Ever since I was in late elementary school, I have been inspired by reading the biographies of great men, men who lived their lives with purpose. The succinct work I’m reviewing today, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper has powerfully inspired me as did many similar stories earlier in my life.
William Wilberforce (1759-1833) is fairly well known by most of us. He was an English politician, philanthropist, and a leader of the movement to abolish the slave trade. What some people don’t know is that he was a passionate evangelical Christian who was soundly converted as a young Member of Parliament after living an affluent and libertine lifestyle until age 25.
Piper’s treatment of Wilberforce seeks to get to the heart of what made this great man tick. He reveals that Wilberforce’s secret was that he “made the journey from self-centeredness, achievement-centeredness, and political-correctness to God-centeredness. And he made it with Christ-like joy.
What practically did I learn from Wilberforce? Here are a few lessons:
- Perseverance through many trials to attain crucial goals. The battle to end slave trade consumed almost 46 years of his life, and he gave himself to other social issues just as passionately.
- Hard work – there is no room for idleness with all the important things there are to do in life.
- Incredible joy in Christ despite personal challenges. That joy, according to Wilberforce, ultimately comes from Christ’s work on the cross.
- A love for people, even children. Wilberforce would get down on his knees to play marbles with his children and the children of others. This was very unusual for important men of his day.
- Getting up early to spend time in prayer and the Word before meeting with his guests for breakfast.
- Solid biblical doctrine as the foundation for personal life and public morals.
Piper wrote, “The main burden of Wilberforce’s book, A Practical View of Christianity is to show that Christianity, which consists in these new, indomitable spiritual affections for Christ, is rooted in the great doctrines of the Bible about sin and Christ and faith.”
Wilberforce made much of “Christ our righteousness.” He believed the battle for justice was rooted most centrally in the doctrine of justification by faith.
Besides Wilberforce’s goal of eliminating slave trade, he had the goal of the “Reformation of Manners” (an old word for morals). He believed this was possible only through the death of Christ, which he considered at the center of “these gigantic truths.”
I’ll conclude this review with a couple of quotes directly from Wilberforce, words that are as relevant today as when he wrote them two hundred years ago:
The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrine 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.
If we would … rejoice in (Christ) as triumphantly as the first Christians did, we must learn, like them to repose our trust in him and to adopt the language of the apostle, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of Jesus Christ. … Who of God is made unto us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”