|William Wilberforce (1759-1833), member of the British Parliament.|
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 his 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” attracted huge crowds.
He goes on: “…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 was one of those followers of Christ who, like the New York fire fighters on 9-11, headed into the problem rather than away from it. It is appropriate on the anniversary of 9-11 to consider the life and influence of Wilberforce.
As a 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 a strong follower of Christ was needed in Parliament. Thank God for Newton’s advice.
Wilberforce is most famous for his tireless efforts to abolish the slave trade. This was a goal that took him 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 a W: John Wesley.
Wilberforce and Wesley go hand-in-glove. I'll tell you why next week.