William Wilberforce, British politician and prominent abolitionist, died July 29, 1833. Here are three lessons from the man whose faith helped end slavery in England and inspire America’s abolitionist movement.
1. Experience life through the lens of faith.
Prior to his conversion, William was not known as an industrious individual. As a student at St. John’s College, he invested most of his time in social activities and idleness. William committed himself to frivolity, even after being elected into Parliament at 21. As he said himself, “the first years in Parliament I did nothing—nothing to any purpose.”
After a sudden conversion experience, William began to see his work (and world) in a whole new light.
“The gospel freely admitted makes a man happy. It gives him peace with God, and makes him happy in God. It gives to industry a noble, contented look which selfish drudgery never wore; and from the moment that a man begins to do his work for his Saviour’s sake, he feels that the most ordinary employments are full of sweetness and dignity, and that the most difficult are not impossible. And if any of you, my friends, is weary with his work, if dissatisfaction with yourself or sorrow of any kind disheartens you, if at any time you feel the dull paralysis of conscious sin, or the depressing influence of vexing thoughts, look to Jesus, and be happy. Be happy, and your joyful work will prosper well.”
2. Bloom where you are planted.
William struggled with his Parliament position in light of his new faith. Religious enthusiasm was not socially accepted in high society, and he worried about finding himself at odds with his peers. For advice, he reached out to Anglican clergyman John Newton (writer of “Amazing Grace”). Newton responded by telling William, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of his church and for the good of the nation.” This gave William the encouragement he needed.
As he later wrote in his diary, “My walk I am sensible is a public one; my business is in the world; and I must mix in assemblies of men, or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me.”
His decision to stay in Parliament would help change the nation and end the slave trade.
3. Have the stamina to pursue your God-given passions until the end.
In William’s time, more than 11 million people had been captured in Africa and forced into labor in the West Indies, with Britain controlling the majority of that slave trade. Putting an end to Britain’s role in this unacceptable practice became William’s driving passion, no matter the cost to himself.
“As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might,—let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.”
Slavery, a booming business, contributed much to the British economy. Though few were directly involved in the slave trade, most wealthy families benefited from it somehow. The resistance to abolishing slavery was fierce, but William was resolute.
For 20 years, William worked as an abolitionist, often without seeing positive results. But on July 26, 1833, the House of Commons voted to abolish the slave trade. Upon hearing the news, William said, “Thank God that I have lived to witness [this] day.” He died three days later.
Interested in learning more? Explore Logos’ books on William Wilberforce!