To take for truth what cannot be but true…
And bind the task assign’d thee to thine heart:
Happy the man there seeking and there found,
Happy the nation where such men abound. -William Cowper
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. [Col 3:23-25]
We see a nation deteriorating before our eyes. Evil is becoming the preferred way of living. Morality has become a matter of preference rather than a matter of principle. All the while the Christians look for someone or some group to blame, when we should be pointing a finger at ourselves. Too often, we simply have not given our nation a compelling alternative.
I think I am not too far off to say that we have many professors but few possessors; many worriers but few warriors; many complainers but few campaigners. The weight of the Gospel simply rests too lightly on the minds and hearts of believers today. We who claim to have met the glorious God of creation, to have been united to the Living Lord by faith; to have the power of the resurrection pulsating within us; to have divine authority to drive out demons and heal the sick; to have access to an arsenal so great that we can tear down strongholds; to have the promise of God’s intimate presence wherever we go- live as if Christianity is just another belief system rather than a world-changing revolution. We are simply too normal.
I am a member of that tribe. I feel the growing hostility toward my Christian conviction and the increasing pressure to stifle my public proclamation of faith. I am struggling to maintain the sharp lines of right and wrong in a culture that seeks to blur all attempts to define absolutes. I am being wooed into a mind-set that craves comfort and safety over courage and service. I am too easily moved by the advertisements and the allurements of this world that remind me of how special I am and how I deserve the latest gimmick they are hawking. Sure, these pressures have always existed in some form, but I have lived a few years, 69 to be exact, and I have never felt the pressure to conform as I have today. The mantra of the media, with its constant access to every area of our lives, is relentless. But, I fear that the great danger we face is that many, if not most Christians, don’t even know the danger that is lurking all about us. We actually think that our Christianity is normal, even biblical.
That is why we need to read the biographies and writings of men of another era. They display a stark contrast between our comfort seeking, crowd-pleasing, pleasure-feeling milk toast Christianity. Theirs was a world-changing, culture-defying, Christ-exalting audacious faith that could not be intimidated or contaminated. Men like John Wycliffe, Jon Huss, Martin Luther, John Calvin, William Carey, C. T. Studd, Jim Elliot and William Wilberforce, took on the evil of their day and beat it down. They did not just “make it;” they “changed it! They were happy men and left a happier nation because they found ultimate happiness in knowing Jesus.
Neither I nor you will ever be a Wilberforce. We don’t have the gifts, the genius, the influence or the calling to be numbered with the man who is called “the George Washington of humanity.” But, we can discover the roots of his fortitude and faith so that we can join the militant army of Christ, marching forth to spread righteousness and justice throughout our world like he did his. So, let us see what we can dig up.
In our first installment, we found that there were seven principles that enabled Wilberforce to fight his 50-year battle to abolish slavery. The first one was, His whole life was animated by a deep held personal faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t run over those words lightly. It is crucial that we take note of every word. His whole life was animated by a deep personal faith in Jesus Christ. If we fail here we fail all along the line.
Wilberforce faced the same insipid faith that we see today. Being a Christian in his day was the accepted thing. It was an outward position, not an inward passion. If you lived in England, you were Christian because England was Christian. Evidence for your Christianity was found in the fact that you rented a pew in the local perish, whether you attended the services or not; gave allegiance to the nation’s king whether you gave allegiance to Christ the King or not; and professed to hold generally to Christian doctrines whether you practiced them or not.
Immorality was rampant, even encouraged. Principles of love were not allowed to interfere with commerce or the nation’s good. How else could the slave trade not only be carried on, but seen as a good and necessary thing for the welfare of England? Bribery was a natural way of doing business. Politics were separated from a person’s religion. It is that kind of thinking that caused Lord Melbourne to issue his famous line: “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.” Poverty was accepted as necessary. Children were abused in dirty and dangerous work. Women were treated as chattel. Immorality, drunkenness and gambling were considered the normal expressions of “real” men. It sounds a lot like today.
Into this darkened environment, William Wilberforce not only stood out, he stood up. His “great change” gave him a new heart and new eyes. His whole life was animated by a deep held personal faith in Jesus Christ. He did not merely sign on to some religious movement or become a follower of a system of teachings. He met the Savior, and Jesus Christ was living and ruling within. It changed everything!
We are given some snippets of how this rich and spoiled rogue was converted [the subject of which we take up in later editions] into a selfless and generous servant. It was gradual: a conversation with a Christian friend, the reading of a book, the searching of the Scripture; coming to a mental assent of the reasonableness of the Gospel; the personal counsel of John Newton; months of agony as he struggled with guilt over his sinfulness before a righteous God; and then the moment when the truth came alive in his heart. He wrote later that it was as if he had awakened from a dream and “to have recovered, as it were, the use of my reason after a delirium.”
Jesus Christ and that truth of his Word now animated everything he did. For the first time, life made sense. For the first time he saw a wonderful and glorious opportunity to make a lasting difference. He would not and could not keep his faith private, even though it would cost him dearly. Christ and his love must be shared. He would not be intimidated or isolated. His opened eyes saw evil everywhere. His softened heart sought to meet them. He went to war to re-establish justice in England and the world. The call of God upon his life and the task he was given had captured his heart. Once his own distinction was the “darling of his heart.” Now his delight was in seeing the love of Christ conquer the hatred of this world.
So, let us take the time to ask some serious questions of ourselves. What affections drive our lives? When we wake up, what is the one thing that gets us up? Is the “darling of our affection” our own “distinction,” or is it the glory of Christ? When we think of our reason for living, is it to savor the pleasures of the world or to serve the poorest people of the world? What gets us really angry? Is it the poor play of our favorite football team or terrible sins against humanity like abortion or sex-trafficking? When we are evaluating our generosity in giving, do we evaluate on the basis of how much we gave or how much we have left? What instills more excitement in us: a vacation trip to Disneyland or a mission trip to Thailand? When was the last time we did something so radical, so Christ-centered, so faith-stretching, that it cost us dearly?
Those questions were not designed to instill guilt. They were offered to get us to think. We are in danger of being lulled into thinking that the Christianity we have become accustomed to is the real thing. It is not! Life is too short, the needs are too great, and the love of Christ too glorious for us to settle for a passive, safe, comfortable kind of existence. God gave William Wilberforce two tasks that would dominate his life: the abolition of slavery and the transformation of morals. It cost him his money, his reputation, his health and his comfort. But, the gain was almost incalculable. The conscience of England was awakened to her terrible sins against humanity. A whole culture was instilled with a new obligation to love and serve her fellow man. Because he refused to be normal, a whole nation was made happy. Because he dedicated himself to the freedom of African slaves, a whole people was made happy. And, because, he gave his whole life to the service of his Lord Jesus Christ, this one man lived and died happy.
What is Christ calling you to do? Don’t measure it by the risk but by the reward. Is it Christ honoring? Is it something Jesus would do? Does it meet a need? Will it bring freedom? Will it cost? Will it demand your whole life? Will it take a miracle? If the answer to all of those questions is “Yes,” then begin to pray. Pray for a new joy in Jesus. Pray that just the chance to serve him will be a life domination passion. Pray that he will give you the courage to stand alone if need be, a commitment to strive until the work is done and compassion to serve without earthly applause. Then your nation will be happy, those you serve will be happy, and you will be happy too. Dare to be abnormally happy for the glory of Jesus Christ.