(PCM) Occasionally it’s good to take a look at your book shelf or shelves and think “What haven’t I read that I should have read a long time ago?” Such was the case with Eric Metaxas book Amazing Grace. The book came out as a tie in to the film that was made in 2007. Having seen the film I bought the book as William Wilberforce captivated me at the time. Then as happens often, I never got around to reading it. A mistake I now regret.
Wilberforce was the driving force behind the campaign to end the slave trade and to end slavery itself in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. He was born August 24, 1759 and died July 29, 1833. He was a small man of stature but a great orator and his voice still rings down the centuries today. This is because what he started still has its effects on all of us.
Wilberforce began his career in Parliament in his twenties. He was known as a great wit and had a wonderful singing voice both of which endeared him to many people. He was also a bit of party boy and enjoyed cards and drinking. He belonged to five of the most prestigious clubs in London and was well liked. He was best friends with William Pitt who would soon become the youngest Prime Minister in English History. But Wilberforce’s personality would soon go through what he would refer to as “The Great Change.”
Methodists were not the middle of the road modest church that it is today back in the 17th century. Methodist were, people, much like Saint Francis who had decided to follow Jesus Christ with their whole being. Wilberforce had been exposed to Methodism as a young boy, but his parents took him away from it as fast as possible as being a Methodist was unacceptable at the time. In fact being a sincere follower of Christianity in any form was basically unacceptable. People went to church and gave lip service to God but no one took faith too seriously. In fact it was during his youth that Wilberforce would meet John Newton. The ex-slave ship captain turned Methodist who would pen perhaps the world’s best loved hymn Amazing Grace.
The “Great Change” came for Wilberforce when he began to have multiple discussions with newly made friends about the Bible and Jesus. During these discussions Wilberforce came to acknowledge that Jesus really did come suffer die and rise again for the forgiveness of his sins. With that realization came a complete change in the Wilberforce that was so well known. He resigned from his clubs gave up drinking and gambling and began to chase after his two great goals in life, the abolishment of slavery and the reform of manners.
It is important to note here that Wilberforce continued to be a well-liked young man in society. His new faith made him gleam a little brighter. His wit and his singing voice were still quite good and he made people feel at ease with him. In his entire life he would always have friends from all walks of life.
Manners did not mean the same thing in the 17th and 18th centuries that it means today. Manners did not refer to which fork you ate what with and to say please and thank you. Manners were the way you treated people, period. Manners were about taking care of the poor and the destitute. Prior to Wilberforce most rich people felt that the poor were supposed to be poor and one did not help them.
There were few to no social programs. There was a social ladder and you stayed on the rung you were born on. Wilberforce through use of his seat in Parliament and through the use of his own fortune would change all of that. He set up schools for children. He began homes for women who wanted to get away from prostitution. He set up places for women and children to get the help they needed. He became, in essence, the conscience of England. And because of him the great Victorian Age would come to the world. In fact I think it is safe to say that without Wilberforce the novels of Charles Dickens would never have been written.
Wilberforce, of course is more famous for his relentless work in the abolishment of slavery. This would take his entire life to accomplish. First there was the ending of the trade itself and then there was ending of slavery. It took years for even the ending of the trade which was barbaric. People did not know how slaves were treated. That their own countrymen would sell them out to slave traders who would then transport them in spaces no bigger than a coffin. With little to eat and sanitary conditions non-existent many of the slaves died on the ships before they could be sold. The English people knew nothing about this, in much the same way we today don’t know what really goes on in a slaughter house.
Wilberforce and his friends made people aware and also made people see that they had a voice in government, also new at the time. Petitions were signed people became active and after many years of hard work the abolishment of the slave trade occurred. It would take until just a few weeks before the end of Wilberforce’s life for the emancipation of the English slaves to happen.
Eric Metaxas has written a wonderful book in the telling of the life of William Wilberforce. His prose make you feel as if you were there and you understand the horror that was the salve trade. This is no boring book of dates and facts but the story of a very human man who faced great odds and overcame them. And, though, the book has been out for some years now it is still available for purchase and I highly recommend you do so.
The post Amazing Grace William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery By Eric Metaxas A Review also appeared on PCM Reviews.