The idea of slavery in this day and age is almost universally rejected. We have just had Presidents Day this past Monday, which is a day we use to honor many presidents. Primarily we think of great men like Abraham Lincoln, who played a pivotal role in our country’s ending the practice of slavery.
In Great Britain, the slave trade was ended in 1807 (and, slavery was abolished in 1833). The man who played the major role in that was politician William Wilberforce, who I note here because it was his deep religious conviction that led him to battle in Parlaiment for 20 years to see it through. The final vote to end the slave trade came at 4 a.m. on Feb. 24, 1807. The final vote to end slavery in total came only three days before he died in 1833.
Opening Friday is a movie called “Amazing Grace,” which tells Wilberforce’s life story. Although it is not playing here in Grand Island, I look forward to seeing it when it does play and I strongly hope others will see it as well. It is not often that a person who was a deeply committed Christian is held up for public acclaim like Wilberforce is in this movie. Because of the social issue addressed — slavery — he is held in high regard. But it is only because of his faith that he was able to accomplish this.
A person like Wilberforce is a great example of what John Piper calls a “coronary Christian.” To understand what Piper means by that, he contrasts it with what he calls an “adrenal Christian.” Thinking of the difference between our hearts and adrenal glands, we have one that does its work continually and steadily (the heart) while the other uses great exertion to do things in bursts (the adrenals).
We should all strive to be coronary Christians, because the Bible tells us that the race is a long one, not a sprint. We often fall prey to the trap of exerting ourselves to see results, only to suffer when we that burst of energy is gone. Ultimately, what happens is that we end up relying on our own efforts rather than the grace God gives us. That is why the story of someone like William Wilberforce is not only inspiring, but important for us to consider as 21st century Christians.
To understand what William Wilberforce was able to accomplish, you have to know that he battled for 20 years to end the slave trade. He was persistent, if not always successful. I find it convicting in my own life how often I give up when I am knocked down and I believe it is an attitude that, sadly, I share with many other Christians, especially here in America where we cultivate a life of ease.
It is my understanding that the director of “Amazing Grace” intentionally downplays Wilberforce’s Christian beliefs as the motivation for his fight against slavery. That is disappointing. For that reason, I would encourage the reading of a new biography written by John Piper, “Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce.” The book examines his “transformation from an unbelieving young politician into a radically God-centered Christian and how his deep spirituality helped to change the moral outlook of a nation.”
You can purchase the book at Desiring God’s Web site or, if you prefer, read it online for free (as a PDF download).