I recently finished reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace. This dynamic man was a major influence behind the abolition of the slave trade in England and her colonies in the latter part of the 1700’s and early part of the 1800’s. It was fascinating to read about his early life, his conversion to Christianity as a young man, and his long and dogged fight to end the slave trade no matter the cost. I also found it interesting to gain a better understanding about the time in which he lived. Wilberforce’s lifetime spanned the same time period that Jane Austen’s novels were set in. When I read Austen, life often seems very peaceful, very serene, and very, very proper (although Mansfield Park does touch on some seedier themes of that era, including the slave trade). Reading this made me realize that there were all kinds of social problems in that time, many wicked things that were tolerated, and a very critical attitude towards true Biblical Christianity (as opposed to just ‘church-going’). I have a tendency to want to idealize the “good old days”, but really the world was not really a better place back then. This makes Wilberforce’s story even more applicable and inspirational to us today – who is going to stand boldly for Truth as he did?
These are the words inscribed upon Wilberforce’s tomb in Westminster Abbey, which Metaxas notes were probably penned by his friend Thomas Macaulay. Oh to leave such a legacy!:
To the memory of
(Born in Hull August 24th 1759, Died in London July 29th 1833;)
For nearly half a century a member of the House of Commons,
And, for six Parliaments during that period, one of the two representatives for Yorkshire.
In an age and country fertile in great and good men,
He was among the foremost of those who fixed the character of their times
because to high and various talents to warm benevolence, and to universal candour,
He added the abiding eloquence of a Christian life.
Eminent as he was in every department of public labour, and a leader in every work of charity,
Whether to relieve the temporal or the spiritual wants of his fellow men
His name will ever be specially identified with those exertions which, by the blessing of God,
Removed from England the guilt of the African slave trade, and prepared the way for the abolition of slavery in every colony of the Empire:
In the prosecution of these objects, he relied, not in vain, on God;
But in the progress, he was called to endure great obloquy and great opposition:
He outlived, however, all his enmity:
And, in the evening of his days, withdrew from public life and public observation to the bosom of his family.
Yet he died not unnoticed or forgotten by his country:
The peers and commons of England, with the Lord Chancellor, and the speaker at their head,
Carried him to his fitting place among the mighty dead around, here to repose:
Till, through the merits of Jesus Christ, his only Redeemer and Savior,
(Whom, in his life and in his writings he had desired to glorify,)
He shall rise in the resurrection of the just.
~Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace
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