Tempers Flare Over Iran; Martin O'Malley vs. Wall Street; Amazing Grace

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Good morning, it’s Friday, July 24, 2015. On this date 290 years ago, a boy was born in London to a rough-edged sea captain named John Newton and his devout wife, a woman named Elizabeth. Although the boy was named after his father, his mother hoped to raise a Christian minister. She taught him to read the Bible, and introduced him to the music of the church.

But Elizabeth Newton died before her son reached his seventh birthday. By age 11, he’d begun following in his father’s footsteps, literally, by signing on as a ship’s mate. British seamen in the mid-18th century were a bawdy and rowdy class of men, but even among them, John Newton stood out. His nickname was “the Great Blasphemer.”

Despite detours that might have killed him -- pressed into service by the Royal Navy, marooned on the coast of Africa by the captain of a slave ship -- young Newton worked his way up through the ranks of the merchant mariners’ meritocracy.  

During a frightful storm off the Irish coast, while aboard the Liverpool-based vessel named Greyhound, however, his mother’s influence reasserted itself. There are no atheists in foxholes, the old adage goes, and the same might be said of late-winter storms in the North Atlantic. This one lasted 11 days and Newton found himself praying, and remembering a particular passage in the book of Proverbs.

Out of that moment came a thorough, if gradual, conversion: first to Christianity and eventually to the cause of abolition.

Miraculously, and I can think of no better word, this heathen and slave ship captain later wrote a hymn that would be sung in a South Carolina church 267 years later by the African-American leader of the greatest nation on Earth.

I’ll have an additional word on that song in a moment. First, I’d refer you to RCP’s front page, which aggregates columns, video clips, and analysis spanning the ideological spectrum, and to the original pieces from RCP’s reporters and contributors:

* * *

Tempers Flare on Day 1 of Iran Hearings. “Fleeced.” “Bamboozled.” Angry Republicans used both words to describe the White House’s position in its deal to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, as James Arkin writes here.

O’Malley Wants to Lead Wall Street Pushback. The Democratic presidential hopeful is focused on punishing risky behavior by banks, RCP’s Alexis Simendinger reports.

Perry: Trump Won’t Make Circus of First Debate. The bombastic billionaire will have “four or five minutes, like everybody else on that stage,” Perry told RCP’s Rebecca Berg in an interview Thursday.

Rick Santorum on Trump: Meh. The social conservative from Pennsylvania says Trump will soon run out of steam, and support, just as Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain did in 2012, Caitlin Huey-Burn writes.

With Retirement in Mind, Three Funds You Can’t Ignore. In RealClearMarkets, Dean Kalahar has this investment advice.

Vermont Struggles With Renewables. In RealClearEnergy, William Tucker writes that the Green Mountain State has found that switching to clean energy sources requires purchasing it from other regions.

* * *

Although John Newton’s birthday was July 24, 1725, after he turned 23 the day that meant more to him was his “rebirth,” March 21, 1748. That was the day he rediscovered his faith. He gave up drinking and swearing and carousing, and began to study for the ministry.

In the early 1760s, he was assigned a church. In the early 1770s, he sat down at a desk in his attic and penned these words:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

Fully accepting the implications of faith took a long time. What I mean by that is that even after becoming a Christian, Newton transported slaves as a sea captain for many years.

Even after writing “Amazing Grace,” which would become an anthem of liberation for slaves America, it was more than another decade before Newton announced his opposition to slavery and joined forces in London with William Wilberforce.

This lag time is often airbrushed out of the story by modern day evangelicals. This defensiveness is understandable, but it doesn’t make John Newton’s faith journey any less remarkable.

“Newton did eventually grow into his conversion, so that by the end of his days he actually was the godly man one would expect to have penned ‘Amazing Grace,’” writer Barbara Mikkelson once noted.

“But it was a slow process effected over the passage of decades, not something that happened with a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning,” she added. “In Newton's case, the ‘amazing grace’ he wrote of might well have referred to God’s unending patience with him.”


Carl M. Cannon
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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