William Wilberforce is one of my favorite historical figures, and John Piper is one of my favorite authors, so I knew I really wanted to read this book! Before I get into the review, though, I should tell you what this book is not.
It is not a full-length, detailed biography of Wilberforce. Many excellent such books exist, including the recent work by Eric Metaxas which was the companion to the 2007 movie “Amazing Grace”, which focused on Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery in Great Britain. Instead, Piper’s short biography (only 76 pages) focuses almost exclusively on the British politician’s theology, and the way his life (after his conversion to Christianity) was driven by faith. The result is a fascinating and encouraging look into the life of one of the most influential politicians of all time.
While many biographers portray Wilberforce as being singularly focused on the issue of human slavery, this is not entirely accurate. He actually listed “two great Objects” set before him by God Almighty: ending British slavery and reforming British morals. He realized that the first could not be accomplished without the second, because he knew that slavery was a surface issue. The root of slavery, as well as all other societal ills, was sin. If slavery was to be defeated, English society (and particularly it’s majority of “nominal Christians”) needed a right understanding of sin and righteousness.
Over the course of nearly five decades in Parliament, Wilberforce lobbied for one reform after another, but all the while, his primary emphasis was on evangelism. He relentlessly but winsomely sought to win his colleagues to Christ, so that those in a position to make decisions could make right ones. He was also a popular and influential writer, changing the hearts and minds of British commoners in order that they might elect good men as representatives to Parliament. He also used his considerable influence to encourage other wealthy Brits to join him in supporting international missions with their money and time.
Within the period of one man’s life, and due almost solely to his efforts, Britain was transformed from a nation completely dependent on the slave trade to the first world power to abolish it. This did not come without much resistance. Wilberforce endured personal hardship and trials of all kinds with an endurance and joy rooted firmly in Christ’s love. (Piper has explored this further in his book “The Roots of Endurance.”)
This is a great read, particularly for those who, like me, need a reminder that one person really can make a difference when his life is given completely over to God. May we all be encouraged to draw from the same root as William Wilberforce so that our lives might be exemplified by enduring joy as we submit ourselves to God’s will for our lives and for the world that He has made and cares about deeply.