I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day but I couldn't find any.
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My mind works like lightning. One brilliant flash and it is gone.
Had William Wilberforce lived in our day, the start to his political career would have probably become fodder for political attack ads. Wilberforce was born into the privileged class, and in 1780, at the age of twenty-one, he won a seat in the British House of Commons by outspending his opponents. His political career spanned the next five decades, and to the day of his death Wilberforce never lost an election.(1)
William Wilberforce did not begin his political life with a sense of purpose. (He had squandered his time at Cambridge, enjoyed moving in elite social circles, and entered politics almost on an impulse.) But that changed in the summer of 1785 when Wilberforce experienced a profound conversion. When he accepted Christ as his savior, Wilberforce also wholeheartedly committed his income, his time, and his public career to the service of God. He strongly considered becoming a minister and discussed this possibility with John Newton. Newton urged him instead to retain his place in the political world to work actively to bring about good.
Wilberforce's commitment to acting upon his convictions led him to seek to ban the British slave trade. In doing so, he placed himself in opposition to some of the most powerful business interests in England; John Pollock writes, "[U]prooting the vile practice threatened the annual trade of hundreds of ships, thousands of sailors, and hundreds of millions of pounds sterling."(2) Nevertheless, he began what he knew would be a slow, hard fight. He met with strong, personal opposition and was physically attacked on two occasions. Many would have given up as year after year Parliament resisted his proposals, but Wilberforce maintained his winsomeness, his good humor, and his persevering spirit. After twenty long years of public campaigning against slavery, the tide of public opinion turned.
By February of 1807, he had finally mustered enough support in the House to pass a ban on the slave trade. Prior to the vote, the attorney general gave a speech in praise of Wilberforce's single-mindedness to preserve the lives of millions. His speech was interrupted as the entire House of Parliament rose to its feet and erupted in cheers. Wilberforce sat with his head in his hands as tears streamed down his face.(3) On February 24, 1807, the bill passed in the wee hours of the morning with a vote of 283 to 16, and the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire. It would take nearly thirty more years to achieve total emancipation, but Wilberforce continued the fight and lived to see this too, dying just three days after slavery itself was outlawed.
In the midst of these political battles, William Wilberforce received a letter, written by Charles Wesley on his deathbed. Wesley wrote, "Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you who can be against you?"(4) After the ban finally passed, Wilberforce attributed its success to the work of divine Providence. To those who had watched Wilberforce spend himself on this cause for twenty years, this idea might have seemed laughable. Surely, the ban's success should be attributed to Wilberforce's efforts! Yet William Wilberforce serves as an excellent example to us that a deep belief in the Providence of God should not prevent us from taking action, but should instead propel us to take action. He understood that God has chosen to work through his people to change hearts and bring about his will on earth. One life can change the course of an entire country. May God raise up many to follow in his steps!
(1) Piper, John, "Peculiar Doctrines, Public Morals, and the Political Welfare," presented February 5, 2002. Available at www.desiringgod.org. (2) Pollock, John,"A Man Who Changed His Times" Character Counts, ed. by Os Guinness (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), p. 81. (3) Ibid. p. 84. (4) Ibid. p. 81.
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Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. --1 Peter 3:18
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