Wilberforce

The second figure I wanted to highlight from Eric Metaxas book Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness was the great British Member of Parliament William Wilberforce.  In case you are not familiar with this remarkable man (made more widely known through the film Amazing Grace), William grew up in Great Britain in the Late 18th Century.  He was born into a social circle that was powerful yet (like the prevailing culture) was not seriously Christian.  His family was nominally Christian at best.  The upper tiers of society found Christianity unreasonable and embraced a Deistic view of God, with God becoming more of a life force than a personal Creator.

 While young William was exposed to vibrant strain of Christianity called Methodism, his early faith soon became a distant memory.  By age 16, he slid into the accepted social model of parties and a sophisticated lifestyle without the Wesleyan Evangelicalism.  By age 24, he was a popular, wealthy (thanks to an inheritance), and a significant Member of Parliament (MP).

On a trip to the south of France, Wilberforce shared a carriage ride with an old friend from his youth, Isaac Milner.  Milner was now the Lucasion Professor of Cambridge (once held by Sir Isaac Newton) and a famously engaging man.  His brilliance and life giving nature easily drew Wilberforce into conversation of great depths.  One topic on their trip was about Christians who still held onto the Resurrection as a true event and other beliefs that had fallen out of favor in the social circles of Wilberforce.  Deep, honest conversation took place between the two sharp minded men and William was confronted with claims that he once held as true.  Thanks to that carriage ride, the young MP would embrace the faith of his youth and would set his course to fundamentally reshaping the Western world.

Originally, William was confused on how to connect his faith with his profession in Parliament.  After tortuously seeking to reconcile his rekindled faith with politics, he visited his old friend, the former slave captain turned pastor, John Newton.  He sought counsel from Newton on this dilemma and the pastor gave him a surprising answer.  Newton encouraged him to stay as a serious Christian within the hostile secular environment of Parliament and promote change there.  Persuaded by Newton, William chose to stay in politics to serve God with his gifts.

What exactly did William do?  After an epiphany, he wrote in his journal that “God Almighty has set before me two Great Objectives: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.”

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s grand conclusion to the life of William Wilberforce and how his robust faith stopped the slave trade.

(Catch the rest of the series: William Wilberforce Part 2, Jackie Robinson, and John Paul II)