"It makes no sense to take the name of Christian and not cling to Christ. Jesus is not some magic charm to wear like a piece of jewelry we think will give us good luck. He is the Lord. His name is to be written on our hearts in such a powerful way that it creates within us a profound experience of His peace and a heart that is filled with His praise."
William Wilberforce, a British lawmaker, led the fight against slavery in England. Wilberforce tirelessly campaigned for 20 years to completely end slavery, resulting in the British Parliament’s passage of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. This law made the purchase or ownership of slaves illegal within the British Empire.
Wilberforce began his political career at university. He was elected to the British Parliament at the age of 21 while he was still a student. Wilberforce was good-natured, cheerful, social, and known as the “wittiest man in England.” He was good at making political speeches, which led to his involvement with the anti-slavery movement.
After being recruited by friends to introduce a bill against slavery, Wilberforce gave his first anti-slavery speech in 1789 in the House of Commons. Two years later, he introduced the first parliamentary bill to abolish the slave trade. This began a lengthy campaign by Wilberforce to get the bill passed. He remained committed to the cause throughout the nearly two decades it took for the bill to become law.
When the United Kingdom outlawed slavery, Britain controlled a sprawling empire around the world. Wilberforce’s work thus spread to all British territories, including India, Australia, and the British colonies.
Wilberforce is credited, more than any other single individual, for ending the slave trade in the vast British Empire, including India—which had an estimated 8 to 9 million indigenous slaves in the Hindu caste system and also the Muslim-Ottoman empire, which had millions of additional slaves. His success produced the momentum to complete the abolition of slavery elsewhere around the world, including eventually the United States.
CENTERED ON CHRIST
Wilberforce committed his life to Jesus in his mid-20s. He devoted his life and work to serving God in public life. His faith informed his political views, and he desired to promote Christianity and Christian ethics in private and public life.
Wilberforce felt called by God to lead the cause for abolishing slavery, writing in his journal that “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners [moral values].”
Wilberforce wrote a book titled “Real Christianity,” in which he calls on all Christians to unite in ending slavery worldwide. In the book, he asks this question:
“Is it not the great end of religion, and in particular the glory of Christianity, to extinguish the malignant passions [including slavery]; to curb the violence, to control the appetites, and to smooth the asperities of man; to make us compassionate and kind and forgiving one to another; to make us good husbands, good fathers, good friends, and to render us active and useful in the discharge of the relative, social and civil duties?”
Wilberforce’s writings and public speeches changed world history-- marking the first time in all of known history when open and legal slavery is not a global norm.