It is 200 years since slavery was abolished across the British Empire and the United States of America. This inhuman trade seems so abhorrent to many of us who live in the twenty-first century that it is difficult to imagine. Yet slavery still exists in different parts of the world and still, occasionally, makes the headlines in the UK.
The writer of this relatively slim volume seeks to convey the struggle of John Newton and William Wilberforce, each in their own spheres, to accomplish the noble end of abolition. Clearly, vested interests and powerful economic lobbies, together with the revolution in France, combined to bring delay and it says much for the determination of these two men that they remained undaunted in their task in spite of the toll that the years of campaigning took upon their lives.
To some extent the same powerful forces exist today to keep some people in poverty and make them prey to those who wish to continue the trade in human flesh. This may be the so-called ‘sweat-shops’ of the east or the trade in young people for immoral purposes. What an indictment of the human heart!
What is difficult for us to appreciate is the class system that existed then and the barriers that erected to the interaction of men of a different class. That these men, who inhabited such different social realms, could develop a friendship and offer each other such prayerful and practical support is remarkable. Pollock also makes the link between Wilberforce’s campaign for the abolition of slavery and his desire for ‘the reformation of manners’, that is ‘to change the moral climate of the age’. For Wilberforce the two were inextricably linked, for ‘the “high civilization” of eighteenth-century England was built not only on the slave trade but on mass poverty, child labour, and political corruption in high places’. Here is a lesson for every ‘social reformer‚’ A change in society will not change the man but a change in the man will ultimately change society.
This book, a testimony to the grace and ‘providence’ of God, may well whet the appetite of the reader to consider more of the lives of these great reformers and men of God.