One of the great human desires is to have heroes, people we look up to and get inspired by. Heroes push us to become better, strive for greatness, and inspire us throughout our daily lives.
One of my heroes is William Wilberforce and my husband and I have even named one of our cats Wilberforce (or Wilby for short). This not only provides a doorway for talking about who William Wilberforce was and how awesome he was but also provides a lot of comedy as we contrast the differences between cat Wilberforce and human Wilberforce. I’m pretty sure William Wilberforce never had to be told off for biting one of his siblings or got told how adorable his fuzzy little face was!
I’m writing this piece on William Wilberforce to not only talk about his major life work — abolishing slavery (which was amazing!) — but also the many other surprising things he accomplished in his life.
William Wilberforce’s conversion
William was born in 1759 and he went into Parliament in 1780 (at the young age of 21!) but it wasn’t until 1785/86 that he became converted and started wholeheartedly living out his life for Jesus (as opposed to following the rules and appearances of Christianity as his society did in general).
John Newton, the former slave trader — turned pastor, had a particular influence on him as a young man. John was the one who convinced William that it could be just as noble to serve God by being a politician as by being a church minister.
Surprising accomplishment number one!
William Wilberforce was one of the three founders of the SPCA — he believed, in a time where animals were seen as little more than objects to be used, that people were morally responsible for looking after animals of all kinds. His compassion and care were chiefly for people, but he was also dedicated to promoting the idea of the compassionate care for animals.
Surprising accomplishment number two!
He was instrumental in ensuring the new British colony in Australia had a godly, mission-hearted chaplain. John Newton knew the importance of the new colony having a chaplain, but it needed to be someone who was truly godly and mission-hearted — sadly, something not all the chaplains in England were. He discussed this with William, who then discussed it with his close friend William Pitt, the prime minister, and between them and some others they managed to get the wonderful chaplain Richard Johnson to become Australia’s first pastor.
Surprising accomplishment number three!
He was in the group that campaigned for the protection and preservation of Māori society. The treatment of Māori people by the English had many flaws but the fact that a treaty was agreed upon at all is remarkable! The English mindset up till then had been the same as the Roman mindset — “veni vidi vici — I came, I saw, I conquered.” The fact that the English initiated a treaty by which the English and the Māori would become one people, share the land, and both have protections under English law was in large part thanks to William Wilberforce and the members of the Clapham sect — a group for advancing social reform.
Surprising accomplishment number four!
The fact that William Wilberforce was the main drive behind the abolition of slavery is not too surprising, it is what he is best known for. He tirelessly campaigned over decades for the abolition of slavery and the rights of all people to be free. It may be surprising, however, that Wilberforce was also involved in the establishment of the first free colony of former slaves and he supported them financially!
Surprising accomplishment number five!
William Wilberforce not only dedicated his life to living out and promoting God’s way of living by using his power, time, energy, and money, but he was also a devoted husband and loving father of six children. He did all this while also suffering a series of serious health issues throughout his life. He would never give up on doing what was right even if it came at great personal cost. Through God’s grace he managed to accomplish a truly staggering amount of things that resonate in society to this day!
Faith in action
William Wilberforce is a true example of what it means to follow Jesus. Once he understood the calling God places on Christians to wholeheartedly follow him with every part of their life, he threw himself into it. He not only talked the talk but used every resource God had blessed him with to further God’s kingdom and spread God’s word with all people everywhere.
I am incredibly moved and inspired by this man and I only hope God enables me to be as wholly and sincerely devoted to him as William Wilberforce was.
“There are four things that we ought to do with the Word of God — admit it as the Word of God, commit it to our hearts and minds, submit to it, and transmit it to the world.” — William Wilberforce.
Jessica McPherson’s previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jessica-mcpherson.html
Jessica McPherson lives with her best friend and husband, Eoin and their family of rescue animals in Christchurch. She loves reading, writing, photography and scrap-booking but most of all sharing God’s love and truth with a hurting world. Jessica is particularly passionate about encouraging children and building them up in gospel truth.