I’ve long admired the life and work of William Wilberforce, the British member of parliament and evangelical Christian, who championed the abolishment of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. Now, after getting an up-close look at Wilberforce’s determination and frailty, and his faith and growth, by reading William Hauge’s epic biography William Wilberforce, I’m more in awe of the man.
Hague’s biography is immensely practical and inspiration for wrestling with the extent to which we should seek for our faith to impact and shape culture. Wilberforce’s life is a lesson in wisely, persistently, compassionately engaging fallen culture with the truths of Christ, for the betterment of humanity and the spread of the gospel (think Niehbuhr’s Christ and culture discussions). And so fresh off from finishing the book, I’d like to share some casual reflections from Wilberforce’s life.
Here are a few takeaways I gleaned:
(1) The power of persistence.
For decades William Wilberforce was a mocked and marginalized politician because he consistently cried out against the inhumanity of the slave trade. Nevertheless, he pressed on annually to call for the abolishment of the slave trade (the first step to ending slavery). He never let opposition, slander, political pressure, loneliness, or exhaustion deter him from standing for justice for Africans who were being trafficked. When ending the slave trade proved to be an uphill battle, he personally spent a great deal of his wealth on establishing and equipping a colony for freed slaves in Sierra Leone. Truly, he put his money where his values were, and spared no expense to protect and serve people who had been treated unjustly. Finally, in the days before his death, he got to see the slave trade’s abolishment become a reality wherever the British flag flew.
(2) The importance of collaboration.
Wilberforce, though a key (if not the key) leader of anti-slavery efforts, was one of many individuals who compacted together to see slavery to its end. His fellow believer Thomas Clarkson was the data gatherer and statistician of the anti-slave trade efforts. Clarkson complied hard data (difficult to obtain in those days) to show the evils and harm done by human trafficking. On top of this, the first grassroots political efforts in English politics led to a groundswell of opposition to slavery, of which Wilberforce was merely the lead spokesman. Truly, ending slavery was a multigenerational effort that required participation from ordinary Christians across the land, and political leaders as well. Change in society swings on collaboration.
(3) Honestly About One’s Ordinariness
William was his own fiercest critic. Every day he rated himself for his performance and discipline in eating, devotional life, and self-control, and usually rated his days as “bad.” He had no false estimations of greatness on his part and was not in the arena for self-promotion. On top of this he was a sickly, frail man, who frequently had to take months off after overdoing it to convalesce. He simply served as hard and diligently as he could for his fellow man. William depended entirely on the Lord to grant grace for his efforts and did not care who received credit for great victories. In addition, he saw his consequential role in world politics as inconsequential for himself, and only consequential because it was for God and for his fellow humanity.
Who Is This Book For?
These are just three of about eight key lessons I took away from Wilberforce’s life. I highly commend this book to anyone–
- who is engaged in politics and government,
- who is desiring to promote social justice in our fallen world,
- who wants to serve God faithfully in spite of physical and spiritual weakness in their lives, or
- who wants to do better at living a wise, skilled life that is productive for God’s kingdom.
I’ll be reading this book again and again through the years to glean more life lessons from Wilberforce’s journey of faith.
A Few Final Notes
William Hague is an author with a unique perspective to guide the reader through Wilberforce’s storied life, for he too has been a member of Parliament and is currently First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary of Great Britain.
I want to thank my brother J. Nathan Matías for lending me his copy of the U.K. version of this book. Nathan models a joy in collaboration and credit-sharing, one of the key values evidenced by Wilberforce.
Where to Buy
July 24th, 2012
Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3
Since we live in a land where religious liberty is treasured, persecution of Christians seems to be a distant, far-away matter. However, every day Christians in many countries are enduring dreadful conditions for their faith, including unemployment, incarceration, physical abuse, and enslavement.
In Pakistan, believers are afforded virtually no legal protection, and many are held captive as indentured servants in appalling conditions. This past Sunday at Grace Church of Alexandria, as part of a focus on persecution of believers we watched the following film which is footage from a brickyard in Pakistan. It brought home the difficult realities faced by our brothers and sisters in many countries and is stirring us to pray for and act for the persecuted church.
I’m thankful for the ministry of Christian Freedom International (CFI) which brings injustices to light and is rallying the body of Christ to minister to our brothers and sisters in chains. I encourage you to sign up for their email and print newsletters to know how to pray for and act on behalf of the persecuted church:
October 18th, 2011
Join us this Sunday, October 23, as we observe the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Our Sunday service at Grace Church of Alexandria will feature Scripture, prayers, a video, resources, and a sermon from Hebrews 13:3 to highlight the needs of oppressed Christians throughout the world and how we can serve them.
You may notice we’re observing this important day on October 23 instead of November 13, as the poster suggests. Since a special speaker is already lined up for that Sunday in November at Grace Church, this coming Sunday we’re taking the whole service to draw attention to the persecuted church.
Also, here’s a recent blog post I wrote on how to pray for the persecuted church.
November 4th, 2010
Last Sunday at Grace Church of Alexandria we celebrated Reformation Day. Annually, we set aside a Sunday to re-tell how the gospel was recovered at the end of the Middle Ages. This year we told the story of Martin Luther on the 493rd anniversary of the day he definitively nailed 95 theses onto the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
If you’re interested in learning more about how God was at work during the Reformation, here are the two books I recommended during Sunday’s sermon:
This short paperback makes church history and the Reformation come alive like no other book I’ve read. A worthwhile read that retells fascinating stories of believers and rehearses the essential doctrines that were recovered during this theological renaissance.
Bainton’s classic biography of Martin Luther is a page-turner. With the skill of a master storyteller, he brings to life the millieu and role of the German monk. This book will whet your appetite to read more about the Reformation.
October 6th, 2008
This rock marks where Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God” in a church building that used to stand there. The rock sits alongside a busy road in Enfield, Massachusetts, is a testament that the Holy Spirit worked mightily in a visible and undeniable way as Edwards preached the Gospel on July 8, 1741. If you heard this past Sunday sermon at Grace Church, you heard me mention this famous rock.
Christy and I stopped here 2 weeks ago on our vacation to the coast of Maine and took this picture. Just think…the Great Awakening began as pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards preached on this spot, leading to the conversion of tens of thousands throughout the United States and Great Britain to begin worship God! I pray the words of an ancient hymn, which says, “Lord, we long to see your churches filled!”