Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce: A Must Read for Today's Generation
In just over 50 pages, John Piper gives a biographical study of William Wilberforce's life that I believe reveals the true heart behind the member of Parliament who fought for 46 years (1787-1833) to abolish the slave trade and then slavery in the British Empire. Piper shows us not only what he accomplished during his remarkable life, but seeks to go "behind the scenes" to what drove the man: A steadfast joy in God rooted in the Gospel. John Piper quotes often from Wilberforce's own book, A Practical View of Christianity, to give motives behind the actions. Piper reveals the the true Wilberforce, a view that you likely won't get from textbooks and that will be minimized in secular biographies. The great turning point for William Wilberforce was when God saved him as a young self-centered member of Parliament in 1785; that same grace that saved him sustained him and drove him toward incredible perseverance and accomplishment in many varied causes of social good.
This book is needed today. Toward making Christianity practical and relevant to today's culture and today's needs, many are quickly moving to jettison doctrine and even truth. Seeing so many professing Christians do so little to help the poor, sick, the voiceless in the world (an inexcusable omission that the Church must work to remedy), many say that we need a more Christian morals and less Christian doctrine. Here's what Wilberforce would have to say to that:
"From the neglect of these peculiar doctrines (human depravity, divine judgment, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit and devotion to good deeds - p. 22) arise the main practical errors of the bulk of professed Christians. These gigantic truths retained in view would put to shame the littleness of their dwarfish morality." (p. 71)
"It is a fatal habit to consider Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines." p. 72
Wilberforce took on a large number of initiatives for social good, but behind them all he realized that if one is to have a lasting influence for good he must deal with the root of the problems. Therefore, he attacked sin in himself and his nation not first and foremost as a societal problem. He commented that most of the Christians in England estimated the guilt of an action "not by the proportion in which, according to scripture, [actions] are offensive to God, but by that in which they are injurious to society" (p. 23). Likewise, the greatest good in his aims was the salvation of souls, not just the meeting of needs and the application of justice here on earth.
William Wilberforce accomplished many social goods, it could be argued that in human history he was one of those who accomplished most. He is one that we should all look to in order to emulate him in his diligence, his joy in God, his love, and his doctrine.
I pray that those, like me, who are dissatisfied with the inactivity of the church against the social ills of today would read this book. There are many liberal "Christians" with a sin-minimizing, self-glorifying, truth-questioning, doctrine-denying "gospel" promising a better morality, a better Christianity. Don't buy the lies. Run to the God of Wilberforce, learn the doctrines that drove him because then and only then will you make a lasting difference. Wilberforce says it well:
"The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment. (p. 8)