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Friday, February 28, 2014

The Reformation Of Merry Olde England

William Wilberforce (1759 - 1833) [Public domain.]

Two weeks ago, I mentioned Wilberforce's influence on Wes Lane in starting the SALLT Academy in Oklahoma City, where modern-day Clapham Circles address specific needs in the culture-at-large. What I didn't have space to say is that in Wilberforce's day, 25% of the single women in London were prostitutes, and liquor flowed so plentifully that the day became known as the “Gin Age.”

Chuck Stetson, in his Foreword to the 2007 reprint of Wilberforce’s manifesto, A Practical View of Real Christianity, writes that “gambling was a national obsession and ruined thousands.” Stetson goes on to say, “daylight fornication [was practiced] on the village green,” and he tells of "auctioning one’s wife at a cattle market.” On top of this, Stetson reports, “executions, known as Hanging Shows, attracted huge crowds.”

But that's not all: “…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.’” And there's more: false signals were lit at night on the seashore to lure ships into rocks where the wrecks were plundered, with no regard for drowning sailors.

Merry Olde England? Indeed.

As a young member of the 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 followers of Christ were needed in Parliament. Thank God for Newton’s wise counsel to Wilberforce!

Wilberforce is famous for his tireless efforts to abolish the slave trade. But Wilberforce had a second great goal: “the reformation of [British] manners.” He was not talking about British table manners. He was referring to British culture. The culture described above. No doubt this was 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 for such a time as that─just prior to Wilberforce.

We'll get to him next week.


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5 comments:

  1. Chris,
    It is particularly reassuring to take note of such a great work at a time in British history that mirrors our own time. I think it is particularly important to recognize that prior to becoming a great missionary nation late in the nineteenth century, Britain got its own house in order before exporting the Gospel throughout the world. No matter the current state of American pop culture and the general waning of American power, Wilberforce reformation of English manners remains a tour de force that inspires us with restored hope.

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    1. Indeed! Thanks much for your comment, Simon. Spoken as only a Brit could say it!

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  2. Interesting post. I went on Amazon and ordered the Wilberforce pamphlet you mentioned and the biography by eric mextas. he did a great job on the bonnhoefer (sp?) book.

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  3. interesting post. i ordered the wilberforce pamphlet and the biography as well.

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    1. Thanks for mentioning Metaxas' book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is excellent, with many lessons for the church today.

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