Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce
by John Piper
Over the last decade the title “politician” has taken on a whole new meaning. The picture that we have in this country of a politician is not all that becoming. The only bipartisan agreement among voters is that politicians are not doing a very good job. In light of these attitudes, the easy thing to do would be to give up. Personally, I have grown quite weary of politics. How can we possibly fix Social Security, or secure our borders, or [insert an issue here]? The answers to these questions may be found in history. The issue was quite different, and the opposition was far greater. But despite the innumerable odds William Wilberforce successfully fought to end slave trade and slavery itself in Britain. One man, firm in his convictions, changed an entire nations and eventually the world. In his book Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, John Piper provides a brief biographical sketch of Wilberforce, and this great high calling. In his youth, Wilberforce was not the man that we know him as today. Quite frankly he was a rich, spoiled, young brat. His immaturity even carried over into his first years in Parliament. As he himself described, “The first years I was in Parliament I did nothing – nothing to any purpose.” However, this all changed as God began to work in Wilberforce’s life. Piper describes the story of Wilberforce’s salvation as “a great story of the providence of God pursuing a person through seemingly casual choices.”
It was through the influence of his close friend, Isaac Milner, that Wilberforce began to soften to the Gospel. And it was through a meeting with the famed evangelical, John Newton, that Wilberforce was strengthened for the task God had prepared for him. Newton wrote to Wilberforce: “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of a nation.” These words would prove to be prophetic.
“Beginning not long after his conversion and lasting until he was married eleven years later, he would now spend his days studying ‘about nine or ten hours a day…’” As Piper astutely points out, “He was setting out to recover a lot of ground lost to laziness in college.” On October 28, 1787, Wilberforce wrote in his diary, “God Almighty has placed me before two great Objects, the Suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [morals].” This is exactly what Wilberforce did. He was ostracized, alienated, and threatened yet through it all he remained unwavering. Finally, “the night – or should I say early morning – of victory came in 1807.” The abolishment of slave trade had passed! “In that… hour Wilberforce turned to his best friend and colleague, Henry Thornton, and said, ‘Well, Henry, what shall we abolish next?’”
The next task Wilberforce set himself to would be the abolishment of slavery itself. Three days before Wilberforce died the slavery was outlawed in the British colonies. Thomas Buxton, who continued Wilberforce’s fight after he retired from Parliament, said, “The day which was the termination of his labors was the termination of his life.”
In addition to the historical information behind these events, Piper goes to great lengths to portray Wilberforce the man. I thoroughly enjoyed this book from cover to cover. The only problem was that at 76 pages there was not a lot of time to enjoy it. This would be a great read for anyone who would like an introduction to the life of William Wilberforce. Additionally, this book would be profitable for young people and children to read. I would highly recommend adding this book to your family’s summer reading list.