Amazing Grace

Good News meditation.
by Matthew Brock, LC | Source:
“We have heard, sir, that you are unsure whether to dedicate your life to God, or whether to continue in politics. Our humble suggestion, sir, is that you can do both.”

These words from a group of Quakers convinced him. William Wilberforce, a member of the British Parliament and an aspiring preacher, decided to dedicate his considerable talent and energy to abolishing the 19th century’s great injustice – slavery.

To do so he had to battle the all-powerful East India Company and its rich aristocratic stockholders, the shipping industry, and the vested interests of dozens of port cities and trading firms. He watched bill after bill go down to defeat in a hostile Parliament. It took fifteen years, and cost Wilberforce his health and nearly his life, but in the end, he did it.

It is an incredible story, set against the fascinating backdrop of the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the next, the time of George III, Robespierre and the Bastille, Napoleon and Wellington, Nelson, Trafalgar, Jefferson and Adams. It is a story rich in scope and moment, spanning three continents and touching thousands of lives, but it is above all the story of a few men and a few women courageous enough to speak against the prevailing winds of public opinion.

It is the story of Equiano, the former African prince made slave, whose memoirs sold tens of thousands of copies and did much to change British hearts and minds.

It is the story of William Pitt, the boy-genius, Prime Minister at age 24, nemesis of Napoleon. Lying on his deathbed after Britain’s defeat at Austerlitz, he mustered one last effort of political will to ensure that Wilberforce’s bill would finally pass Parliament.

It is the story of John Newton, William Wilberforce’s former pastor. A former deserter from the Royal Navy, a former white slave in Africa, and the former captain of a slave ship, he had converted and become a minister. He penned the immortal hymn Amazing Grace in recognition of God’s transforming power. At the end of his life, blind and feeble, he continued to encourage Wilberforce, reminding him, “Though my memory fades, I still remember two things: I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great savior.”

Wilberforce’s bill abolished the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807. It was an act that inspired abolitionists across Europe and the United States and led to the abolition of the institution of slavery in the British Empire in 1833, and contributed directly to the debate on slavery in America which would not be resolved conclusively until the April day at Appomattox in 1865 when Lee surrendered. The conclusion of this bicentennial year is an opportunity to remember that the good things men of conscience can do with God’s grace are, indeed, amazing.

William Wilberforce’s story is now a major motion picture called Amazing Grace.


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