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Thomas Pringle
 
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William Wilberforce, the man who combated slavery

23 May 2014, 09:38

WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, THE MAN WHO COMBATTED SLAVERY AND HOW GOD INFLUENCED HIM

William Wilberforce is the man who managed to outlaw slavery in the Western World in the 19th century  (it still occurs in other other parts of the world).

This was not easy. There were too many players in the slave trade making far too much money to let the 'industry' die. It took him decades of lobbying in parliament, as well as forming allicances with different parties to do so: too many high and low profile people  were making money out of raiding African villages and kidnapping their populations, and  then shipping them to the Americas to work as indentured labour: the slave hunters, the ship owners, the slave auctioneers, the plantation owners.

A lot of people had sound financial reasons for the slave trade to continue.

The slave trade was evil. People were ripped from their communities and their freedom and transported in horrific condtions to be sold to plantation owners who worked them until they died. Their lives were worth nothing.

Below is an extract extract from “ 7 Men” by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas wrote a biography on Wilberforce,and in the below passage he describes what Wilberforece went through in deciding to combat slavery”

“Perhaps the most obvious sign of Wilberforce’s conversion to the Christian faith was that it changed the way he looked at everything. Suddenly he saw what he was blind to before: that God was a God of justice and Righteousness who would judge us for the way we treated others; that every single human being was made in God’s image and therefore worthy of profound respect and kindness; that God was “ no respector of persons” and looked upon the rich and the poor equally.

Once Wilberforce had come to see that God was real and that God loved everyone, everything was different. Suddenly the idea of the slave trade and slavery itself seemed less an economic necessity than merely monstrous and wicked. Suddenly the idea that poor little children should be forced to work in awful conditions for long hours was disturbing and unacceptable. Suddenly the idea that those who had committed minor crimes  should be thrown in to filthy prisons where they might die of any number of ailment, was something to be remedied. Suddenly the idea that women should sell their bodies so that they could feed themselves or feed their alcohol habit- or the alcohol habit of their pimps- could no longer stand.

For the first time in his life, Wilberforce saw the world through God’s eyes. But he was living in a culture where almost no one thinks his way. So  the task that lay ahead of him was impossible.

How could he do it?

The first thing that must be said in answering this question is that he himself wouldn’t do it. Either God would do it, or it wouldn’t be done. God might use Wilberforce as his instrument, or apart from God, Wilberforce knew that he really could do very little. In his famous diary he wrote that it was “ God Almighty” who had set the  “ two great objects” before him.

So Wilberforce didn’t leap into the fray in his own strength. He first required a deep sense that God had called him to these things- else he would have been overwhelmed, and the many setbacks would have been great discouragement. Because he knew that God had set these objects before him, he knew that the battle was God’s battle, not his. All he had to do was be obedient to what God was asking him to do and to know that God brings victory.

Underscoring this point was a letter that Wilberforce received in 1791 from the great revivalist John Wesley, who was  then eighty seven years old and literally on his deathbed. The letter was written just days before Wesley died, and it seems to have been the last letter he ever wrote. Wesley knew of Wilberforce’s heroic efforts against the slave trade, and  he wrote to him on that very subject:

Dear Sir,

Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum (against the world), I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils.

But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh be not weary  of well doing. Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance, that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being law in all our Colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing . What villainy is this!

The He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,

Your affectionate servant,

John Wesley”

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