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Amazing Grace: Two Perspectives

RELEVANT’s Jon Collins reviews the Michael Apted film and finds in it an important historical narrative. Meanwhile Christianne Squires resonates with the film's subject and is challenged into taking action against modern slavery.

Daring the Impossible: Jon Collins

I live about 20 minutes away from a small university whose namesake has been getting a lot of attention lately: Wilberforce University claims to be “the nation’s oldest private, historically black university” in America. I honestly cannot tell you how many times I have driven by the school never knowing just why this predominantly African-American school was named after a white, British politician. I did have a vague memory of William Wilberforce from past history classes, but all I could really recall was that he was British and that he had something to do with ending slavery. Besides those small, yet important facts—I had no clue. That is, until now.

To be honest, I was not expecting much from Amazing Grace. The movie brings the powerful story of Wilberforce’s fight to end Britain’s involvement in the slave trade to the big screen. I saw the trailers and heard some good things about the film, but I was not expecting to be blown away. In the end, I really wasn’t. However, I did find the film to be important as a narrative of an historical campaign and also as a call to action for our current generation.

Ioan Gruffold, who plays William Wilberforce, shines in the cast. His role as the film’s agent of change is inspiring. His opponent, Lord Tarleton (Ciaran Hinds), serves as the only thing standing between Wilberforce and a parliament vote in favor of abolishing Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. Another standout is Albert Finney, who plays Wilberforce’s mentor and slave trader-turned-preacher John Newton. It was Newton who also wrote the hymn from which the film gets its name. Newton laments his past as a slave trader, and throughout the film he becomes emotional at the thought of that past as he struggles with visions of past victims. However, it is evident by the film’s end that he finds peace in the forgiveness he has received from the only source that matters to him. “Although my memory’s fading,” he tells Wilberforce, “I remember two things very clearly: I’m a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.”

In contrast to the serious thematic material, I was surprised at the amount of humor injected into the film. The dialogue is filled with witty and intellectual comedy from Wilberforce’s private conversations to the verbal battles of British parliament.

Amazing Grace is a powerful look at the result of what people who are driven by their convictions can accomplish. With slavery and oppression still alive in the world today, it is also a call to action. It serves as a motivator to make a difference in the world around us with the defiant confidence of William Pitt the Younger: “Maybe we are too young too know it’s impossible.”

What Is Your Great Object? Christianne Squires

The quote most famously ascribed to William Wilberforce concerns the “two great objects” that informed the unswerving posture of his life: “God has set before me two great objects—the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

It was through the underpinning of these two objects that Wilberforce determined how to spend his influence, his abilities and his decision-making power. They are what propelled him to devote his years to the abolishment of the slave trade in Great Britain and all of its many colonies. They are what fueled his support for over 65 philanthropic causes that elevated the moral character and clarity of humanity in his day. And they are what enabled him to leave a legacy that we admire and desire to emulate even to this day.

While I was at a Wilberforce conference last month, a speaker made these two great objects personal by posing this question: “What would you be willing to commit 20 years of your life to doing?” After all, that’s what Wilberforce did. He dedicated 20 years in single-minded pursuit of the abolishment of the slave trade. In fact, if we’re to be completely accurate, it cost him 47 years, since an additional 27 were required to eradicate African slavery from every British colony completely. He received news of this final victory just three short days before his death.

The speaker’s question caught me by surprise. Though my husband and I have been acquainted with the life of Wilberforce for quite some time and have long seen the encouragements we can clearly claim from his story—how we don’t have to retreat from the world in order to grow and be effective in our faith, and how God gifts us with abilities and influence in our spheres in order to extend the breadth and depth of His kingdom on earth—I’d never gotten to this deeply personal and highly practical about it. What am I willing to see through to the end, even if it takes 20 or close to 50 years?

Can you answer the question? In an age of instant accessibility and high-speed living, are you willing to take the long view? Are you willing to cry, plead and even bleed for any overarching passion, desire or dream? That just might be the sphere for which God created you and aims to establish His kingdom reign through you—just as He did through William Wilberforce with such eventual triumph.

Jon Collins was born and raised in sunny California and now resides in bitterly cold Central Ohio. He is a Cedarville University alum and currently works in marketing.

Christianne Squires is a writer and editor who lives in Winter Park, Fla. with her husband and their two cats. She blogs at lilieshavedreams.blogspot.com.

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