The Legacy of William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce is one of the most fascinating figures in history. A member of the British Parliament in the late 18th to early 19th century, he is certainly one of the most effective and influential politicians of all time.

Wilberforce is known primarily for his role in the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom, and while this was his most prominent accomplishment, it was by no means his only one. I highly encourage everyone to read one (or more!) of his many biographies… you’ll be blessed! I recently reviewed a short biography by John Piper, which you can read here.

This Friday, Regis Nicoll — a columnist for Breakpoint, Salvo, and Crosswalk, as well as a Centurion in Prison Fellowship Ministries’ Wilberforce Forum — will be presenting a lecture entitled “The Legacy of William Wilberforce: Making a Difference in an Age of Moral Decay” at the Cookeville campus of Nashville State Community College. Here’s a blurb advertising this lecture:

How can Christians make a difference in a culture in moral decay? That is the question that British parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, asked over two centuries ago in a country that was the slave capital of the world. For Wilberforce the answer was the integration of his faith into his public calling for the cause of abolition and the betterment of society. Hear how the faith, commitment, and courage of one man gave millions their liberty and transformed an empire. Learn the lessons that Wilberforce holds for those engaged in the pressing issues of society today.

The lecture, presented as part of the Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture, will begin at 7:00 in Cody Hall, which is centrally located in the only building at NSCC (which is over on Neal Street). It’s scheduled to last for an hour, with a 30-minute question and answer period following. Admission is free! I hope that many of you will join me there.

I leave you today with a few quotes from the opening pages of William Wilberforce’s best known book (published in 1797), commonly known as A Practical View of Christianity but 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. I began reading this excellent book yesterday in anticipation of Friday’s lecture!

On why he is writing to address professing Christians whose lives do not conform to Scripture:

“It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power; and that he who thinks he sees many around him, whom he esteems and loves, laboring under a fatal error, must have a cold heart, or a most confined notion of benevolence, if he could refrain from endeavoring to set them right.”

On politics and religion:

“[I allege] not only that Religion is the business of everyone, but that its advancement or decline in any country is so intimately connected with the temporal interests of society, as to render it the peculiar concern of a political man.”

On parents’ failure to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord:

“View their plan of life and their ordinary conduct; and not to speak at present of their general inattention to things of a religious nature, let us ask wherein we can discern the points of discrimination between them and professed unbelievers. In an age wherein it is confessed and lamented that infidelity abounds, do we observe in them any remarkable care to instruct their children in the principles of the faith which they profess, and to furnish them with arguments for the defense of it? They would blush, on their child’s coming out into the world, to think him defective in any branch of that knowledge, or of those accomplishments which belong to his station in life, and accordingly these are cultivated with becoming assiduity. But he is left to collect his religion as he may; the study of Christianity has formed no part of his education, and his attachment to it (where any attachment to it exists at all) is, too often, not the preference of sober reason, but merely the result of early prejudice and groundless prepossession. He was born in a Christian country, of course he is a Christian; his father was the member of the church of England, so is he. When such is the hereditary religion handed down from generation to generation, it cannot surprise us to observe young men of sense and spirit beginning to doubt altogether of the truth of the system in which they have been brought up, and ready to abandon a station which they are unable to defend. Knowing Christianity chiefly in the difficulties which it contains, and in the impossibilities which are falsely imputed to it, they fall perhaps into the company of infidels; and, as might be expected, they are shaken by frivolous objections and profane cavils [petty objections], which, had they been grounded and bottomed in reason and argument, would have passed them “as the idle wind,” and scarcely have seemed worthy of serious notice.”

On the importance of abiding in God’s Word:

“When God has of his goodness vouchsafed to grant us such abundant means of instruction in that which we are most concerned to know, how great must be the guilt, and how awful the punishment of voluntary ignorance!”

On the expectation of an easy Christian life:

“No one expects to attain to the height of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, without vigorous resolution, and strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry.”

Our call to action:

“Great indeed are our opportunities, great also is our responsibility. Let us awaken to a true sense of our situation. We have every consideration to alarm our fears, or to animate our industry… The time of reckoning will at length arrive. And when finally summoned to the bar of God, to give an account of our stewardship, what plea can we have to urge in our defense, if we remain willingly, and obstinately ignorant of the way which leads to life, with such transcendent means of knowing it, and such urgent motives to its pursuit?”

What could be more relevant for our time?

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