Ending Slavery: The Life of William Wilberforce

Day 1 of 5 • This day’s reading

Devotional

William Wilberforce was easily one of the most productive people of all time.


First elected to British Parliament in 1780 at the age of 21, Wilberforce was a boy king. At one point in his life, he was officially linked to 69 separate social reform groups throughout Great Britain. Oh yeah, and he was the man chiefly responsible for abolishing slavery across the British Empire and eventually the world. As one of Wilberforce’s biographers said, "It’s difficult to escape the verdict that William Wilberforce was simply the greatest social reformer in the history of the world."


Early in his career, Wilberforce was ambitious for all the wrong things, namely the accumulation of power, wealth, and privilege. But his ambition was transformed when he submitted his life to the lordship of Jesus Christ at the age of 26, ushering in what Wilberforce referred to as his “Great Change.”


Like many young Christians, Wilberforce’s knee-jerk reaction to his newfound faith was to abandon his vocation. Seeking advice from his friend John Newton (yes, the great minister who wrote Amazing Grace), Wilberforce expected his minister friend to encourage him to resign from Parliament so that he could truly “live now for God.” But "Newton encouraged Wilberforce to stay where he was, saying that God could use him there. Most others in Newton’s place would likely have insisted that Wilberforce pull away from the very place where his salt and light were most needed. How good that Newton did not."


Amen. If Wilberforce’s “Great Change” had led to a great change in his work, where would the world be today? Certainly further away from the Kingdom of God.


Wilberforce deeply understood what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You see, the very purpose for which you and I and William Wilberforce were created and saved in Christ was to do good works and glorify the Father in the process. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).


Wilberforce’s good works included abolishing the abomination of slavery, bringing us one step closer to the Lord’s will being done “on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). His salvation didn’t change his occupation, but it did radically change his relationship to his work. Tomorrow, we’ll see exactly how.