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William Wilberforce: Living on Mission and Changing the World

Updated: Mar 13

If I had to choose just one hero from history who has most profoundly influenced me, I would probably pick William Wilberforce. I could make a strong case for a few others, but I read Wilberforce's book, originally titled, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity, when I was in high school. In recent times, his book title has been shortened to Real Christianity.

I love that in his title of the book, he wanted to contrast real Christians with professing Christians. He lived his entire life showing us the difference.

William Wilberforce was a prominent British politician and philanthropist who is best known for his efforts to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. As a devout Christian, his faith played a significant role in his fight against the horrors of the slave trade.

Born in Hull, England in 1759, Wilberforce was raised in a wealthy family and received a rigorous education. He was elected to Parliament in 1780, where he quickly became known for his oratory skills and his commitment to social reform. However, it was not until his conversion to evangelical Christianity in 1785 that his activism took on a distinctly Christian character.

William Wilberforce

Wilberforce was deeply influenced by the ideas of the abolitionist movement, which sought to end the transatlantic slave trade and free enslaved Africans. He believed that slavery was a moral evil that was incompatible with the principles of Christianity and that it was the duty of Christians to fight against it.

Wilberforce began his campaign to abolish the slave trade in earnest in 1787, when he introduced a bill in Parliament to ban the trade. He faced fierce opposition from wealthy merchants who profited from the trade, but he persevered, using his considerable rhetorical skills and his deep faith to make the case for abolition.

In 1807, Wilberforce finally achieved his goal when Parliament passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act, which banned the trade throughout the British Empire. This was a significant victory, but Wilberforce knew that there was more work to be done. He continued to campaign for the abolition of slavery itself, which was finally achieved in 1833, just three days before his death.

Wilberforce's faith was the driving force behind his activism. He believed that all people were created in the image of God and that it was the duty of Christians to work for justice and freedom for all. He saw the abolition of the slave trade as a crucial step towards a more just and compassionate society, and he worked tirelessly to achieve it.

Wilberforce's legacy is an inspiration to Christians today. He showed that faith can be a powerful force for social change and that Christians have a responsibility to work for justice and freedom for all people, regardless of their race or nationality. His example reminds us that we must always be willing to stand up for what is right, even in the face of overwhelming opposition, and that we must never give up hope for a better world. If you've read any of my other blogs, you know that I'm a big proponent of using primary material. You also know that one of the main reasons I write these summaries for you is to whet your appetite to learn more about the men and women from history who are worth knowing. So, here's a link to his book which can help you know him better, and here are a few quotes from Wilberforce that illustrate his deep faith and commitment to the abolitionist cause:

"Let it not be said that I was silent when they needed me." - William Wilberforce

"We are too young to realize that certain things are impossible...So we will do them anyway." - William Wilberforce

"God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners." - William Wilberforce

"Surely the principles of Christianity lead to action as well as meditation." - William Wilberforce

"I am persuaded that the more we succeed in promoting [the] love of liberty and civil order, and pure and undefiled religion, the more we shall strengthen those pillars of human happiness, the true glory and prosperity of a nation." - William Wilberforce

And probably my favorite quote of his is:

If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” - William Wilberforce

These are just a small sampling from Wilberforce that show that he was deeply committed to practicing his faith by making a positive impact on the world. In addition to his work to abolish the slave trade, William Wilberforce was also deeply involved in a number of other philanthropic efforts. He contributed in tangible ways to nearly 70 charitable causes. He believed that Christians had a responsibility to bring glory to God by loving others and he dedicated his life to this cause.

One of Wilberforce's most significant philanthropic achievements was his work to improve prison conditions. He was appalled by the inhumane treatment of prisoners in British jails, and he worked tirelessly to bring about reforms. He helped to establish the Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline, which advocated for better living conditions and education for prisoners. He also supported the establishment of a penitentiary system that emphasized rehabilitation rather than punishment.

Wilberforce was also deeply committed to promoting education for all people, regardless of their social status. He believed that education was essential for personal growth and social progress, and he supported a number of educational initiatives throughout his life. He helped to establish the Church Missionary Society, which worked to provide education and religious instruction to people around the world. He also supported the establishment of Sunday schools in Britain, which provided basic education to working-class children who otherwise would have received no formal schooling.

In addition to these philanthropic efforts, Wilberforce was also an advocate for animal welfare and environmental conservation. He believed that all of God's creatures had inherent value and that humans had a responsibility to care for the natural world.

Wilberforce's commitment to these causes was rooted in his deep Christian faith. He saw his work as a way of living out the teachings of Jesus and of promoting the values of compassion, justice, and love for all people. His example continues to inspire us to this day, reminding us that we must use our resources and talents to make the world a better place, and that we must never lose sight of the values that truly matter.

He saw the fight against the slave trade as a moral imperative and believed that Christians had a duty to work for justice and freedom for all people. His words continue to inspire us to this day, reminding us that we must never be silent in the face of injustice and that we must always strive to make the world a better place.


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