I had wanted to post this yesterday, but life had other plans. This song means something to me for three reasons.
First, I’m a history nerd and two of my favorite historical figures happen to be John Newton and William Wilberforce 1. This musical claims to tell the story behind the eponymous hymn, but as far as historical veracity goes it’s more a “based loosely upon a true story” tale. It gets the character of John Newton, as well as several of the people he interacted with, correct. His future wife Mary, however, seems to be based more upon Wilberforce’s wife – Ann Spooner was an active abolitionist, where Mary was not. Still, as a period piece in a Broadway musical, they get the feel of the era correct 2.
Second, the show was written and composed by a friend of mine, Christopher Smith. He was a leader at the youth group I attended after coming to faith, and we both graduated from what is now Eastern University. It was cool to head to broadway, sit in a theater, and say, “I know the guy who wrote this.”
Third, “Testimony” captures Newton’s declaration of faith in a brilliant way. Yes, the lyrics are melodramatic and I know his faith didn’t explode into the world as it does in this song. But I don’t care. The way the song builds, and urges the listener to surge through the piece with the performer, catches me every time. I’ll sometimes put this on in the car and repeat it a dozen times, I sing along until I am hoarse. Like Newton in this song, I remember feeling the pull for things in my life which I’d neglected. And I feel that tug still, it helps drive me forward.
See, I resonate with Newton in temperament, even if my life never led me on a journey with the highs and lows his had. I’m stubborn, prideful, prone to laziness, and angry with the world in general. And, like Newton, redemption found me by the Amazing Grace of God 3.
- Who carried Newton’s legacy through to the end of the slave trade in the British Empire. ↩
- It does begin the abolitionist movement a few decades before it really got started, just to create tension at home. ↩
- Which is a piece of poetry that has a remarkable story itself. I may have to tell that soon. ↩