Happy Birthday, William Wilberforce

A Hero's Legacy

By Chuck Colson Published on August 24, 2016

(Seven years ago, Chuck Colson offered these words on the 250th birthday of England’s great abolitionist.)

 

Today marks the 250th birthday of William Wilberforce, the Christian statesman who, for 18 arduous years, led the crusade against the abominable British slave trade. And I can think of no better gift I could give my listeners than to tell you about some of the traits that made Wilberforce a man who profoundly changed history — and whose legacy so profoundly shaped my life.

To speak of Wilberforce is to speak of biblical worldview in action. When Wilberforce, one of the youngest members of Parliament, came to Christ, he contemplated leaving office and becoming a clergyman.

Thankfully, William Pitt, who went on to be Great Britain’s youngest prime minister, convinced him otherwise. In a letter to his dear friend, Pitt wrote: “Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple and lead not to meditation only, but to action.”

And indeed, for Wilberforce, Christian faith meant action. He could not stand idly by and see the imago Dei of each person, the image of God, abused. His fiercely unpopular crusade against the slave trade ravaged his health and cost him politically. He endured verbal assaults and was even challenged to a duel by an angry slave-ship captain.

And when the French Revolution began, what had been merely an unpopular position became a dangerous one. As cries of liberty, equality, and fraternity erupted across the Channel, Wilberforce and his fellow abolitionists who believed so strongly in human equality were suddenly viewed with suspicion by the British people.

Nonetheless, Wilberforce persevered year after year. Writing about whether to give up the fight, Wilberforce notes, “a man who fears God is not at liberty” to do so.

But Wilberforce’s worldview led him to engage in more than just the issue of slavery. He fought for prison reform. He founded or participated in 60 charities. He convinced King George III to issue a proclamation encouraging virtue, and reinstated The Proclamation Society to help see such virtue encouraged. He cared for God’s creation, founding the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. And he championed missionary efforts, like founding the British and Foreign Bible Society.

I believe that as we come to understand the depth of our own Christian worldview, it forces us not into a life merely of contemplation, but to one of action. We cannot know God more without being moved to love others more — and to care passionately about justice, mercy and truth.

 

Originally published on Breakpoint.org: BreakPoint Commentaries, August 24, 2009. Republished with permission of  The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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