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William Wilberforce and Making Goodness Fashionable Once More

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There are certain men throughout history who seemingly tug the rest of society toward a physical manifestation of the riches and glory of God’s grace. A committed Christian, politician, and abolitionist—William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was one of those men. At twenty-six years of age and amidst the summit of his political power, Wilberforce made the politically unthinkable and socially frowned-upon decision to pick up his cross and follow Jesus Christ.

During the time of Wilberforce’s “Great Change”—as his conversion would come to be known— socially upscale and respectable British gentlemen often shucked any hint of Biblical Christianity before you could say “Hallowed be thy name” and instead slogged through religious formalities only to fulfill the necessary social obligations.

Departing from this lot of low-commitment Christianity, the newly-redeemed Wilberforce endeavored to sift each of his political decisions through the Scriptures and diligent prayer. As a result, he ferociously battled the evils of the slave trade—which was as deeply ingrained in British culture as tea time—and believed that all people, including slaves, are created in God’s image.

Taking on an economic heavyweight such as slavery won Wilberforce few admirers outside of the abolitionist community, yet his commitment to Christ produced in him a political resolve that ultimately guided Great Britain to abolish the slave trade in 1807. Even more glorious, in 1833 and on his deathbed, Wilberforce received the news that all slaves had been emancipated throughout the British empire—a fitting end for a dedicated disciple who slogged through the social and political mudslinging that accompanied his efforts to sprinkle the Gospel in Britain’s daily life.

The Social Gospel At Its Finest

Throughout his political career, William Wilberforce was addicted to God’s grace and goodness. Wherever his eyes wandered upon human suffering, Wilberforce seemed to possess an anointing for spreading God’s grace by way of political legislation, social reform, or charitable donations. Thus, his concern for the poor, enslaved, and imprisoned churned out his life’s work in promoting abolition, caring for the poor, and lobbying for penal reform. He sought to “make goodness fashionable again” in Britain; his plan was to encourage esteemed political and social figures to set an example for the rest of the nation.

Author Eric Metaxas captures Wilberforce’s campaign for the “reformation of manners” in Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery:

“To our modern ears, the phrase ‘reformation of manners’ sounds merely quaint, but what Wilberforce meant by the phrase was different from what we think when we hear it. By ‘manners’ he did not mean anything having to do with etiquette but rather what we would call ‘habits’ or ‘attitudes.’ He wished to bring civility and self-respect into a society that had long since spiraled down into vice and misery” (Metaxas 85).

Aware that nominal Christianity had hushedly tolerated social ills such as prostitution, alcoholism, and disregard for the poor, Wilberforce carried out a life’s work of evangelism that not only preached the Gospel to his fellow countrymen but also used his political prestige to bring the goodness of Christ’s kingdom into the average Englishmen’s worldview.

Some of you may be murmuring to yourselves, “What does a long-dead English politician who wore powdered wigs have to do with the culture I live in today?” The times may have changed, yet mens hearts have not. If the current political climate whispers any wisdom to us, it is that people are searching for earthly leaders to cure spiritual decay.

Having consciously cut off God from civic life, the United States is reaping  the grotesque moral and social return: unborn lives are aborted at a prodigious rate; divorce has become a seemingly natural progression; and disconnected from reality, some states and companies designate bathroom assignments according to one’s perception of reality rather than biological sex. It is feverishly apparent that America has an acute need for an injection of God’s goodness in the public sphere, and who better to bring God’s goodness back into the public realms than our readers here at the Majesty’s Men?

The Torchbearers Of Wilberforce’s Legacy

What Wilberforce accomplished was made possible by his ardent pursuit to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. To believe that Wilberforce’s successes cannot be repeated in our own cultural context would be a grim miscalculation. As young Christian men, we are the next generation of pastors, businessmen, medical professionals, etc., and as adopted sons and heirs with Christ, we can allow our faith to permeate through our everyday actions and interactions in our schools, our workplaces, and our life experiences.

Though broken vessels, God’s redemptive work in our lives through the Holy Spirit is producing a calling in each of us that will advance our Father’s kingdom here on earth. How can we determine our personal callings from God? Known for his diligent hours of prayer and meditation upon the scriptures, Wilberforce sought God’s will in every political and social endeavor he put his time into.

I contend that we follow suit and inquire of the Lord as to where He desires our talents and time. God will bring about a specific pursuit for us all whether it be on a macro or micro scale. Whatever we do, we must remember that “making goodness fashionable” once more predicates itself upon us distinguishing that the righteousness we spread is none of our own but has been secured by the blood of Christ. As we pray for God’s guidance in our quest to bring a revival throughout America, let us apply Philippians 4:8 as a godly compass in all our ventures to creatively fulfill the Great Commission,

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Lord Melbourne, a diligent foil to Wilberforce, once blustered, “Things have come to a pretty pass when one should permit one’s religion to invade public life” (Metaxas xix). Praise be to our Lord God that men such as Wilberforce made the Gospel of Jesus Christ a public matter, for many other nations since then have had their moral conscience and public discourse deeply affected by Christ’s all surpassing goodness. May we all carry the same convictions in our hearts into the next generations.

And it may be fantasy, but my hope is that God permits Wilberforce in heaven to catch a brief glimpse of us all on earth continuing the work that so stirred him, so that our humble hero may permit himself a brief smile before returning along with the rest of the kingdom in singing, “Holy, holy. holy, is the Lord God Almighty. Heaven and earth is filled with Your glory.”

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