The England of William Wilberforce was very much in the ballpark of Dickens’ “best of times and worst of times.” For the wealthy, there was the theater, the clubs, gambling, alcohol and women. Against the backdrop of such affluence were the indignities waged against the downtrodden and outcasts. The Industrial Revolution was ramping up and children were forced to labor in sweat shops for 16 hours a day. Only 25 percent made it to adulthood due to unsafe and unsanitary conditions. Youngsters were publicly executed for stealing scarves and such just to protect themselves against the miserable conditions of life.
And there was the slavery thing. Eleven million Africans were rent from their homeland and shipped across the ocean in four foot by eighteen inch berths. Chained. Covered in feces and vomit. Most died. Women were raped hanging upside down. And the England of Wilberforce was the chief buyer and seller in the damnable slave trade.
As the film “Amazing Grace” opens, you read how in such a time only a few dissented against such practice but even fewer dared speak up. William Wilberforce was one voice that God used to speak Life and Light into such a dark time. Each word from his mouth punched a separate hole in the darkness until, at last, the institution of slavery fell under the weight of Heaven’s veto and was abolished in England once and for all.
Cowper, the poet laureate of England, wrote of Wilberforce in a sonnet describing him as bringing “the better hour.” On a plaque where he is buried in Westminster Abbey, it reads:
In an age and country fertile in great and good men,
He was among the foremost of those who fixed the character of our times
because to high and various talents, to warm benevolence, and to universal candour
He added the abiding eloquence of the Christian life…
This was a man who gave away a quarter of his yearly earnings to the poor, tirelessly championed the causes of chimney sweeps, single moms, and orphans and did it all with a grace and humility befitting of such a call. He gave over forty years of his life to campaigning against slavery and, one month after his death, England’s Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, thus granting every slave in the English empire their freedom. Truly, he fought to the end. He fought the good fight. With the passion of the Lord burning inside, he brought to the world a better hour.
Imagine with me, won’t you, what God could do with a single person, or a handful of devoted slaves of righteousness. It just takes one voice speaking what is on the Lord’s heart and the deal is done. Last time I checked, satan’s nefarious power is no match against the will of God and his empire is still marked for destruction.