3 Crucial Lessons from William Wilberforce

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!


  1. Paul Cappadona says

    These are again the time to take a stand against the wicked of this world trying to make slaves of us all.
    the united states constitution says that slavery shall not exist in this nation. Communism is slavery for the people. socialism lead to slavery.
    Paper money is the worst form of bondage. Should not these things be against the Law?

  2. Rev B. Graves says

    I’m afraid that for too many white exspecially southern American Christians today are like the church Mr Wilberforce faced, blind to the great sin of racism and full of relegion all at the same time. I wonder even when they take a political biblical stance, how much of it is driven by racism and how much is driven by their faith. Is it just another opportunity to stand up for God or another opportunity to stand against a Black President? I thank God for the clear picture of a true white Christian in Mr Wilberforce.
    Rev B Graves

  3. Mike Theriot says

    I am a “white Southern Christian” (I assume you mean someone from the former confederacy–your comment suggests a dripping hatred– and not South America) who doesn’t look at color. I look at the content of a person’s character. I Don’t look at a “BLACK” president. I look at a president who is NOT following the christian ethos of love of fellow man. He is attempting to FORCE his ethos on others. You show me where the bible says that forcing yourself on others furthers the kingdom. I am tired of people who assume that the only reason this president can be disagreed with is because those who disagree w/ him are “racist.” I am not racist. My family owned slaves 200 years ago. So what. They were idiots and racist. Doesn’t make me one. STOP using that excuse and get on with life. I suspect that some in Wilberforce family did not agree w/ his position. Does that preclude his right to have his position. Of course not. Don’t use the wonderful forum logos has provided to further your unreasoned position.

  4. Elaine Graham says

    Whether we agreed or disagree with one another, we all have a right to a position. Often times, like beauty, “reason” is in the eye of the beholder.

    I praise God for Wilberforce and how God used him to end a hideous and atrocious crime against humanity. What truly saddens me is that it happened in the first place. I am sure that the crimes we commit against one another grieves the heart of God.

    We should be agents of reconciliation seeking to understand differences and showing one another a better way.

    • John DeBoef says

      Don’t you love people like Wilberforce; whose faith was real, who applied it to his world, and passionately followed his conviction till death.

      I’m certain if he were with us today he would be pointing to Jesus as the author of his noble life.