March 25, 2007 is the 200th anniversary of the passage of the British Law ending the Slave Trade. This historic event is believed by most historians to signify the beginning of the end for the widespread practice of human slavery. The central figure in the campaign to pass this legislation was William Wilberforce. Wilberforce worked passionately for more than two decades against seemingly insurmountable odds and social forces to pass this legislation. William Wilberforce is on my HERO list. He represents the kind of evangelical witness I want to be associated with. Wilberforce was elected to the British Parliament at the young age of 21. In 1776 he began his college studies at St. John's College, Cambridge. He completed a B.A. in 1781 and seven years later earned a M.A. degree. While studying for his M.A., Wilberforce had a spiritual awakening that he referred to as a conversion experience. He dedicated his life to serve God.
In 1789, Wilberforce made his first significant speech in Parliament on the abolition of slavery. The first time Wilberforce introduced a bill in Parliament to abolish the slave trade was 1791. It was defeated but Wilberforce was committed to this cause. He introduced similar bills to eliminate the slave trade at every new session of Parliament. Wilberforce spent years laboring for the passage of legislation to forbid the trafficking in human beings as slaves. He worked tirelessly and passionately to inform the public of the heinous nature of this practice. Wilberforce, devoted to a life of obedience to our Lord Jesus Christ, knew that this important work was a calling of God upon his life. In the year 1806, Wilberforce spent the better part of a year writing A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade. This proved to be a seminal project in his effort to end the Slave Trade. The work was published in January of 1807. Later in the same year, amidst tributes to the faithfulness of Wilberforce, the Slave Trade Act was passed (283 to 16) on March 25, 1807.
Other major accomplishments by Wilberforce included the founding of the Church Missionary Society, the establishment of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (don’t you just love this man of God), the formation of the African Institute and a leading member of the Clapham Sect (The Saints). On July 26, 1833 with Wilberforce’s health in serious peril, a bill was passed called the Slavery Abolition Act which made slavery illegal. William Wilberforce, rejoicing in the fruit of his lifetime labor, died three days later. Wilberforce is buried in Westminster Abby next to his lifelong friend William Pitt (the youngest Prime Minister the UK has ever had at the age of 24).
One of the many things being done to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Slave Trade Act and the contribution made by William Wilberfore is the release of the movie Amazing Grace. I can’t wait to see this movie. I get emotional just watching the trailer. I have heard great things from friends who have already seen it. I was so bummed to miss an advance showing sponsored by Tom Nelson, the pastor of Christ Community Church, because of a huge conflict. It seems like this film is the real deal and not another End of the Spear – great story, bad art and bad story telling. GO SEE Amazing Grace. Let’s celebrate the life of William Wilberforce, dream of how we may be faithful to God in similar ways, pick up our cross and follow our Lord Jesus Christ.