From the beginning to end, this is a remarkable and powerful story. In his deep conviction, his perseverance, his industry, and his imagination, William Wilberforce provides an unparalleled example of true Christian service in a fallen world. Despite the allurements of power and position, of friends and family, and every sort of distraction the world could offer, Wilberforce gave himself to his cause and became for us a model of selfless endurance against every sort of adversity. In later years he would be acknowledge as the greatest and most influential figure of his time, and “the Washington of humanity.” Charles W. Colson
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. [Gal 6:9-10]
We live in a day where those who give evidence to the most indomitable spirit seem to be advocating the most abominable of causes. Look around you. What our nation once considered evil and abhorrent to the welfare of mankind has now become public policy. Abortion, pornography, homosexuality and drug abuse [as evidenced in the states that gave approval to marijuana use in the recent election] have now been raised to the level of a citizen’s right. The proponents of such evil were once in the minority of public opinion. They were ostracized from the power centers and had little voice among the political voices of the day. But, they had a vision. They possessed determination. They would not be silenced. Defeat was not an option. To quit was never the question. Votes went against them and still they persevered. In time, they gained a foothold; they won enough influence to change the way America thinks. It looks like they have won.
Contrast that spirit with the attitude that is too often being expressed among conservatives and evangelicals, whose party lost the last election. Public opinion is obviously running against us and the wave of evil is gathering momentum. Depression, if not despair, has seeped into the hearts of many crusaders. Some voices are even calling for compromise and accommodation. Others are considering pulling back and resigned to holding the fort until Jesus comes. Some of us are guilty of thinking, “OK America, if this is what you want, this is what you get,” and washing our hands of the whole mess. Some have decided that if God raises-up leadership and this is what he wants, we are obligated to support our leaders as the Bible commands. Others have taken on the role of poor losers and have lowered themselves to name calling, cynicism, sarcasm and being prophets of doom.
It is precisely here that we need a model, a hero for righteousness and humanity, who faced the same darkness, who lost the same kind of battles, who was also vilified and attacked, but did not give up until, by God’s calling and God’s grace, after forty-six years of fighting, he won the war. The terrible inhumane and demonic institution of slavery was abolished. The morals of the nation were totally transformed. Evil strongholds were uprooted and cast down. All of this happened because of the indomitable spirit and courageous leadership of one man. William Wilberforce was his name. Biographer Kevin Belmonte calls him “Hero for Humanity.” One contemporary of his, an Italian diplomat, called him “the George Washington of Humanity.” J. Douglas Hollady has identified him as “A Man Who Changed His Times.”
Wilberforce is one of those men the Bible refers us to when it says: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” [Heb. 13:7-8] Jesus Christ reigns now as in the time of Wilberforce. He still accomplishes what seems improbable, if not impossible, through men and women who will dare to get up and follow him into battle.
I want to know, I need to know, what it was that kept that man on the front for almost fifty years, taking on the most powerful interests in his country, his reputation attacked, his physical body assaulted, he persevered through years of defeats and disappointments. For those who still love our country and still believe Christ is sovereign and still desire to see the salvation of our land, considering the outcome and imitating the faith of this one man is absolutely essential.
So, where do we start? We start at the moment he called “the great change.” Wilberforce became a member of the House of Commons at the age of 21! His motivation was more about making a name for himself than saving his country. He admitted years later, “I did nothing- nothing that is to any purpose. My own distinction was my darling object.” Then, at the age of 25, he met Jesus. His life was totally changed. [We will deal with the important details of his conversion at a later time.] Instead of living for himself, he lived for Jesus Christ and for the betterment of all humanity.
The experience he called “the great change” leads us to the first principle that ordered his public and private life: His whole life was animated by a deeply held, personal faith in Jesus Christ. Mere religious affiliation or vaguely held beliefs would never have sustained him when it seemed like the whole English world was against him. He and his colleagues were motivated by a conviction that a living and personal God had called them to serve the little ones of this world, the ones who had no voice; the ones who were being used and exploited by their human brothers. It was Jesus Christ who was the source of their calling, vision, strength, wisdom, humility and tenacity. They saw themselves as pilgrim soldiers on a mission of divine love, never defining their cause or their positions by the flawed values of the age in which they lived. Their divine perspective set them free from the approval and the applause of men. They were servants of God and that priority demanded that they be servants of humanity. No power could intimidate them. No defeat could deflate them. They would fight evil until the last stronghold was destroyed or they were called home.
What does this mean to us? First, it shows us that in spite of how bad the circumstances appear, God is greater. This applies not only to transforming a society but also changing a marriage and saving our rebellious kids. Second, it shows us that victories are not won in a day. There are many battles to be fought and some defeats to endure. But, if we keep our eyes on the goal and focus upon what we are to do, God will take care of the results. Third, grappling with evil will cost. We may not be reviled or physically attacked, but crusading for righteousness will always bring some form of personal pain. Look at the cross. Fourth, and I would say this is foundational to the rest, we must have and maintain a “deeply held, personal faith in Jesus Christ.”
We must judge ourselves in the light of God’s Word. We have to ask ourselves if our faith in Jesus Christ is making a radical difference in the way we live. Are we actively involved in our world to bring about the changes that righteousness and a love for our country demands? Does the gathering darkness that is falling upon our land even bother us? Are we more concerned about how we are going to party on the weekend than on how we can extend charity to the weakened? Do we feel called, not just to be safe and nice, but to be risky and dangerous, for the sake of the lost and the glory of Jesus Christ?
These are some of the questions we must ask ourselves if our faith in Jesus is deep and vital. The enemy is too strong, sin’s end is too tragic, the needs of the helpless are too urgent, the promises of God’s Word are too great, life is too short and the name of Jesus is too precious for us to twitter our lives away. Thank God for men like Wilberforce. Although we may never accomplish the unbelievable things that he did, may we be a part of his tribe, those who seek to change their world through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.