Another Slow Cooker
You’ve heard of John Newton, haven’t you? No? Well, you know his famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” one of the most famous Christian songs ever written. In just a few deft lines, Newton expresses the depths of human sin and his gratitude for God’s grace, amazing grace, that could forgive a wretch like him. A lost man was found; a blind man got his sight back.
The song is, of course, autobiographical. Newton was born in London in 1725, and his father, a British shipmaster, took the boy to sea when he was 11. Sailing became his life. He was press-ganged into the Royal Navy at age 18. After a failed desertion attempt, he was severely flogged. He ended up more or less a prisoner of a slave trader in West Africa before a friendly ship captain brought him back to England. During that voyage in 1748, the boat almost sank, and Newton became a Christian as he implored God to save his life.
He then worked as a first mate on a slave ship. At one time, consumed with fever, he again turned to God, a moment he later described as his true conversion. He began to read the Bible in earnest and demonstrated a grasp of biblical teachings. Still, he captained a slave ship on three more transatlantic voyages, hauling kidnapped Africans to the New World. In 1754 he suffered a severe stroke and gave up sailing on slavers, but he still continued to invest money in the slave trade through his friend Joseph Manesty!
Eleven years later, after much study and repeated attempts, he was ordained an Anglican priest. Finally in 1788 he published a booklet entitled “Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade,” which supplied the grim details of the “Middle Passage.” Newton expressed bitter remorse for his role in the slave trade, all the more lamentable that the whole time he considered himself a Christian. The pamphlet was sent to every British Member of Parliament and was of great assistance to William Wilberforce, whose leadership brought an end to the slave trade, though not slavery itself, in 1807.
I have sung Newton’s great hymn many times and enjoyed it every time. But here’s what strikes me today—the changes that God was working in Newton’s life were slow, very slow. He was reading the Bible the whole time he was ferrying chained Africans to the Americas. It took a long, long time for God’s ideas to become his, for those ideas to clarify and be turned into action. Scripture does not bless the slave trade; to the contrary, slave traders are lumped with murderers of their parents as people who are under God’s wrath (1 Timothy 1:10).
Have you lived long enough to see how God has been changing you? Perhaps some changes were rapid, but I bet plenty were like the Nesco in your church basement—a slow-cooking process. I wonder sometimes what takes me so long to learn things, but then I remember Mr. Newton and don’t feel so bad. God’s amazing grace to me encourages me to cut some slack to the other sinners around me and let God slow-cook them some more. Sometimes slow-cooked food tastes the best.