“Men of authority and influence may promote good morals. Let them in their several stations encourage virtue . . . let them favor and take part in any plans which may be formed for the advancement of morality.”
- William Wilberforce
On this week that marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wilberforce, it is fitting to reflect on his legacy. In so doing it is obvious that we would think of his tireless work to end the slave trade and eventually abolish slavery altogether. While those achievements are herculean in their scope and impact, I believe we do Wilberforce a disservice by not putting his legacy into context. Was he just a great emancipator or was there more to this consummate politician?
To answer this question requires a deeper look into Wilberforce’s thoughts and reflections on faith. Wilberforce was not just a devoutly religious man. His devotion was not to a nebulous, transcendent God but to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In his magnum opus, “A Practical View of Christianity,” Wilberforce laid out the Biblical and moral grounds for all of the great social works that marked his political career. He made it clear that these works were not mere benevolence but an act of worship and obedience to a holy God. He also made it clear that these works were in and of themselves not the gospel of Jesus Christ but a natural result of the belief and working out of that gospel. Wilberforce would have been the first to say that doing good works cannot save anyone only faith in Christ can accomplish that. He would also add, however, that it is a mighty poor adherent to Christ who does not show Christ’s compassion to his fellow-man in need. Such was the strength and character of the 19th century reformer.
Another aspect to Wilberforce’s legacy that we should note is that he was a politician at heart. To label someone a politician in modern vernacular is tantamount to an insult. Yet when we examine the style of politics that Wilberforce practiced we see something entirely different. This was of course shaped and molded by his faith but it demonstrates a point that many modern politicians have forgotten and that is that politics is service. Wilberforce saw himself a servant of the people and he did what he did to benefit them and not to consolidate power or enrich himself. The proof of this is in his philanthropy. By the time he retired from political life, he had all but exhausted his personal wealth giving to the needs of the poor at home and abroad. To Wilberforce, politics was not a dirty game but a vocation and a calling to call the moral conscience of the culture to account and to enact the change needed to remedy the ills of society.
Wilberforce will always be remembered for his abolition of slavery and rightfully so. When we think of him, however, lets also remember his commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ and his tireless service of others. What was Wilberforce’s end game? To answer this question you need only read the gospel of Matthew 22:37-39:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This week marks the 250th birthday of the great conservative politician William Wilberforce. It was his labors that led to the end of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. His life and faith have inspired many people in the service of God’s kingdom this author not excluded. Please take a few minutes to view the following video about the life of Wilberforce. It will be the best 10 minute investment you have made in a long time.William Wilberforce Video
I have never held public office, but I have always been fascinated by those who do. I marvel at the wisdom of some politicians and the sheer stupidity of others but they all must be credited for having the courage to serve. No matter what your persuasion, life in the political arena is not for the faint of heart.
If you have ever considered a life of political involvement, you would do well to glean wisdom from those who have served with excellence. One of the finest examples I can reference is the a man whose life inspired me to start this site his name is William Wilberforce. Time doesn’t permit me to give you a thorough account of his life here, but you would do well to familiarize yourself with this man.
Wilberforce was unique among career politicians in that his motivation for holding public office was to serve the people. He was first and foremost an authentic Christian who knew that his accountability was to God and not just to his constituents. He knew that the real answer to the problems of his time and of all times was found not in the benevolence of government but in the grace of Jesus Christ who died on a cross to free men from slavery to sin. This profoundly affected his approach to the role of public policy in everyday matters.
Wilberforce was kind enough to chronicle his philosophy and approach to public service in his magnum opus A Practical View of Christianity. If you have ever considered running for public office or would like to have a model for holding your elected officials accountable consider the following points Wilberforce raises (I have included the page numbers and paragraph locations):
- One of the best ways to win public opinion for sound policy is to “make goodness fashionable”. – pg. 83, paragraph 1
- Great political victories come by patience and endurance or “by degree”. – pg. 159, paragraph 4
- Choose your battles. – pg. 159, paragraph 5
- Vote your conscience, not your party. – pg. 161, paragraph 2
- Be the conscience of your country. – pg. 163, paragraph 4
- Disappointment and desertion are certainties. – pg. 164, paragraph 4
- Always look for opportunities to share the gospel. – pg. 164, paragraph 4
- Create community for those of like mind and faith. – pg. 183, paragraph 1
- Never compromise integrity for the sake of friendship. – pg. 201, paragraph 3
- All service in victory and defeat is for the glory of God. – pg. 208, paragraph 1
- Representation is always about serving the people. – pg. 253, paragraph 1
I hope that these gems of wisdom will encourage and challenge you. I also hope that they cause you to buy and read Wilberforce, himself. It is an investment that will pay dividends for years to come.
“Let true Christians then, with becoming earnest
ness, strive in all things to recommend their profes
sion, and to put to silence the vain scoffs of ignorant
objectors. Let them boldly assert the cause of Christ
in an age when so many who bear the name of
Christians are ashamed of him: and let them con
sider as devolved on them the important duty of sus
pending for a while the fall of their country…”
These words form one of the closing thoughts of William Wilberforce’s magnum opus A Practical View of Christianity. Wilberforce, known for his successful campaign to abolish slavery in the UK, was also an authentic Christian and it was to authentic Christianity he called his readers. He dedicated his life to many causes but the greatest was the cause of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I, like Wilberforce, am immersed in many causes. I am involved in politics. I give my time and money to do as much good for society as I possible can. Still, I can’t help but believe, just as Wilberforce did, that the best thing that I can do for society is to love God and the only way to truly love God is to accept his son Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
If you and I desire to hold back evil and promote good, we must begin our cause at the foot of Christ’s cross. This and only this will inject into our society the badly needed righteousness that can promote just means and prosperous ends. All the best programs, public policy, and spending combined cannot produce what this profound message can. It is the basis for authentic Christianity.
Where do we go from here? I hope that we agree that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only sure foundation upon which a just society must rest. If not, then I hope that you will come here often so that this post will be just the beginning of many conversations between us.