“He will my shield and portion be”*
Today on the Episcopal Church calendar is the feast day of the worthy William Wilberforce, English politician, philanthropist and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade.
He was born in 1759 and served in Parliament from 1780 to 1825. A turning point in his religious life came while on a tour of Europe. In the luggage of a travelling companion he saw a copy of William Law’s book, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. He asked his friend, “What is this?” and received the answer, “One of the best books ever written.” The two of them agreed to read it together on the journey, and Wilberforce embarked on a lifelong program of setting aside Sundays and an interval each morning on arising for prayer and religious reading. He considered his options, including the clergy, and was persuaded by Christian friends that his calling was to serve God through politics.
He was a major supporter of programs for popular education, overseas missions, parliamentary reform, and religious liberty. He is best known, however, for his untiring commitment to the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. He introduced his first anti-slavery motion in the House of Commons in 1788, in a three-and-a-half hour oration that concluded: “Sir, when we think of eternity and the future consequence of all human conduct, what is there in this life that shall make any man contradict the dictates of his conscience, the principles of justice and the law of God!”
The motion was defeated. Wilberforce brought it up again every year for eighteen years, until the slave trade was finally abolished on 25 March 1806. He continued the campaign against slavery itself, and the bill for the abolition of all slavery in British territories passed its crucial vote just four days before his death on July 29, 1833. A year later, on July 31, 1834, 800,000 slaves, chiefly in the British West Indies, were set free.
A movie of the life of William Wilberforce, Amazing Grace, was released in 2006. It stars Ioan Gruffudd as Wilberforce.
Also featured are Albert Finney as John Newton, Rufus Sewell as Thomas Clarkson and Benedict Cumberbatch as William Pitt. It is definitely worth watching for many reasons, not the least of which is that Mr. Gruffudd is so darn cute.
*Amazing Grace by John Newton
Information about Wilberforce from Christianitytoday.com.