The Force Behind Wilberforce

Have you heard of the man who arguably had the greatest impact on the abolishment of slavery?

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November 20, 2022
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The Force Behind Wilberforce

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Have you heard of William Wilberforce? I’ve asked that question enough times to realize that much of the time, the answer is no.

I don’t know him personally, considering he would be two hundred and sixty-three years old if he were still alive now. Yet there’s quite a bit to be learned about him. In case you’re just learning about him now, here are a few fun facts:

  • He was the first man to have the audacity to raise the issue of the abolishment of the slave trade in the House of Commons.
  • He had a Proclamation Society, which had as its main goal the “Reformation of Manners,” (wouldn’t that be nice?) which pointed society back to some of the main teachings of Jesus.
  • He fought for better education for children.
  • He fought to end unjust child labor practices.
  • He worked to set forth prison reforms.
  • He fought for better conditions for the poor.
  • Just days before his death he finally saw his dream and prayer come true when slavery was outlawed in Britain and its colonies in 1833.

It’s odd more of us don’t know him considering what he did. When we see a person that accomplished a great deal, we want to learn about the inner workings of that person. How did they think? What did they eat? What sort of habits did they implement and maintain? We want to learn about them so we can become more like them or in some cases to make sure we avoid becoming anything like them. If we learn the means, maybe we can accomplish a similar end.

So to that end, here are a few lesser known facts:

  • He would recite Psalm 119 (the long one) from memory as he walked to and from Parliament.
  • He kept a list of Christians and topics of prayer for them
  • He kept a list of non-Christians with “launchers” next to their names. These were topics of interest to that individual which Wilberforce could use to bring around the subject of eternity.
  • He was tiny (5’2) and often sick, therefore he disciplined himself rigorously to control and strengthen his body, soul and character.

We want the big accomplishments so we build structure toward a goal that we can see. We work and fight and learn and put the people in place and in the hurry and busyness we bypass the very individuals that Jesus commissioned us to reach. We want this ever-elusive “multiplication” movement, but what exactly is it you’re attempting to multiply if you are unwilling to become what you want to see in others?

A few months ago, we had a man show up at our church property. He looked deranged and misplaced. He looked dirty and broken. He looked old. He wasn’t. His clothes were ripped and his cigarette was burning down past the butt in a way that caused confusion as to how his fingers weren’t getting burnt. Maybe they were. Maybe he didn’t care. Later, through conversation, I learned that this man was the son of a prominent Christian leader whom many respected and revered. A neglected son for the sake of the crowds.

We can’t control who our children become and I don’t know both sides of this particular story. True. Yet there’s an important point that was solidified in me that day. If I choose to neglect the  ones in front of me that I have been gifted with, no matter what I produce with my life, it will only be a facade. It will be an illusion that masks the truth that time will inevitably expose.

E.M. Bounds said it this way, “God's plan is to make much of the man, far more of him than of anything else. Men are God's method. The Church is looking for better methods; God is looking for better men.”

Jesus’ plan for the masses was a depth and richness in a life with God that replicated in someone the more time  they spent with Him. When He said, “Follow me.”, it seemed like He meant everywhere except the bed and the bathroom. From the deep observance of a congruent life, disciples were produced. From a deep sacrifice that was made, a movement was set forth.

We want multiplication, but we don’t want to let people in past the veil. We want to see a movement, yet we are unwilling to become the type of person that will make a necessary sacrifice when the opportunity arises. We seem to care more about our name and our legacy than we do about obedience to Kingship.

William Wilberforce embodied what he wished to see multiplied. No man has been perfect other than the obvious One. Yet in the life of Wilberforce, there was devotion and obedience in the mundanity of life that put him eye to eye with the very people he wished to see set free.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. —John 15:9-13