Unless the divine power has raised you for such a time as Athanasius contra mundum (Athanasius against the world), I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in
opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the
opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you who can be against you? (John Wesley’s “last words” to William Wilbeforce)
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. [Heb 13:7-8]
I confess. I have struggled with disappointment, depression and despair over the condition and direction of our country. Every day we see new evidence of a culture sinking deeper
and deeper into the depths of depravity. We live in a nation that not only allows for the killing of millions of innocent babies through abortion, but one that even encourages it and
provides the funds to make that holocaust happen. Cable televisions, DVDs and the internet now bring into the sanctity of our homes what once was thought so distasteful it was
cordoned off to the most-seedy sections of the city. Our politics that once was fueled by a sincere concern for the welfare of our nation is now too often in the hands of power
hungry men and women who care little for truth, integrity or the values that once made our nation great. Homosexuality, which was once considered an aberrant behavior, is now
elevated to the position of a healthy alternative to the marriage of a man and a woman. Anyone who dares to express a conviction that traditional marriage is a sacred institution is
likely to be labeled as mean-spirited, intolerant and worse. On top of all that, the Church of Jesus Christ, called and commissioned to be salt and light in a dark world, has become
tasteless and lightless, more concerned with her image than her calling.
For those of us who were raised up within a “last days” theology like I was, it is easy to look at the deterioration of our nation as a sure sign of the soon second coming of Jesus Christ.
It then becomes easy to focus our energy upon “holding the fort” until Jesus comes. Some, I suppose, are even encouraged by the intensification of evil as a reason to rejoice for the
Lord’s coming must be near. I admit I have been tempted to go that route… until I picked up a book and read a biography of William Wilberforce, entitled Hero for Humanity, by Kevin
Belmonte. I was both convicted and encouraged by the life of this one diminutive man who one biographer called the “The George Washington of Humanity.” Living in a depraved
England not much different than our own, he led a reformation that one historian called “one of the turning events in the history of the world.” For almost fifty years he led a battle
against the slave trade in the British Commonwealth. Against all odds, believing that God had called him and that his cause was right, he endured defeat after defeat, but persevered
to see the transformation of his beloved country and the abolition of that devilish curse upon humanity, the institution called slavery.
I began to think and pray. What if God wanted to do the very same thing here- now? Sure it is dark, but is not our God greater than any darkness? “Even the darkness will not be dark
to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” [Ps 139:12] But, what if Jesus is coming soon and we are nearing the end? I like how Luther handled that kind
of question. He said that if he knew Christ was coming back tomorrow he would plant a tree today. In other words, even if we know Jesus was coming tomorrow, that would not give
us reason to stop doing what He has commanded us to do today.
When we look at our dreadful condition, it is easy to become controlled by a cynical pessimism. The problems appear too complex and overwhelming for us to impact in any meaningful
way. So, we either escape into our little private world, sanctimoniously holding on till the end; or, we exaggerate the role of politics as the engine that would bring the transformation
needed. Both approaches will fail.
That is why the example of a man like Wilberforce is so crucial for our instruction and encouragement. He and his friends literally changed the moral culture of England which grew into
Victorian values and made goodness fashionable. It happened not without intense opposition and incredible cost. The abolition of the slave trade in the British Commonwealth
dominated 46 years of this crusader’s life. It happened even though he was opposed by some of England’s greatest heroes and the most powerful forces, including the Royal Family,
most of the Cabinet and powerful vested interests. The slave trade included hundreds of ships, thousands of sailors and hundreds of millions of pounds sterling. The important ports of
Bristol and Liverpool’s economy were built upon the trade. He was threatened, physically assaulted and slandered. During this long battle, he went through a nervous breakdown and
almost died from poor health at least five times. For a time he was the most vilified man in all of England.
So, I want to know what it was that so captured the heart and mind of William Wilberforce that kept him persevering for almost fifty years resulting in the reformation of a whole
culture. Perhaps the words of Russian novelist Boris Pasternak put this into perspective. He wrote, “It is not revolutions and upheavals that clear the road to new and better days but…
someone’s soul, inspired and ablaze.”
That was the secret of Wilberforce’s indomitable spirit. Although he was motivated by a sincere compassion for the dignity of man and the plight of the helpless, what powered him
was an awareness of God’s personal call upon his life. That one conviction led him to attack the entrenched evils of his day and his refusal to give one inch in the battle that was laid
Wilberforce not only had a passion, he had a plan. The greatest burst of well-meaning enthusiasm will soon die off without a strategy that will provide the steps and resources needed
to accomplish the practical changes needed to reshape a whole, resistant culture. That is why I have entitled our study, “Seven Principles for the Saving of Our Nation.” I have
borrowed and adapted this list from the pen of J. Douglas Holladay, in his introduction to William Wilberforce: A Man Who Changed his Times. Here are the principles we will investigate:
1. His whole life was animated by a deeply held personal faith in Jesus Christ.
2. He had a deep sense of calling that grew into a conviction that he was to exercise his spiritual purpose in the realm of his secular responsibility.
3. He was committed to the strategic importance of a band of like-minded friends devoted to working together in chosen ventures.
4. He believed deeply in the power of ideas and moral beliefs to change culture through a campaign of sustained public persuasion.
5. He was willing to pay a steep cost for his courageous public stands and was remarkably persistent in pursuing his life task.
6. His labors and faith were grounded in a genuine humanity rather than blind fanaticism.
7. He forged a strategic partnership for the common good irrespective of differences over methods, ideology, or religious beliefs.
On October 28, 1787, the 28 year-old parliamentarian, wrote in his diary: “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation
of manners.” He spent the rest of his days fulfilling God’s call upon his life. May God speak to each of us and grant us the same clarity and commitment that he instilled within William
Wilberforce. Pray that he will speak to us through his crucial and timely study.