|William Wilberforce (1759-1833
Standing in Hull, Yorkshire is a house, which serves as a museum to a man whose efforts affected great masses of those who never saw him. In this house l, William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to a family of wealth and social standing. When eight years old his father died and William was sent to live in Wimbledon with his aunt who was a stanch Methodist. In this home he came into contact with such men as George Whitefield, the great evangelist, and John Newton, converted from a life of evil as a slave trader.
His mother, fearing that William might be influenced by "religious enthusiasm," removed him from his aunt's home and sent him to a private school. He gradually forgot the spiritual influence of his aunt and was caught up in the social whirl of his mother's lifestyle. He attended St John's College at Cambridge, but largely wasted his time while there. However, upon reaching maturity he won a prominent seat in Parliament, even becoming a close friend and advisor to William Pitt, who was Prime Minister.
While taking a holiday on the continent he began reading a book, "The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul." From this book he began his spiritual journey with an intellectual assent to the Bible, followed by a deep inner conviction. He knew that his new commitment might cost him friends and influence but he was determined to stand for what he now believed.
His old friend, John Newton, persuaded him that his political life could be used for the service of God. He began to be concerned to reform the morals of the socially elite. He wrote a book calling on the upper classes to regain true Christian values in their lives. The book sold widely for over forty years.
His greatest political efforts were for those caught in the vice of slavery. British ships were carrying black slaves from Africa to the West Indies as goods to be bought and sold. Wilberforce began his campaign to abolish the slave trade in 1798. Through his efforts, along with members of the "Clapham Sect," the slave trade was abolished after eighteen years of hard work.
Following this victory, Wilberforce began to work for the abolition of slavery itself. Three days before he died in 1833, he heard that the House of Commons had passed the law which emancipated all the slaves in Britain's colonies. Later, through the influence of his crusade against slavery in England, America would also free her slaves.
Wilberforce was concerned not only for the abolition of slavery, but worked for "the relief of boy chimney sweeps," was instrumental in opening up India to Christian missionaries and worked in founding the British and Foreign Bible Society.
Wilberforce, at his death, was honoured by the nation in being buried at Westminster Abbey and having a statue erected in his memory.
Our thanks to Barbara Cross, Mission to the World, Chelmsford, England
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