To this day we give reverence to his writings. His hands wrote words that touch many hearts about the grandeur of God’s grace and the depth of our sin. The life of John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace, is one of a sinner who encounters God and changes his behavior.
But Newton’s story, like most of ours, is much more complex. John Newton became a follower of Christ and continued to oversee ships that dragged slaves to multiple continents. In his next season of life he served as a pastor for many years before he wrote words that would decry the evil of slavery.
As the captain of his ship Newton wrote details of his day in his logbook as he traveled. In one entry he wrote:
“I will always take pleasure in ascribing to the helping of the God of peace…the remarkable good disposition of the men slaves…I was at first continually alarmed with their almost desperate attempt to make insurrections upon us…However from about the end of February they have behaved more like children in one family than slaves in chains and irons…”
It’s stunning to reflect on Newton’s ability to relish in his reverence for God and yet ignore the deplorable treatment of people created in the image of God. In this entry John Newton is content that the slaves are no longer disturbing his comfort. Their intentions to be free bothered him more than their bondage.
This still happens today. People rejoice in their high ideas of God while participating in or ignoring the degrading treatment of others. Take a moment to look below deck to look for stunning contradictions. Look for the places where your ideas are valued more than your neighbor or your comfort cherished more than someone’s dignity.
“Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?” James 3:11