Cover image for Amazing grace in John Newton : slave-ship captain, hymnwriter, and abolitionist
Amazing grace in John Newton : slave-ship captain, hymnwriter, and abolitionist
Phipps, William E., 1930-2010.
Publication Information:
Macon, Ga. : Mercer University Press, [2001]

Physical Description:
xxiii, 270 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
BX5199.N55 P48 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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In "Amazing Grace," the best-loved of all hymns, John Newton's allusions to the drama of his life tell the story of a youth who was a virtual slave in Sierra Leone before ironically becoming a slave trader himself. Liverpool, his home port, was the center of the most colossal, lucrative, and inhumane slave trade the world has ever known. A gradual spiritual awakening transformed Newton into an ardent evangelist and anti-slavery activist. Influenced by Methodists George Whitefield and John Wesley, Newton became prominent among those favoring a Methodist-style revival in the Church of England. This movement stressed personal conversion, simple worship, emotional enthusiasm, and social justice. While pastoring a poor flock in Olney, he and poet William Cowper produced a hymnal containing such perennial favorites as "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken" and "God Moves in a Mysterious Way." Later, while serving a church in London, Newton raised British consciousness on the immorality of the slave trade. The account he gave to Parliament on the atrocities he had witnessed helped William Wilberforce obtain legislation to abolish the slave trade in England. Newton's life story convinced many who are "found" after being "lost" to sing Gospel hymns as they lobbied for civil rights legislation. His close involvement with both capitalism and evangelicalism, the main economic and religious forces of his era, provide a fascinating case study of the relationship of Christians to their social environment. In an afterword on Newtonian Christianity, Phipps explains Newton's critique of Karl Marx's thesis that religious ideals are always the effect of what produces the most profit. Phipps relies on accounts Newton gives in his ship journal, diary, letters, and sermons for this most readable scholarly narrative.

Author Notes

William E. Phipps is professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Davidson College.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

In six well-documented chapters, Phipps (emeritus professor, Davidson College) provides the most balanced treatment of Newton since Bernard Martin's 1950 classic, John Newton: A Biography. Martin's thoroughness remains unsurpassed, but only slightly. Phipps comes very close, and he includes a component that Martin did not--references to the primary source material, which students and educators will appreciate. Not surprisingly, this book's longest chapter details Newton's contributions to English hymnody. Phipps balances his work, though, by providing a helpful look into the 18th-century slave trade, highlighting Newton's intense involvement in it. He also devotes a considerable amount of attention to Newton's activities as an abolitionist later in his life. The traditionally biographical quality of Phipps's work differs greatly from D.B. Hindmarsh's John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition (CH, May'97), which focuses almost entirely on Newton's religious activity and how it contributes to a greater understanding of the evangelical revival in England. Phipps's multifaceted approach to Newton's life makes his work suitable in university settings with active history, religion, or fine arts departments. For general readers through researchers and faculty. W. E. Osburn Freed-Hardeman University

Table of Contents

Significant Dates for John Newtonp. vii
Forewordp. ix
A Newton Albump. xiii
1. Through Many Dangersp. 1
European Adventuresp. 1
African Sojournp. 9
The Prodigal's Returnp. 16
2. Was Blindp. 25
Slavery in European Historyp. 25
To Charleston as First Matep. 29
Voyages as Captainp. 39
3. Now Am Foundp. 65
The Evangelical Liverpudlianp. 65
The Olney Parsonp. 86
4. How Sweet the Sound!p. 115
Hymnist Predecessorsp. 115
The Ministry of Songp. 118
Cowper's Collaborationp. 146
5. Now I Seep. 159
The St. Mary Woolnoth Rectorp. 159
Encounters with Abolitionistsp. 173
Working with Wilberforcep. 178
6. As Long as Life Enduresp. 205
Conversion Considerationsp. 205
The Londoner's Wider Impactp. 211
The Last Yearsp. 224
Afterword: Marxian Economics versus Newtonian Christianityp. 243
Bibliographyp. 259
Indexp. 269