A 21-year-old man, five feet high and slight of build, stood in Parliament as a new member and spoke. He represented the large, wealthy Yorkshire district that disregarded Britain’s religious evangelicals. William Wilberforce was displaying his talent that would make him legendary.
“I saw what seemed to be a mere shrimp mount about the table, but as I listened the shrimp grew and grew and became a whale,” commented literary giant James Boswell.
Born to wealthy parents in 1759 and educated at Cambridge, Wilberforce had lived with his Methodist aunt and uncle until his mother, worried about his becoming a religious fanatic, sent him to boarding school.
However, in 1785 traveling through Europe, Wilberforce read the book The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Phillip Doddridge, writer of the hymn “O Happy Day.” Wilberforce converted to evangelical Christianity.
Even so, he did not change his decisions or lifestyle Through the months, Christianity developed within him, Wilberforce was convicted to say no to his worldly ways and even considered relenting his political career.
John Newton, hymn writer, convinced young Wilberforce that God could use him in Parliament. After much prayer, Wilberforce was assured God had placed him in Parliament to fight Britain’s social problems.
With his driving concern, Wilberforce became involved in over 60 organizations to spread the Christian message and correct the moral and social climate of the poor. He worked for prison reform, opposed pornography, and raised funds for the poor’s Christian schools. He was co-founder of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society.
His biggest fight, for which he became known, was against slavery. The time took over 20 years to pass a law to abolish slavery in 1807, then another 26 years to emancipate the existing slaves.
During these years, Wilberforce endured many setbacks from his political opponents and in his health. In the 1830’s his health was poor, and he had fought the political causes so long, especially slavery. Younger Parliament members took up his slavery cause.
At home while resting on July 26, 1833, Wilberforce learned the House of Commons had finally passed the Abolition of Slavery law. The following day he grew worse in health and early Monday morning he died, having seen his life’s dream come true.
Saviour, Like a Shepherd