William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
William Wilberforce was born into a life of privilege and, on the surface, he lived a life of wealth, leisure, and entertainment; however, he was actually quite frail and sickly. Nonetheless, in 1780, at twenty-one, he was elected to Parliament and soon after showed an interest in reforming society for the better. Leave it to God to use the least among us to do the most difficult work.
It began with Wilberforce's spiritual conversion in 1786, when he came to know Christ as his Savior, that he experienced a "Great Change."
"Well, I now fully believed the Gospel and was persuaded that if I died at any time I should perish everlastingly."
"I must awake to my dangerous state, and never be at rest till I have made my peace with God. My heart is so hard, my blindness so great, that I cannot get a due hatred of sin, though I see I am all corrupt, and blinded to the perception of spiritual things."He was in such agony over his state of sinfulness that he considered leaving politics in order to "live now for God." It was John Newton, ex-captain of a slave ship and personal friend of Wilberforce, who encouraged him to stay in Parliament and allow God to use him for the greater good.
"God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners."Thereafter, Wilberforce realized his purpose in this world and made it his passionate work to abolish slavery. But he and a few fellow abolitionists had to be clever about their mission because slavery was completely acceptable in their time, as it had always been since the beginning of civilization. They targeted only the slave trade, which would prove to be difficult and challenging enough.
In fact, it took twenty long, dragged-out years and much determination, perseverance, and patience before abolitionists could see that victory in 1807. How Wilberforce did not give up the fight is beyond me, and maybe that did not help his health either; but I suppose it was God's will to use this man and others like him to carry on the fight for those who had no voice. Not only was he instrumental in outlawing the slave trade, but he influenced attitudes and changed hearts concerning slavery overall. Three days before Wilberforce died in 1833, slavery was altogether abolished in the British Empire, except in India, which Wilberforce had also worked towards. Slavery in India was later abolished in 1843, which demonstrated that the ripple effect of Wilberforce's work lasted long after he was gone.
I take away two important ideas from Mr. Wilberforce and his story: the first is that it gives me great hope in mankind to read about quiet, humble lives who courageously fight for righteousness and persevere through dangerous opposition. History overflows with examples of minor characters doing major work to change the course of the world for the better, we just do not tell their stories enough like we tell the stories about the tyrants.
The other point is not necessarily an idea, but a truth, as William Wilberforce and those he worked with to abolish slavery were deeply motivated by their Christian faith. As the Bible teaches, we must never be insecure to do what is right or speak for the weak, knowing that we will be in opposition to the world. Wilberforce is an example of this Christian ideal.
Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8)
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. (1 Peter 3:13-14)Not only that, but they were white, too. While slavery was commonplace all over the world, it was also Christian white men and women who fought for the emancipation of black slaves and worked to end the theft, sale, and enslavement of other human beings against their will. In other words, not all white people support the mistreatment and suppression of others based on skin color or other lame excuse. Many ardent abolitionists were white. Thanks to work by Mr. Metaxas, we have their stories to tell.