Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Perseverance in the Life of William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce labored for the cause of social justice for 46 years, often against significant opposition. There was public pressure arising from the national interests at stake. John Piper explains this in Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

"It seemed utterly unthinkable to Parliament that Britain could prosper without what the plantations of the West Indies provided. If one nation, like Britain unilaterally abolished the slave trade and others did not, it would mean…that power and wealth would be transmitted to other nations and Britain would be weakened internationally."

Wilberforce's public image suffered greatly when he spoke out against Queen Caroline’s marital unfaithfulness. There were also accusations that he cared more for the slaves than for the poor of England. Sadly, he also experienced the death of his daughter.

Yet, he persevered. Piper tells us that his opponents took note of his endurance.

“His adversaries complained that Wilberforce ‘jumped up whenever they knocked him down.’ One of them in particular put it like this: ‘It is necessary to watch him as he is blessed with…that Enthusiastic spirit, which is so far from yielding that it grows more vigorous from blows.’"

What was the secret of his perseverance? According to Piper, it was more than simply the encouragement of good friends, though Wilberforce had many. His remarkable perseverance in the midst of challenging work is rooted in an unquenchable joy in God.

“There is a deeper root of Wilberforce’s endurance than camaraderie. It is the root of childlike, child-loving, self-forgetting joy in Christ.”

Piper conveys this in Wilberforce’s own words -

"We can scarcely indeed look into any part of the sacred volume without meeting abundant proofs, that it is a religion of Affections that God particularly requires…Joy is enjoined to us as our bounden duty and commended to us as our acceptable worship…A cold…unfeeling heart is represented as highly criminal."

Piper concludes with this thought -

"When we say that Wilberforce’s joy was unshakeable and undefeatable…we mean that he had learned the secret of “the good fight”, and that his embattled joy reasserted itself in and after every tumult in society and in the soul."

How do you respond when the “chips are down”?
Do you persevere in such a way that your spirit “grows more vigorous from blows”?
How can we capture the kind of joyful perseverance that characterized Wilberforce and apply that in our lives?


Mark Goodyear said...

Whoa, those are big questions, Andre.

Like most people, I tend to get self-centered when I'm under pressure. I get testy.

Last week was a good example. Three trips back to back. (And I rarely travel.) My kids were sick while I was gone. And I had a lot of work I needed to be doing in the office (like edit your article!)

But on my third trip, God got my attention with the Psalms. Mark D. Roberts was at Laity Lodge, and he said the Psalms give us permission to pray boldly. His book No Holds Barred is really setting me free to be myself with God in my prayers. If I feel testy, I just be testy with Him.

In fact, if I try to put up some worshipful facade, who am I fooling? Maybe myself. Certainly not God.

As for the posts on Wilberforce, I look forward to the film!

Craver VII said...

Andre, those are great questions, and definitely worth thinking about. But I will take the coward's way out and avoid answering directly.

Instead, we could note that this is why a good library would include biographies.

If you prefer fiction over theology, or vise-versa, fine. Just pick up a good biography once-in-a-while.

andre said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. "Getting testy" is response common to us all. I like what you're saying - "be testy with Him".

There is an approach to God that is reverential but yet brutally honest - the laments in the Psalms are a great example of this...many start with some complaint...but in it, the psalmist is looking to God to resolve the injustice or anomaly.

Hope your kids are feeling better!

Thanks for taking the time to post your comment.

andre said...

Chicken...uh,I mean...Craver,
(I'm just kidding!)

Thanks for posting a comment. Yes, biographies give us insights to heroes of the faith but sometimes I get concern that we don't get a good sense of the frailty or the day to day struggles that they encounter.

I suppose that's why we need regular fellowship.

L.L. Barkat said...

I think that perseverence comes from God. And, if our ears are open, He gives us encouragements along the way. I know that with certain things, when I've been close to quitting, He has spoken so clearly and tenderly that I couldn't help but stand up once again.

andre said...


Thanks for sharing and expressing the tenderness with which God deals with us, especially when we're at our weakest. Your comment reminded me of the phrase concerning the tenderness of our Savior - "a bruised reed he will not crush"