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We can't change the past, but we can change the future


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FOOD FOR THOUGHT by Matthew Alexander, Pastor of Wick Baptist Church

Last week, the Duke of Cambridge gave a speech at a dinner in Jamaica in which he expressed his “profound sorrow” over slavery, saying that it was abhorrent, “should never have happened” and “forever stains our history”. Listening to these comments, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I was reminded of the story of a former slave trader turned Christian minister.

John Newton went to sea at a young age and worked on slave ships in the slave trade for several years, eventually rising to the position of Captain. At the age of 23, during a return voyage to England, Newton awoke to find his ship caught in a severe storm off the coast of Donegal. He recognised the perilous danger, and in desperation cried out for God’s mercy. To his amazement, the storm began to die down. Newton had enough seafaring experience to know that this was no mere coincidence. This experience marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity.

Newton came to despise the practice of slave-trading and slavery and deeply regretted the part that he had played in it. He referred to himself as a “wretch”, but recognised that God’s unbounded mercy and love extended even to someone as wretched as himself. In the words of his famous hymn: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!” Newton couldn’t change his past, but he resolved, in God’s strength, to change the future. It was Newton who convinced a young William Wilberforce to remain in politics and to fight in that arena to abolish the abhorrent trade.

Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, and however wretched you might feel, God’s grace is available to you if you seek Him. We cannot change the past, but in God’s strength we can fight for a fairer future.


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