When I was thirteen years old, my sailor uncle and aunt (a 2nd set of parents) took me sailing with throughout the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. I recall him scuba diving fifty feet below me around the area known as "The Baths" of Virgin Gorda. They were called "The Baths" because that is were the slave ships would stop and unload African slaves to get cleaned up before heading out to the east coast of the United States. "The Baths" are mammoth inclosed rock structures that seem to have been flung together by giants. There are natural pools inside straight out of your most colorful dream.
Those who were fortunate to make it across the Atlantic ocean were unshackled for a brief time as they were put into these 'natural holding cells' to clean up from the horrible conditions experienced being tied down inside the ships hold. As many know, hundreds of people were shackled in rows with no bathroom respite and extremely limited mobility given that they were all chained to each other. They were forced to do their necessities on each other. There was no recourse or other option. Usually up to half of the people died en route to the Caribbean.
The slave ship captains were ruthless men, yet God appears to have had mercy on one of these wretched slave drivers convicting his heart and drawing him forth out of his narrow-mindedness in a tremendous 180 degree turn founded upon the man's broken heart. It was during a horrendous storm where all seemed to be lost that the turnaround happened. John Newton was this man. A truly wretched man who was about to go down with his ship. Yet God had creative plans for him that would have an impact far beyond Newton's scope.
"..that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.." Romans 9:23
Using a tune from the people whom he had enslaved, John Newton, a man who was dedicated to journaling, was able to fashion a hymn, which is readily recognized across the American heartland. John Newton's heartship was turned around from its trajectory and made to serve a higher order. He is the author of Amazing Grace. Am Englishman's hymn which has become a song as American as apple pie and baseball. After that, Mr. Newton, an Englishman, sailed an even keel and eventually became a bishop in England,with his own church which always overflowed its capacity. He continued to be an adventurous man who traveled the English country side holding prayer meetings keeping himself busy doing what many would call the 'Lord's work.'
This song is special to me and I had it sung by am African-American mother during the christening of my only daughter. She did not know the back story until after she had sung it. It was a pleasant surprise to her.
Here are the words to that hymn:
Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
The hour I first believ’d!
Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.
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