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William Wilberforce—One Man Who Changed His Times

Revival doesn’t have to begin with a tent meeting or a special service that meets on Wednesday from 7 to 9 PM. It can happen when one person looks deeply into their own spiritual condition, is desperate for God and seeks His plan through prayer and intercession. One person can start a revival.

William Wilberforce (1759–1833) was just such a person. You can read the details of his life in Eric Metaxas’ fine book (which I recommend) Amazing Grace. Some of you may have seen the movie of the same title, but the movie, while good, doesn’t come close to help us know the passion of this godly man who not only helped end the slave trade in England, but also had massive impact on England’s spiritual and moral fabric.

Wilberforce was such a man of God and a man who inspired others that Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship actually gave out a Wilberforce award to someone for:

Making a significant impact on the social ills of the day through personal effort, skill, and influence; for showing perseverance and selflessness in combating injustice, even to the point of willingness to sacrifice personal comfort, career, and reputation; for making a positive change in the values and character of society—“reforming manners”—through personal witness, example, and education; and for serving as an exemplary witness for Christ.[1]

Wilberforce became a Christian at 25. He struggled early with his faith and his chosen life as a politician. His mentor and friend, John Newton a former slave trader who became a Christian and penned the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” told him, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and the good of the nation.” This advice helped him to search for his calling in politics.

Christ radically changed Wilberforce. He was no longer short tempered and he gave up pursuing the “good life” of 18th century England to develop himself spiritually and mentally. He spent hours reading his Bible and seeking God’s help to mold his character and bring about revival in all of the British Empire.

Wilberforce was hardly a charismatic leader. He suffered greatly from ailments and many times he was bedridden and in tremendous pain. So how did he do what he did?

To paraphrase Eric Metaxas from his book Seven Men and the Secret of their Greatness, he:

Realized he could not do it in his own strength. John Wesley sent him a letter early in his campaign against slavery where he “felt compelled to warn young Wilberforce that to fight in one’s own strength was insanity; but to rely on God was to be assured of victory, even if one did not get to see it with one’s own eyes.”[2]

The second way Wilberforce did what he did was through prayer. “Wilberforce prayed and read the Scriptures every day; and he prayed with many others over these issues.”[3] He memorized Scripture including all of Psalm 119. He held fast to God’s Word and in the intimate contact and intercession with God.

Third, he relied on help from his Christian brothers and sisters. He wasn’t a “Lone Ranger.”  He sought out others for strength, combined prayer and advice.

A few days before his death, slavery was abolished in all of Great Britain. Wilberforce brought about revival. He brought the hope of Jesus Christ to literally millions of people worldwide. He changed Parliament as it’s said that when he left office nearly all of the British Parliament were born again believers. Most can trace their salvation to Wilberforce or someone in his community of believers.

Are you a William Wilberforce? Are you ready to seek God’s help and guidance to have an affect on your family, your church, your city, and your state? The nation?

Start with examining your spiritual condition. Seek Him for restoration and for direction. Then pray alone and with others.

Let’s be praying for revival and how we all can be involved.



[1] Eric Metaxas, 7 Men and the Secrets of Their Success, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2013), 32

[2] ibid. 48

[3] Ibid

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