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The Story of William Wilberforce and His Campaign to End Slavery

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 29, 2022 3:05 am

The Story of William Wilberforce and His Campaign to End Slavery

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 29, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Eric Metaxas tells the story of the man who, perhaps more than any other, stirred the conscience of the world to see the horror and evil of slavery, William Wilberforce.

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Some of our favorites slavery. To this day remains one of the ugliest plots in the long history of humanity can be traced back as early as 4000 BC manner, perhaps more than any other stir the conscience of the world about this evil was William Wilberforce's efforts help bring liberty to untold millions in his persistence and conviction influenced major change in thinking in the history of the world to Eric for taxes of the New York Times best-selling author Bonhoeffer Martin Luther and amazing grace is biography amazing Grace William Wilberforce and the heroic campaign to end slavery was the official companion book to the feature film also titled amazing Grace would like to thank architect is for allowing us to share his story with our listeners and were telling the story because in this day in 1833 William Wilberforce died years. Eric with a remarkable story of William Wilberforce.

This story Wilberforce is kind of funny because once you know the story you're embarrassed he didn't know it before, and that happened to me over and over with the characters I write about that you think this is so important, how I live this long. I miss this because this is so important. Let's put it this way. He's most famous if you have heard anything about them. He is the man who in Parliament in 1807 had the victory over the slave trade in the British Empire right now a lot of people know it, but that was it was the slave trade and slavery or whatever while the slave trade just to make it clear it's it's a really weird thing right because in America we had slavery here so you saw in front of you, but in England they had a huge slave trade, but they didn't have any slaves in England what they would do was they would send these ships from the four harbors really was three of their major four harbors that in the ships would go down to the West Coast of Africa pick up the human cargo and then they would take it across to the west Indies and all the sugar plantations with their so they would then take molasses and whatever back to England. Nobody in England ever saw what was going on. They just knew that their economies booming and whatever most English people didn't know that they are participating in a satanic slave trade. They just knew the economy is good we get sugar and RTM and that kind of stuff you know and so Wilberforce believed that if he ended the slave trade.

Slavery would go away. So let me just start at the beginning he was born in 1759 into a family that really was wealthy.

They were merchants, but the funny thing when I tell the story and and I have to say again, I do know this either right and I like a guy who knows a lot of stuff as I they'll write a book about this. I just knew that this man had led the battle to end the slave trade to be the hero can't write a book about them when I wrote the book, I discovered all kinds of stuff I did know, for example, when he grew up in the middle part of the 1700s. Okay he's born in 1759, England was nominally Christian. Okay, officially Christian, but do I need to tell you that if you have a booming slave trade. You're not that Christian there a lot of countries that are officially Christian that don't behave very Christian okay you could talk about Germany 1930s. I wrote about Dietrich Bonhoeffer journey was officially Lutheran. Right.

Well everybody were German or Lutheran great except they're not living it out if you don't understand that you know hating Jews is not part of God's plan or speaking against Nazi's that were enough you don't get that how Christian are you okay, so a lot of people to be Christian in name only, or sometimes Christians are Christians, more than a name only, but not nearly where God wants them to be so people can all reconcile all kinds of wicked behavior, but in England at this time.

You could really say that they really were Christian in name only when they said were Christian amines were not Turks were not Muslims were not atheists were not Buddhists were not. We were not Jews were Christians. Well, they didn't behave as Christians now. The irony is that America today is not officially Christian were not officially anything, but I would say when you're not officially something you have the freedom to really be Christian because when it's enforced by the government is go well on my birth certificate.

It just says that on this and you know and you don't get it. It's not you don't own it. It's not yours.

So everybody in England says I am a Christian because Christian we have the Church of England and the Queen of the King is the defender of the faith. And so when officially Christian nation. But something happened in the previous century in the 1600s up in some religious wars and so the culture of England. Not that it ever was tremendously Christian but in the 18th century, they began to retreat from robust faith of any kind in the pulpits were preaching what you call French Enlightenment rationalism right French Enlightenment rationalism means we believe in you know there's a God up there some place but were not. We don't believe in Jesus in the Bible.

So England is officially Christian, but they're not living it out at all. So Wilberforce is born in the middle of the century into a family that has it has a good amount of money. But just like all the elites in particular in that century. They look down on anybody. What serious Christian faith. If you think that the 18th century. You have the great awakening because of the preaching of George Whitfield and because of the preaching of the the Wesley brothers John and Charles Wesley you have this revival, but is only among the poor, mainly the elites looked down on the poor and they look down on anybody. What serious Christian faith. In fact they call them Methodist are sort of making fun of the fact that the Wesley's when they got saved at Oxford University. They pick they became served so obsessed with religion and prayer and stuff that they said the very methodical, so they made fun of Michael, the Methodists and of course they eventually took as a badge of honor, but the Brits also said if you're really no serious about God and all that stuff.

You're an enthusiast flexing a holy roller a Bible thumper the whole culture look down on it so the elites were really hostile to any of this Christian faith and so throughout the culture you don't have much Christian faith, and when we come back story of William Wilberforce with Eric for taxes here on our American story during our American stories we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith and love stories from a great and beautiful country need to be told we can't do it without you are stories are free to listen to with her not free to make you love are stories in America like we do. Please.

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He was the slave trader who became a Christian and then became a preacher he would visit this home and little Wilberforce thought of him like like a father figure andů Wonderful time, but in the mother and the grandfather being classic elites of that date. When they discovered this about two and half years into this.

They were horrified, like he been kidnapped by occult you know those Christians their nuts so they bring them back home and they are determined to scrub his soul clean of Methodism.

They don't even let him go on Sundays to their Anglican church because he might hear the Scriptures read and so they do everything they can. He tries to cling to his faith is brilliant young man, he sends letters secret letters via the made to his aunt and uncle. He's trying to cling to his faith but by the time he 16 and goes off to Cambridge University it's it's really evaporated and he's become exactly what they hoped. You know an intelligent insouciant man about town sophisticated, knowing that you know that enthusiast or just way too much. It's not for me.

Well while he is there at Cambridge. He becomes friends with William Pitt the younger, William Pitt the Elder is one of the great statesmen of that time right. He was in the House of Lords, but he was a great political figure and he was training his young son, William Pitt the younger, to be a great statesmen you know memorizing Latin phrases, you know, at his father's knees up so Wilberforce becomes of this merchant background but he meets William Pitt the younger, and they start going together from Cambridge to London to visit the Houses of Parliament to sit in the gallery and watch the debates on the floor below and Wilberforce, 18, 19 years old, is mesmerized by what's going on. He thinks I think I want a life in politics now you know you have to understand what was the debate going on at that time in the House of Lords that he was watching what was about 1776, so this was about the fate of the colonies, I mean this was historical and he says I want to become a politician so he graduates the same time as is friend William Pitt the younger graduates and they immediately get elected to parliament and the two of them rocket up in the ranks of the political order in their early 20s, so that by the time William Pitt the younger is 24 years old. He's elected prime minister of England. Now William Pitt is my minister, but his best friend Wilberforce also gets his incredibly powerful position and they become very powerful figures there and the members of all the top gentlemen's clubs and their their pictures are in the papers is not true. There's no photography okay 1780. I tricked you. Can you imagine all this comes to him and then one day he decides because the other recess from parliament is months long. He wants to take a long vacation. His mother's health. You know was not so good, so they thought.

All we need to go to the French and Italian Riviera's flick for the climate so this is a trip. Can you imagine to go from England all the way across the continent with you know horses with the coach to the southern part of France is a vast journey. Okay, so his mother was in a travel and a coach with her cousin and he was to travel in coach with a friend. So he picks a friend a friend can calm and nice as well.

I need somebody to be very boring so he stumbles on old schoolmates who is my favorite character in the book and the story. His name is Dr. Isaac Milner and Isaac Milner was a physical giant. I don't know how big he was but he was everybody just he was a giant of a man now because funny or anything. Wilberforce was literally 5 foot two and at one point during his illness. He weighed 76 pounds, so he picks Milner now Milner was not just famous for being a giant. He was probably literally the smartest man in England at the time he was yet a location chair in chemistry or physics.

I forget at Cambridge okay.

Isaac Newton, who invented calculus and and Stephen Hawking who did best way you know they have this lifetime appointment so it's super smart people, smartest people in the world. So that's Isaac Milner. Okay, so not only is a super genius, but he also was famous for being a teller of comic stories, funny stories, and so I think who could possibly be a better companion and they decide, okay were to go together and it wouldn't take this trip across the continent is to be months you know take to get to get there and months to come back so they go on the journey and we are talking about everything. Wilberforce was a fascinating conversationalist himself and very witty and they got just far enough that they can't turn back on how far that is five and a mile something like that in the subject of religion comes up into Wilberforce's horror Isaac Milner reveals that he is a Methodist any kind of try to crack some jokes to combat it away but Milner says no no no no I think you know you're you're above that Mr. Wilberforce I think you know if you like of a serious conversation we we should so they have a serious conversation and I always picture this giant Milner crushing Wilberforce's intellectual objections like walnuts and his big meaty boiler and on throwing the shells out the window as the as the miles go by. He's just one by one, and Wilberforce, to his credit, was intellectually honest. Okay.

What a lot of people today would just go down here Wilberforce thought if you're making the case and you're right I'm stuck in by the time of this trip, ending. He knows that he's been wrong that the Bible is true that Jesus as his Lord and Savior.

There's no way out. Amen.

It's true, but when he gets back to London. He's very bummed out because he knows the world in which he has been traveling easement to these five gentlemen's clubs with a stay out drinking and and and singing in gambling and joking till four and five in the morning and that whole life you realize I can't do that anymore. I probably have to leave politics where my going to do.

He was not happy so he goes to visit his old friend John Newton.

Remember I said he when he was a little boy he befriended and then seen in all these years and I imagine John Nunez been praying for him.

Can you imagine that this guy that you knew back then. Has no drift away from the faith and eyes on most powerful people in England so he goes like Nicodemus secretly to meet John Newton asked him what do I do, but he didn't want people to see him going there because he was so famous at this point the people seem going other than a know something's up so he goes her secretly and John Newton says to him, I think God would call you to bring him into politics and to let him use you as a top political figure for his purposes in history at this time Wilberforce to his credit, accepts this and he says even those can be hard even on would be mocked by these elites. I believe this is God. And so he decides to stay in politics, but to pray and study the Scripture and other books about Lord, what would you have me do so. Two years into his faith. He writes in his journal to 20 famous words. I remember what they are, but there's 20 of them just just kidding. I do this so basically he writes these words in his diary, and these are the 20 words.

He says God Almighty has set before me to great objects.

Okay God has set before me easy didn't say this is my idea. He believes that the Lord has called him to these two great objects of his life. The suppression of the slave trade, which is basically impossible and if that's not enough, the reformation of manners or morals or culture which is described as O and everything else in my goodness what a storyteller we have on hand, the greater Texas.

We continue with this great story here on our American stores and then we continue here with our American stories and the story of William Wilberforce, who died in this day in history in 1833 and by the way, we told the story of British history because periodically what happens across the pond is either happening here or will soon happen here, and vice versa. And of course the abolition movement. Here in this country. In the 19th century, respond in large part by Christians and indeed they were pursuing the same kind of justice Wilberforce was pursuing McNamara's division was God's justice and now let's return to the story. The untold story into many of our schools and colleges of William Wilberforce. I don't guy I share the statistics but it was such a broken culture that you don't just have this abomination called slavery and the slave trade.

You also have a lack of Christian worldview evident in everything nobody cared for the poor.

Imagine living in a world today.

We argue about how to care for the poor, not whether we all know, of course, are supposed to do something to help people are struggling. The question is what matters is where Woody says no were not. And we are and give a thought.

The reason you're poor is because you make better decisions and tough luck.

It's not my problem and reason riches because God likes me and he's blessed me. Imagine having that worldview that is the opposite of a Christian worldview. Is it not God tells us we are blessed to be a blessing if God is giving you anything time, money, talent, good looks doesn't matter what it is. If it's good and he gave it to you. He gave it to you for his purposes. So imagine living will or not. He knows that living a roller because that's where I have that's good. It's for me so Wilberforce grows up in a world like that. He becomes a Christian, and the first thing he sees through his Christian eyes is the slave trade is evil.

Okay, is God calling me to that well. Two years into this faith, he realizes God is calling me in parliament to be above voice in politics for this issue. There's been a lot serious Christians, Methodists, born-again believers who knew this was an issue, but they had no political power there, praying for a figure in parliament. So Wilberforce steps up says yes, but in the everything else is the brokenness of the culture beyond the horror of the slave trade. There was child labor little kids working, six, seven years old in dangerous conditions.

14 hours a day. Imagine that, poverty with no rules against that alcoholism was utterly rampant in the culture level.

We can even imagine some of you might be familiar with the Hogarth Prince of Jean Allie.

I mean these people just absolutely lost in poverty and misery, dying of young ages of all kinds of diseases unable to raise their kids. This was absolutely endemic in this culture, 25% of all the women in London who were single were prostitutes was a type at the men in that culture.

The average age of the prostitutes was 16. That's the average age when Wilberforce comes a Christian and sees through God's eyes.

He sees all this and he realizes God is calling me to step up to use my talent, the power, he's he's allowed me to have my abilities my networks of friends that I know to work for God's purposes so he writes this in his journal. The other fact, if you want to know how sick the culture was Wilberforce said this culture is so far away from God. Even though because is officially Christian. He said he wanted to make goodness fashionable. Another was it was fashionable was the cool thing to be bad right we see that in our culture right, we what we call as I will. He's a player okay who was the leading figure in the land. In this time it was the man who is gonna be King George IV. Okay, the eldest son of King George III was the Prince of Wales. Who's gonna be the king. He was famous for being immoral. So in that culture. The greatest guy.

There is who's gonna be the king.

That's how he behaves. Wilberforce is often an uphill climb. He says I want to make goodness fashionable, not that kind of behavior only goodness fashionable. I want people to know that doing good is the right thing. So he's facing all of this he's born again and the first thing of course the thing that is most famous for is the huge battle for the slave trade any fights and fights and fights. He fights for 18 years.

It's a brutal battle. If you read the book. Honestly, you realize of God doesn't call you to the battle.

You know the enemy will just chew you up.

You need to know this is God's battle, you need to know here to obey not to win. I play to win. But I ultimately am here to obey God because Jesus obeyed God and he was nailed to a tree bought offer obeyed God and he was hanged, winning it's about obeying God. If you obey God, you are ready. One.

Wilberforce does win, but the battle is unbelievable. He obeys God. He does everything and in 1807 he gets this grand victory. After many years. He also had health issues ulcerative colitis Nami really struggled, but he knew God has called me to this battle, but he also got a call into the battle, the Reformation of manners, of culture, whatever, and he oversaw the transformation of this culture through all kinds of little groups.

He basically was able to speak to the elites of the time and that you know of a wealthy woman with nothing really to do was suddenly now thinking that all when I get together with the other wealthy women and and and we can do something for the poor.

They began to get this idea in these elite circles that we need to do something for those who can't help themselves. He had a group of friends around him. I call them the Clapham circles. Sometimes the call the Clapham Saints or whatever, but one of this group was John Thorton. He was the head of the Bank of England. He was one of the wealthiest people in Europe. He decides to use his money for God's purposes, and so he builds a couple of houses so that these people he invites and what where you live will live in a kind of community and will pray together in the mornings and will will meet together and will be part of what God can do in England. It's an amazing story, really, of how many different people got involved were my favorite figures. Imagine Isaac Miller there is a woman named Hannah more and she's one of the great figures of this era.

She's a literary figure. She was friends with the famous actors David Garrick a and that the famous poets and the famous painters Josh Reynolds. She was part of that world and she like Wilberforce had a heart for God and and she's thinking and how can God use me in the Lord used her in her gifting's and one of the most amazing she did was she said in writing all these books and poems and stuff I need to write literature for poor people who don't know how to live stories that help them with morality stories to help them think about their lives and then she found it a Sunday school because the rural poor are getting zero education and she said I'm going to start educating them and educating them in the things of God to give all these different characters who have different pieces of this and they start to fan out through the culture and they start to change things so you have a huge victory in 1807, but Wilberforce went on to either lead or be a part of innumerable social reforms eyes Guinness.

My dear friend who really introduced me to the life of Wilberforce considers Wilberforce the greatest social reformer in history now all that he did.

He did because of Jesus because he understands Jesus changes everything.

It is I'll just get saved about saving other people we get saved but then were still here.

We'll go straight to heaven. Were we supposed to do, save other people yeah yeah that's part of it but were supposed also serve God in our gifts and and care for the poor, care for the slaves if you say I just preach the gospel only involved in politics where everything will you don't care what the slaves rotting in the hold of the slave ship.

If you don't care about them.

You are missing Jesus in his heart and what gospel are you gonna preach and so Bono forgets that racism not just to pray to get involved in the plot to overthrow out of Hitler because millions of people are being murdered.

When we come back we'll get to hear more from this remarkable storyteller and you're listening to Eric the taxes told the story of William Wilberforce should be taught in every school.

Of course it's not. And that's why we tell you the stories that we tell you because no one else is telling when we come back more of the life of William Wilberforce.

This is our American stores and we returned to our American stories and the story of William Wilberforce, told by one of America's great storytellers and writers Eric with Texas.

Let's pick up with Eric where he last left off. So Wilberforce after the abolition of slavery in 1807 he gets involved in all these things. One of them is abolition itself because they saw as time passed, that the abolition of the slave trade is not ending slavery and so he gets involved in abolition. Another thing he did which there is a chapter in my book. He should be famous for this to most people don't even know this heat he considered it next to the slavery issue.

The most important thing he ever did, and this might sound odd at first but it was to get missionaries into India. Think of this, the British were making tons of money in India, but they were not concerned about the lives of the Indians. They just thought let's just go there and will make our money and we have any responsibilities. Wilberforce says yes you do. Wilberforce read in the paper. How in India when usually a wealthy man dies, he's burned on a funeral pyre. His body is burned on a funeral pyre and along with his body burned on the funeral pyre. His living window is burned to death on the funeral pyre. Wilberforce would read this and be outraged and say we are there we are needing. We are English people are there in India making tons of money if the do we not have responsibility to help these women and to tell them that we don't care what your customs are, by the way. In England we have a custom when you do that to woman. We hang you to death.

You have your customs. We are going to bring our values, our Western Christian values that you don't murder a woman because her husband died working to bring these values that we need missionaries there. And of course the business interest, nothing changes that make a lot of money. They didn't want missionaries there because it of missionaries come here to India. The bigger mess up a good thing we got a good thing going on there. Were there, you know there were men there that would have you know five or six teenage wives hanging out. I want missionaries come here. Wilberforce fought and fought but by the time he died in 1833 you're on the verge of what's called the Victorian era the Victorian era is famous for what morality it became what he had prayed for. He made goodness fashionable, so by the time he dies everybody in England knows if I have something probably. I'm supposed to do something good with it. I can imagine we live in a day to day where everybody knows that.

Why do we know that we know that this was incredible to me is because William Wilberforce and his group of friends managed to import these gospel ideas into the mainstream of the culture and they did so successfully that it became part of the warp and woof of Western culture so that anybody in the West today knows slavery is wrong.

Racism is wrong if there people suffering in poverty or this or that we have some obligation to do something the social conscience can imagine living in a world with no social conscience. Wilberforce brought the idea of helping the poor and all this into the mainstream. So today, as I said, we argue about how to do it, not whether to do it.

He was on his deathbed. By the way, when he received word this was his last day of consciousness.

A young member of Parliament in 1833 comes to the bed of Wilberforce to tell him today in Parliament. We have just voted to outlaw slavery, not the slave trade, which was defeated in 1807, but in 1833 to defeat slavery and wipe it out in all of the British Empire.

Can you imagine that the Lord gave him this victory on his deathbed and our hours before he slips into unconsciousness. His life changed things so dramatically because everybody today is a social conscience. We can even imagine a world without us winning the thing about the guy who kinda made it happen were like what we talk about is a guy made oxygen happen. It's always been here. I don't even know. I don't even know what you're talking about. We can imagine that because this happened over 200 years ago roughly 200 years ago, but it's been part of the West, ever since we know that were blessed to be a blessing every atheist, every agnostic will know this stuff we did it come from, came from the gospel of Jesus Christ and was not brought into the mainstream of culture until William Wilberforce was called by God to do those things before he closes with a couple things that he did that with part of how he was able to do this, I mentioned that you have to be called. Sometimes people just called to be a good spouse, a good father, good mother. That's more than enough said about saving the world. Wilberforce did what God called him to do humbly, so that's important. The second thing is, it will perforce had humility that he was able to love his enemies. Wilberforce knew the apart from the grace of God, on the other side of this battle so I can get all cocky and you know morally superior because why am I in the right side of the battle. I didn't work my way here the Lord by revelation gave me the gift of seeing what I was blind to before, so he had humility and love in the way that he dealt with his opponents. That is very powerful.

Wilberforce was able to speak to the people on the fence with the grace that a lot of them were able change their minds because of how he communicated he had the ability because of his wit and sarcasm to wipe the floor with his opponents when he became a Christian he no longer did that even though he could.

He didn't do it.

There was a grace to him. Wilberforce also understood that I need to have people around me for him was his Clapham circle people, brothers and sisters who are with me on the journey.

Maybe not do exactly what I'm doing but encouraging me praying with me he would say that it's this friends in Clapham. He never could have done what he did but then in a way to final point is that he was willing to work with his enemies and others. There were people in Parliament who were no dissolute swine. Okay, people were womanizers and drunkards and all is because the Wilberforce said I will work with you if we can help and the slave trade because I care more about the suffering slaves than I do about my reputation Wilberforce that I care about the slave.

And if I'm gonna have to break bread with sinners.

Coincidentally, someone is a hero of mine, Jesus of Nazareth broke bread with sinners, so maybe it's okay to break bread with sinners. If you don't care about the slaves.

It's very easy to say about our work with the Charles Fox in Parliament.

He's a horribly immoral person, but if you care about the slaves see The people suffering a wall. I know that I'm morally no different than Charles Fox. Maybe I can be an influence on him. I will not let him be an influence on me, but if he will work with me on this issue. Of course I will work with him, that takes humility and it also takes perspective that Jesus was reviled by the religious leaders of his day for hanging out with tax collectors who are the scum of the earth and sinners and drunkards and whatever. That's why Wilberforce is such a hero of mine, not because he accomplish these things, but because e-commerce them by obeying God, and by giving us a model in life in history a real model not like no blown smoke here. This is all true and this is just the peaks of the mountains here, but that one life submitted to God can sometimes be just so dramatically effective that it's an inspiration to each of us and you been listening to Eric Texas one life submitted to God, my goodness, what a difference it can make and we know this from our story of Martin Luther King Dr. Martin Luther King we are.

We did was on Rev. Martin Luther King and it was his faith in animated everything he did was the Bible with animated everything he did don't need to be a Christian or a Jew or an atheist or an agnostic not to know that that was the reality of King's life and the impact he had on America in the 20th century, perhaps no other man have the impact King at and we thank Eric for taxes for just a remarkable piece of writing and storytelling and amazing grace is one heck of a book and one heck of a movie a great movie for the family to watch and again we tell these stories because no one else does the guy ask yourself or wonder why schools don't teach the story much for you to ponder my goodness, but just days before he died, but Wilberforce learned that not only that, he abolished the slave trade.

Impact the decision of the British Parliament to abolish slavery in its entirety in all of the British Empire and the reason we tell the story about this British man is his impact on the American colonies in the American continent because the impact his life had on Christians in this country is inestimable in my goodness, the abolition movement, but we know that it was Christians who drove in the North and it was their faith that drove in the north and these are stories that need to be told stories.

We love telling here on our American stories were blessed to be a blessing for taxes said and by the way, we are now all of us talking about the poor faith people or not faith people all good people today think and talk about how to help the poor. But before Wilberforce. This just wasn't common it was. See poverty is a series of bad choices.

The poor person made animate mercy and grace not be shown the story of William Wilberforce died on this day in history in 1833. Here on our American stores


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