By now, you’ve seen the footage or have heard about the President of The United States leading thousands in a beautiful tribute to Rev. Clementa Pickney with the song Amazing Grace.
If you haven’t, you should.
You should also watch the eulogy in its entirety and you should reflect on your own grace.
Most folk know very little about the origin of that song, and even less about the man who wrote it.
Reverend John Newton became a fierce abolitionist. He urged his fellow Englishmen to end the horrors of slavery. He knew those horror intimately, because Newton had been the captain on a slave ship. Captured and forced into the life of a seaman, Newton often found himself in the same condition of the slaves he’d transported.
Once, he was even sold over to a slave trader who gave Newton to his African wife. She treated Newton and her black slaves terribly. Later, Newton wrote that it had been the African slaves who had nursed him and kept him alive.
Newton was later rescued and converted to Christianity on his voyage back to England when the ship almost capsized. Newton cried out to God ready to die, but the ship amazingly found itself in a calm sea.
Newton stopped drinking and gambling, but continued in the slave trafficking business. With each passage, Newton came to see that until he set others free, he could not be. He decided to give God full control of his life and after a serious illness and then stroke, Newton completely gave up the business of trafficking Africans.
By the time John Newton wrote the words, “I once was blind, but now I see,” Newton had lost his physical sight but had gained a vision of the world to come.
A world that was free of slavery and the oppression of others because of race.
To hear a president sing that song brought so much full circle.
As President Obama told the audience at that Home going ceremony, “Grace is not earned.” Grace is God’s unmerited favor. How we respond to it determines the world we get to see.
I once was lost, but am grateful to be found.
Was blind, but am grateful to see.
What will you do with you grace?
Bertice Berry, PhD.