In the time of William Wilberforce, 25% of the single women in London were prostitutes. Liquor flowed so plentifully that it became known as the “Gin Age.”
Chuck Stetson, in the Foreword to a 2007 reprint of Wilberforce’s work, A Practical View of Real Christianity, writes that “gambling was a national obsession and ruined thousands.” And, “daylight fornication [was practiced] on the village green.” Stetson also writes of “auctioning one’s wife at a cattle market,” and “executions, known as Hanging Shows,” that “attracted huge crowds.”
Stetson writes: “…murder, general lawlessness, thieves and highwaymen were so prevalent that Horace Walpole warned, ‘One is forced to travel, even at noon, as if one were going to battle.’”
In addition, false signals were lit at night on the seashore to lure ships into rocks where the shipwrecks were plundered, with no regard for drowning sailors.
Merry Olde England?
William Wilberforce (who is Chuck Colson’s model and the model for the SALLT Academy I wrote about last week), was one of those followers of Christ who, like the 9-11 fire fighters, headed into the problem rather than away from it.
As a member of 18th Century British Parliament, Wilberforce was active in politics when converted to Christianity in his 20s. At first, he thought about leaving politics and going into “the ministry.” But John Newton, the former slave trader who wrote the words to Amazing Grace, persuaded Wilberforce that a strong follower of Christ was needed in Parliament. Thank God for Newton’s good advice!
Wilberforce is most famous for his tireless efforts to abolish slave trading in England. This was a goal that took twenty years to accomplish. But Wilberforce had a second stated mission in life: “the reformation of manners.”
Wilberforce was not talking about British table manners. He was referring to British culture. The culture described above. And this might be another reason Newton urged Wilberforce to use his influence as a follower of Christ in Parliament.
But there is more to the story of the reformation of Merry Olde England. God raised up another man whose name begins with W: John Wesley.
The stories of Wilberforce and Wesley go hand-in-glove. (To be continued.)