Christian Living

Happy Birthday, Wilberforce

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 08/24/2012

Today is William Wilberforce’s 253rd birthday. Many of you probably already know he worked for decades to end Britain’s slave trade in the late 1700s and early 1800s, but he also had this to say to Christian apologists like you:

Know then, and value as ye ought, the honourable office which is especially devolved on you. Let it be your acceptable service to recommend the discredited cause, and sustain the fainting interests of Religion, to furnish to her friends matter of sound and obvious argument, and of honest triumph; and if your best endeavours cannot conciliate, to refute at least, and confound her enemies.

That quote is from his book, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity (1797). Today, they just call it A Practical View of Christianity (free Kindle version here), and it’s one of my all-time favorite books.

I’ve found Wilberforce’s story and his writings to be a great encouragement to me, with many parallels to the challenges we’re facing today (see here, for example).

If you’d like to learn more about Wilberforce, of course I recommend his book, but I also recommend you listen to (or read) this short biography by John Piper. Here’s an excerpt:

What was the key to Wilberforce’s perseverance under these kinds of burdens and obstacles? One of the main keys was his child-like, child-loving, self-forgetting joy in Christ. The testimonies and evidence of this are many. A certain Miss Sullivan wrote to a friend about Wilberforce in about 1815: “By the tones of his voice and expression of his countenance he showed that joy was the prevailing feature of his own mind, joy springing from entireness of trust in the Savior’s merits and from love to God and man...His joy was quite penetrating”....

James Stephen recalled after Wilberforce’s death, “Being himself amused and interested by everything, whatever he said became amusing or interesting...His presence was as fatal to dullness as to immorality. His mirth was as irresistible as the first laughter of childhood”....

In other words, his indomitable joy moved others to be good and happy. He sustained himself and swayed others by his joy. If a man can rob you of your joy, he can rob you of your usefulness. Wilberforce’s joy was indomitable and therefore he was a compelling Christian and Politician all his life.

I pray I will have his joy and perseverance, and I echo this prayer from his journal:

Do thou, O God, renew my heart—fill me with that love of thee which extinguishes all other affections, and enable me to give thee my heart, and to serve thee in spirit and in truth.