He was only 21 years old when he entered politics. While still a college student at Cambridge, William Wilberforce was elected to the British Parliament and served for nearly 50 years. Converted under John Wesley’s ministry, he sought pastoral mentoring from John Newton, a former slave-trade ship owner and later rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London (Newton is best known today as author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace”).
It was under those influences, among others, that William Wilberforce first sensed a passion for justice rising in his heart. He began to appeal to the House of Commons for a change in social policy. After 17 consecutive years of introducing legislation to abolish the slave trade, he finally was successful. In 1807, by a vote of 283 to 16, Parliament began to dismantle the horrible atrocity that had forced over 11 million African men, women and children into slavery around the world.
Wilberforce is buried in Westminster Abbey. His epitaph reads, in part: “In an age and country fertile in great and good men, he was among the foremost of those who fixed the character of their times … he added the abiding eloquence of a Christian life.”
Chris Tomlin added the following refrain in his recent release of “Amazing Grace” that was used for the film by the same title (now out on DVD):
“My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, My Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace!”
I once was lost … but now I’m found!
“Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.” -Proverbs 31:8-9 (NKJV)