Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, January 14, 2010 4:38 pm
The Messenger, January 14, 2010
Many of society’s ills are laid at the door of Christianity by non-believers. Not surprisingly, those Christians who have been a force for good in their world are often ignored and unknown. One such is an Englishman who fought against the evil of slavery his whole adult life. He spearheaded the movement in Parliament to outlaw the slave trade and then to abolish slavery.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to a life of privilege as heir to a prosperous trading company in Hull, a thriving seaport in northeast England. At the age of 9, upon the death of his father, he was sent to live with his uncle and aunt, who were evangelical Christians. His aunt, especially, was a staunch supporter of the Methodist evangelist George Whitefield.
After three years, during which young William absorbed the spiritual legacy of the Puritans, his mother and grandfather became alarmed at the direction his religious instruction was taking and brought him home. To hold to the theology of the Reformers, of Augustine and of Paul was viewed as radical and disruptive. Back at home, safely removed from Non-Conformist viewpoints, he seemingly forgot about these teachings and plunged into the thriving social scene which his station in life admitted.
By his 21st birthday, he had inherited a large fortune and, in 1780, stood for and won a seat in the House of Commons.
Arriving in London as a fledgling member of Parliament, Wilberforce quickly became the toast of London society. One female acquaintance described him as the “wittiest man in England,” and the Prince of Wales was reported to have said that he would “travel anywhere to hear Wilberforce sing.” In spite of these distractions, he was able to win election in 1784 to the parliamentary seat of Yorkshire, the largest county in England, and was popular among his constituents as a conscientious and able representative of the county’s interests.
Wilberforce was converted to Christianity in 1785. Soon after, at the urging of a number of evangelical friends — including John Newton, he introduced into Parliament a bill for the abolishment of the slave trade. The trade was a massive part of British foreign trade and of England’s economy. Thus began a campaign which would culminate in change only after 22 years of protracted Parliamentary warfare.
Despite the many setbacks and disappointments, Wilberforce’s grace and joy continually shone through and made him the mainstay of the abolitionist movement. The slave trade was finally outlawed in 1807, but Wilberforce would not rest on his laurels. In spite of increasingly poor health, he pressed the crusade to abolish slavery itself. Though forced by his health to retire in 1825, he continued his moral support.
Wilberforce’s lifelong dedication to a faith expressed through day-to-day living was as impressive as his lifelong struggle to abolish slavery. One of his goals was to reform morals in the England of his day and in his book, “A Practical View of Christianity,” he noted: “The teachings of Christianity, if true, must be taken to their logical conclusion in human behavior. There is no point in being a Christian without taking it seriously.”
William Wilberforce departed this world in July of 1833. A month later, the House of Lords passed the Slavery Abolition Act. A self-acknowledged recipient of God’s amazing grace, Wilberforce spent his life as a conduit of that grace to others.
Editor’s note: The author has declined to be identified except in the following way: The author hopes, by the grace of God, to be a serious Christian, a joyful Christian and a conduit of God’s grace to others.