William Wilberforce stands as a giant in the world of Christian Politics. I did not know this until a few years ago when I watched the movie Amazing Grace. It introduced me to Wilberforce. My understanding and appreciation of Wilberforce grew more as I read Eric Metaxas’s excellent book Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.
It is staggering to consider Wilberforce’s contemporaries. Born in 1759, Wilberforce shared the earth with men like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Whitfield, Napoleon, and Beethoven. He lived among giants and was a giant himself.
The ‘Great Change’
The turning point in Wilberforce’s life came in 1785. At this point he held the most coveted seat in the House of Commons and his closest friend was the Prime Minister, William Pitt. It was during 1785 that Wilberforce converted to Christ. Metaxas describes his ‘Great Change:’
Wilberforce’s “Great Change” did not happen overnight or in an instant… but (his) transformation was much more gradual. His conversion was much closer to St. Augustine’s, who came to intellectual clarity about the doctrines of Christian faith but was frustrated by his inability to conform his behavior to his beliefs. (p. 52-53)
What a ‘Great Change’ it was! Nearly every aspect of Wilberforce’s life was dramatically changed. His finances, attitudes, priorities, and time management were redeemed along with his soul.
Two Great Objects
In 1787, Wilberforce wrote in his journal, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.” This is such a simple statement. Yet, the entire world has been impacted these ‘two great objects’ that God set before Wilberforce.
In explaining the magnitude of what Wilbeforce did, Metaxas puts it well,
What Wilberforce vanquished was something even worse than slavery, something that was much more fundamental and can hardly be seen from where we stand today: he vanquished the very mind-set that made slavery acceptable and allowed it to survive and thrive for millennia. He destroyed an entire way of seeing the world, one that had held sway from the beginning of history, and he replaced it with another way of seeing the world. (from the introduction, p. xv, emphasis added)
William Wilberforce is a man that all of us should be acquainted with. We should study his life. We should emulate his example. We should consider what ‘great objects’ God Almighty has set before us. And we should pursue those ‘great objects’ with all of our strength.