Wilberforce: Refusing To Give Up

William Wilberforce

This article originally appeared in the January-February 1994 issue of Eternal Perspectives, EPM's quarterly newsletter.


Shortly after his conversion to Christ in 1784, British parliamentarian William Wilberforce began his battle for the black man’s freedom.

Relentlessly, year after year—in the face of apathy, scorn and all the opposition the bloody slave industry could offer—this one man reintroduced to Parliament the motion for the abolition of slavery.

Rejected again and again, Wilberforce was encouraged by only a few, among them John Wesley and John Newton, former slaveship captain and writer of “Amazing Grace.”

He said to society, “we are all guilty” for tolerating the evil of slavery. Wilberforce vowed, “Never, never will we desist till we . . . extinguish every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonor to this country.”

Because his colleagues refused to pay attention, Wilberforce would reach under his chair in Parliament, and pull out long heavy chains. He draped them over himself to symbolize the inhumanity of slavery.

His fellow parliamentarians, who were pro-choice about slavery, would roll their eyes, snicker, mock him, and call him a fool. But it is Wilberforce, not they, who is remembered—by God and men—as the one who stood for justice and mercy for society’s innocent victims.

Year after year, while both nonchristians and Christians denied or ignored reality, Wilberforce suffered sleepless nights, plagued by dreams of the suffering black man. Finally, in 1807, against incredible odds, Wilberforce saw the slave trade outlawed. But even then, he was to fight eighteen more years for the emancipation of existing slaves. Wilberforce died in 1833—three days after the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery passed its second reading in the House of Commons, bringing slavery in England to its final end.

Wilberforce, I am sure, did not enjoy opposing slavery. And though my sacrifices do not begin to compare to Wilberforce’s, I know that I for one do not enjoy opposing abortion. It is draining, time consuming, at times discouraging, and subjects me to frequent criticism. It has resulted in lawsuits, loss of a ministry I greatly valued, and loss of income. Of course, God has graciously used all of this and has generously taken care of me and my family. But the truth is, my life would be easier and more pleasant if I could pretend that babies aren’t dying. But they are, and I can’t.

Not all of us are Wilberforces. But had England been filled with people of conviction who would have just done what they could for the suffering slaves, Wilberforce’s job would have been much easier, and untold human suffering could have been prevented.

Will we succeed in our efforts to save women and children from the horrors of abortion? It depends on how you define success. A famine relief poster asks the question, “How do you help a billion hungry people?” The answer below is right on target—”One at a time.” How do you save 1.5 million children and their mothers from the tragedy of abortion? One at a time.

The abortion issue is ultimately not decided in Washington, DC. It is decided in our communities, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods and our churches. Everywhere there is a woman considering abortion there is a Christian nearby who could influence her thinking and give her encouragement and support to do the right thing.

Every time God uses our efforts in personal intervention, opening our homes, education, legislation—you name it—we have been successful. And even in those sad cases when we are not successful, may we at least be found faithful. By all means we should strive for success when it comes to saving the innocent. But, as Mother Teresa has reminded us, “God does not call us to success, but faithfulness.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 gives us the perspective we so desperately need: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Randy Alcorn, founder of EPM

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over fifty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries

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