Six of the most famous words strung together like a battle cry of broken anguish and regret, but yielding hope for redemption. John Newton, a British sea captain, was involved in the slave trades of the 1700s. He converted to Christianity, and then afterwards began captaining slave ships. He came down with an illness that put an end to his sea-faring days; however, by then, he was struggling with the atrocities of the slave trade business, and his involvement. He forged a path, and after seven years became an ordained priest. He later became more publicly involved in the abolition movement.
Newton penned one of the world’s most beloved hymns, “Amazing Grace,” most likely as an illustration to a sermon on New Year’s Day in 1773. It was then published for the first time in 1779, along with an anthology of poems by William Cowper, that became a staple in English hymnology. The hymn, later becoming one of the most beloved songs, tells of hope and redemption for those seeking forgiveness of their past sins. The powerful words, possibly based on I Chronicles 17, describe the internal struggle Newton had with his own life of slave trade, and how his faith gave him new direction.
In 1807, the British slave trade was abolished, and just months later, Newton died. The full abolition of slavery would not occur for another twenty-six years. While Newton did not live to see the victory of his fight to abolish slavery, he was very much credited for influencing the culmination of this historic movement, the 1833 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.
Broadway’s Amazing Grace: The Musical, kicks off its national tour this fall on the World Stage Theater at Museum of the Bible. This Broadway production, loosely based on the life of John Newton, debuts with a stellar cast of critical acclaim. Newton’s heroic story will be expressed live on stage when the Museum opens in November 2017.