhaps I am not up to the mark for that, or God has another plans, but anyways I’d like to quote something from Spurgeon which served as a great encouragement for me when I was wondering about how I could serve God. Its taken from the sermon “A Peal of bells” . You could read the full sermon if you like the point of the message 🙂

    Let your bell be Holiness to the Lord. Let each of you, whatever his calling may be, seek to find some special way in which that calling may conduce to the glory of Christ. You are a little star in the Pleiades, do not wish to be the pole-star, if you were taken out of the Pleiades, the constellation would not be what it now is. Keep where you are, but shed your special rays upon the earth; and if you be but a little star, do not the little stars together shed much light, and earth were dark if they all were quenched? I have tried to preach a plain homely sermon, but, perhaps I have not hit the mark, perhaps I have not made you feel what I want you to feel. Why, I would have every dustman’s bell Holiness unto the Lord. Whatever your business is, though you are a scavenger, though you sweep a crossing, though you black shoes—whatever you have to do, let everything be done to the glory of God. And, if any say it cannot be done, do you show them the way, for the best practical proof is the proof of fact. I may preach to-day, and preach twenty days about making the bells upon the horses holiness to the Lord, but if you do not tune your own private conversation, the text will but excite laughter among some, and no practical profit will it be to any. Is there anything wrong at home? go and set it to rights. Is there anything wrong in the shop or in the kitchen? If you have not done what you ought to have done as a Christian man, if you have not acted as you ought to have done in your trade, go and do better. Not that you are to be saved by works, I have been speaking to those who are saved already. Being saved, show by your profession what you believe and would by your acts glorify your Master. Let me pray you to think often of this text—”In that day shall there be on the bells of the horses, Holiness unto the Lord.”

    God bless!



  5. Paul,

    Thanks for sharing that. Yes, I wanted to be a great Christian author who would write great books that God would use to change the world. Instead, I write posts on my blog and pray that God will use me for His glory. I think I prefer being where He wants to where I wanted to be because it is Him doing the good work and I am His servant. On my vision I would be the one doing it. I don’t think that will work. 🙂

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  6. I went to go see the movie today but they have already taken it off the theaters. No surprise there…I’ll have to buy the movie.


  7. I haven’t seen it but D.R. Booker had a less positive review.

    (I have gotten way behind in my blog reading… And yours is one I don’t want to skip – hope that doesn’t puff you up… so.. uh.. I’ll try to help your pride – not everything you write it is great. 🙂


  8. Jon,

    I read the review in that link. I agree that the movie concentrated too much on the anti slave trade stuff. Wilberforce was much more than that and I would have liked them to have shown that, but even so, it was a very good movie.

    I agree, not everything I write is great, if I write it that is.


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