On this date, July 26, 1833, three days before William Wilberforce died, friends informed him that a bill to abolish slavery had passed its second reading in Parliament, which meant it would pass.
Wilberforce, in reply, stated, “Thank God, that I should have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the abolition of slavery!”
Wilberforce had virtually given his entire life in Parliament working for the abolishment of slavery in the British Empire, 40 years and up until his retirement in 1825. When he retired, his goals had come short. He would have to wait another 8 years to experience its abolishment.
Lessons: (1) Gospel-centered ministries and missions are right, and they are worth giving our lives to. (2) Although all gospel-centered ministries are right, some are called and gifted to lead the way as theses ministries are undertaken, while all are to be engaged in one way or another. (3) Many of the ministries to which God calls us will live long after we have completed our ministries, and some long after we have been ushered into glory, which means it is important we are and remain grounded in the gospel, and we have a longer view of God’s work in the world.
Wilberforce had not always been opposed to slavery. His conversion was the ground of this change. In fact, after his conversion he wondered if politics was the best arena in which to serve the Lord. Through the help and guidance of others, including John Newton, he believed it was indeed a place he could and would serve the Lord. Although slavery was not the only issue he took up in Parliament, it was one of the most important.
Lessons: (1) Being given new life, one receives a new heart, which results in new loves – loving what God loves – and new hates –hating what God hates, new passions and new callings. (2) Although the vocational calling may be the same as prior to one’s new spiritual birth, the motivation changes. It is no longer personal kingdom building. Instead, everything one does is done in the power and strength God provides, and it is done by his grace and for his glory, leaving an aroma of Christ. (3) When we both give and receive counsel, remember God calls first to himself, captures the converted, and then pours them out to serve in his name and for his glory. For Christians there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, as everything one does is as onto the Lord, all done in his name, by his grace and for his glory, which includes vocational ministry in the church and vocational ministry outside the church.
One of those providing counsel to Wilberforce was John Wesley. In 1791, a mere week before his own death, he counseled Wilberforce regarding the call, cost and compulsion to work toward the abolishment of slavery, writing,
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? O 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.
Encouragement and Exhortation: May we commit and recommit to the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, and may we also commit and recommit to its entailments, racial reconciliation, a manifestation of the gospel.