February is black history month. I often wonder what it would have been like to be a pastor during the struggle for Civil Rights under Martin Luther King Jr. I have been to his church in Alabama and have read all I can about that time period that wasn’t all that long ago. Sometimes I ponder on the American Civil War, I sit and think if I were Pastor of Preaching Christ Church then, where would we land on such critical issues? Would I preach for justice?
I pray that if I had been alive during those seasons of struggle for freedom, that I would have chosen to stand against public opinion and labored with those who believed in equality. I have the highest admiration for those who fought for the oppressed and spoke for those without a voice.
The Slave Trade Industry was just a part of society for people living in the 18th Century, most never considered the horrendous conditions of those living as slaves, especially the young William Wilberforce. He was born into a wealthy family August 24, 1759. Receiving his education from St. John’s (Cambridge), he decided to enter politics at age 21, being elected to Parliament in 1780.
Wilberforce was soundly converted to evangelical Christianity in 1785 through the Anglican Church. This was a significant turning point as God would set a course, not only for his life, but for the entire nation. He wasn’t sure if he could remain a Christian and still remain in politics. His spiritual mentor was none other than John Newton, that great giant of the faith who was once a slave trader himself, who after receiving the rich grace of salvation, wrote our beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace.” He helped William see the influence he could have within parliament as a Christ-follower against the Slave Trade Industry. William wrote, “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition.”
Now assured of God’s calling to politics, he said, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” Although he was small of stature and frail because of various ailments, often being bedridden for weeks at a time, God raised him up as a “lighting rod” before Parliament to lead the way for the abolition of slavery in England.
The fight for freedom would be long and bitter. The Abolitionist had to decide which to attack first, the institution of slavery or the profitable Slave Trade Industry. They chose Slave Trade. William made his first argument against the evils of the Trade to Parliament in May 1789. The members of Parliament scoffed at him as the Trade was considered vital to England’s economy. The bill didn’t even come up for vote until two years later. It lost by a landslide, 163 to 88.
William and his Abolitionists remained steadfast even though the entire decade of the 1790’s would seem unfruitful for the Cause. They tried educating the public through pamphlets, books, rallies and petitions.
Breakthrough came 18 long years later. On February 23, 1807, Parliament voted to end the Slave Trade, it passed by a nearly 18 to 1 margin. The bill to end Slave Trade became law in March 25, 1807. While they won the victory over the battle of slave trade, the war was far from over. Even though this bill abolished the Trade, it did not grant freedom to those who were already living under slavery.
Failing health caused Wilberforce to resign from politics in 1825. However, he remained active in promoting the Abolition of Slavery in England. He passed his leadership onto the younger generation, who was just a passionate to see slavery end. At age 71, he made his last public appearance to the Anti-Slavery Society in 1830.
The Slavery Abolition Bill passed on July 26, 1833. William died 3 days later. The victory had been won. This statesmen and great humanitarian was buried near his life-long friend, William Pitt, England’s youngest Prime Minister, in Westminster Abbey. The Slavery Abolition Bill became law in England on August 29, 1833, nearly one year later, on July 31, 1834, all 800,000 slaves in the British Empire was “Free at Last!”
Wilberforce made many other contributions to England as he set to “renew society.” He joined Hannah More in a social project Association for a Better Observance of Sunday, in which they provided all children with regular education in reading, personal hygiene and religion. He was a member of the Royal Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals. He was also instrumental in encouraging Christian missionaries to go to India.
The world is changed because of William Wilberforce. To learn more about slavery in the 21st Century and the abolition of slavery in 2011, I encourage you to visit, www.thea21campaign.org.
To learn more about Pastor Chad Roberts, visit www.preachingchristchurch.com
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