Susanna Wesley

Susanna Wesley—the mother of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism—was exemplary in the educating and spiritual training of all her children. Susanna bore nineteen children but only ten of them lived to adulthood. During her childrearing years, the training and educating of her children was her primary focus in life. Each detail of her parental methodology will not be adopted by every parent. But her example has much to teach all Christian parents who desire to do a great job of raising their kids.

In an age when many girls and women, even among the upper class, never learned to read and write, Susanna had the blessing of growing up in the home of a university-trained London minister who saw to it that she received a sound homeschool education. Extremely intelligent, Susanna gained not only an excellent command of the English language but also a remarkable grasp of biblical and theological knowledge. When not quite twenty years of age, Susanna married Samuel Wesley, who was an Oxford graduate and a Church of England minister. The bulk of their ministerial career was spent at Epworth, a modest market town in western Lincolnshire.

Susanna taught her children to recite the Lord’s Prayer when rising each morning and retiring each evening. She also led them in memorizing other short prayers, various portions of Scripture and a short catechism. As was more common for Christian families in that era, Sundays were devoted entirely to religious learning and activities rather than to secular focuses.

Susanna taught each of her children to read when they turned five years old. All but two of the children learned the entire alphabet, upper and lower case letters, in a single day. As soon as they knew their letters, they began reading from the first chapter of Genesis, spelling out and reading one word then verse at a time.

Artist depiction of Susanna Wesley with some of her children

Artist depiction of Susanna Wesley with some of her children

Loud talking or playing were not allowed during the six hours of homeschool that Susanna held each day. Nor were the children permitted to rise out of their places or leave the room unless they had a good reason for doing so.

Susanna later initiated the custom of their singing psalms at the beginning and ending of each school day. She also began pairing up older children with younger ones, and having them read some Psalms and a chapter from the Old Testament before breakfast as well as Psalms and a New Testament chapter at afternoon’s end. Between the morning Scripture reading and breakfast the children were sent to their rooms for a period of private prayer.

From the time they were just a year old (some even earlier), Susanna trained her children “to fear the rod and to cry softly, by which means they escaped abundance of correction which they might otherwise have had.” Susanna placed great stress on the importance of subduing a child’s will from an early age: “In order to form the minds of children, the first thing to be done is to conquer their will, and bring them to an obedient temper. To inform the understanding is a work of time and must with children proceed by slow degrees as they are able to bear it. But the subjecting of the will is a thing which must be done at once, and the sooner the better. For by neglecting timely correction, they will contract a stubbornness and obstinacy, which is hardly ever conquered, and never without using such severity as would be as painful to me as to the child.”

Epworth Parish Church

Epworth Parish Church

Susanna further advised with balance: “And when the will of a child is totally subdued, and it is brought to revere and stand in awe of the parents, then a great many childish follies and inadvertences may be passed by. Some should be overlooked and taken no notice of, and others mildly reproved. But no willful transgression ought ever be forgiven children, without chastisement less or more, as the nature and circumstances of the offense require.”

Samuel and Susanna Wesley saw to it that their three sons received a first-rate university education. The fact that their sons succeeded in doing so bears testimony to the quality of the foundational education they received from their mother.

Women did not pursue university education in that era. But Susanna took care that her daughters’ education, while confined to their home, was given top priority. She related one of her cardinal rules of education: “That no girl be taught to work till she can read very well. And then that she be kept to her work with the same application and for the same time that she was held to reading. This rule also is much to be observed, for putting children to learn sewing before they can read perfectly is the very reason why so few women can read fit to be heard, and never to be well understood.”

Eventually some of Susanna’s children left home to pursue further education or to live with other relatives for a time (as when the Wesleys’ rectory was destroyed by fire and needed to be rebuilt). Even then Susanna continued to look out for their welfare by writing them long letters full of instruction and advice concerning a variety of spiritual, moral and practical matters. Some of those letters were nothing less than theological treatises. In her first letter to her oldest son after he went to London to continue his education, she explained her motivation in writing him: “I shall be employing my thoughts on useful subjects for you when I have time, for I desire nothing in this world so much as to have my children well instructed in the principles of religion, that they may walk in the narrow way which alone leads to happiness.”

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Women of Faith and Courage by Vance ChristieYou will find much more about Susanna Wesley’s interesting life and remarkable ministry to her children in my book Women of Faith and Courage (Christian Focus, 2011). Two commendable full-length biographies on her life are: Susanna Wesley, by Arnold Dallimore (Baker, 1993) and Susanna Wesley, by Kathy McReynolds (Bethany, 1998).

Copyright 2017 by Vance E. Christie

 

 

Thanks everybody for the great response to my Thanksgiving perspectives article on what we can learn about giving thanks in all circumstances from the life of Corrie ten Boom. My friends over at Chosen Books saw the article and wanted to partner up for a special giveaway. Three winners will receive a Corrie ten Boom prize pack featuring the 35th anniversary edition of The Hiding Place, the young reader’s edition of The Hiding Place and Life Lessons from the Hiding Place.

Corrie ten Boom Prize pack

Win a Corrie ten Boom Prize Pack

Don Richardson teaching the Sawi

Don Richardson teaching the Sawi

In 1962 Don and Carol Richardson, Canadian missionaries with Regions Beyond Missionary Union, began serving among the cannibalistic Sawi tribes of western New Guinea (modern Irian Jaya). The Sawi honored treachery as an ideal. They befriended people of other villages with the intent of later betraying, killing and even eating them. The first time Don Richardson shared the story of Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus, the Sawi admiringly proclaimed Judas the hero of the story!

The Richardsons ministered to a pair of neighboring villages, Haenam and Kamur, that were constantly warring against each other. When, after several months, the Richardsons were not able to convince the two settlements to stop fighting, they announced that they would have to move elsewhere to minister. The Sawi, not wanting to lose the benefits to be gained by having westerners living among them, suddenly declared that they were going to make peace with each other. The Richardsons wondered how such peace could possibly be established, given the long history of hatred, treachery and distrust that existed between the villages.

Giving of a peace child

Giving of a peace child

The morning after announcing their intention to make peace, first a leader from Haenam then a leader from Kamur started to carry one of their own infant sons toward the neighboring enemy village. But in the first case the father from Haenam was prevented from doing so by family members who snatched the child back from him. And in the second instance the Kamur father, obviously distraught, changed his mind and turned back to his own village.

Suddenly a young Kamur father named Kaiyo picked up his six-month-old son, his only child, and began running swiftly toward Haenam. Kaiyo’s wife chased after him, pleading with him to stop. But when she slipped and fell into a muddy bog alongside the trail, she was unable to stop him.

When Kaiyo arrived at Haenam he came face to face with a line of his mortal enemies. “Mahor!” he called out to one of them. When Mahor stepped forward, Kaiyo asked, “Mahor! Will you plead the words of Kamur among your people?” When Mahor stated he would, Kaiyo continued, “Then I give you my son and with him my name!”

Peace Child by Don RichardsonTaking the baby gently in his arms, Mahor then announced for all to hear: “It is enough! I will surely plead for peace between us! Those who accept this child as a basis for peace, come and lay hands on him!” The men, women and children of Haenam eagerly filed by, each placing his or her hands on the Kamur infant. From then on Mahor went by Kaiyo’s name.

Presently an infant from Haenam was presented to Kaiyo, who made the same sort of pledge that Mahor had pronounced moments earlier. When Kaiyo returned to his village, the people of Kamur similarly placed their hands on the Haenam child as the basis for maintaining peace with that settlement. Kaiyo immediately assumed the name of Mahaen, the Haenam father who had given him his son.

Don Richardson feared that harm might come to the infants who had been given to the enemy villagers. But he was assured that those children would be carefully protected so peace could continue between the two settlements. When Richardson asked why all this was necessary, the Sawi answered, “You’ve been urging us to make peace. Don’t you know it’s impossible to have peace without a peace child?”

Richardson went on to use that deeply-rooted cultural tradition as a “redemptive analogy” of God’s having sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to reconcile His enemies (those who were opposed to Him and rebelling against Him) to Himself, thus establishing peace between forgiven people and holy God. That peace child analogy, in fact, served as the basis of the breakthrough in the Sawis’ understanding that led many of them to saving faith in Christ.

Don and Carol Richardson with son Steve

Don and Carol Richardson with son Steve

When the angels announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds in Luke 2, they declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” God was providing a Savior to make a way for human beings to come to be at peace with Him, to be reconciled to Him. By trusting in the Savior people could have their sins, which estranged them from God, forgiven. Christ Jesus was the ultimate Peace Child.

Romans 5:1, 10-11 also speaks of the peace and reconciliation God has brought to all who trust in Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ … For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” See similarly 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 and Colossians 1:20-22.

God the Father and Christ the Son made a totally one-sided sacrifice to reconcile us; we sacrificed nothing. Christ bore on the cross the full judgment that we deserved for our rebellion against God. As a result, through Him we gain forgiveness and the countless other blessings that come through being in restored relationship with God. We rightly join the heavenly angels in giving highest praise to God for reconciling us to Himself in Christ.

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The full remarkable story of Don and Carol Richardson’s ministry among the Sawi is recorded in his excellent book Peace Child.

Luke 2:14

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie ten Boom

Corrie and Betsie ten Boom were courageous, compassionate Dutch Christians who helped harbor Jews from the Nazis in Holland during World War 2. After the sisters were arrested for doing so, they were imprisoned at Ravensbruck, a German concentration camp.

In their barracks, they were shown to a series of massive square platforms, stacked three levels high and placed so close together that people had to walk single-file to pass between them. Rancid straw was scattered over the platforms, which served as communal beds for hundreds of women. Corrie and Betsie found they could not sit upright on their own platform without hitting their heads on the deck above them. They lay back, struggling against nausea that swept over them from the reeking straw.

Suddenly Corrie started up, striking her head on the cross-slats above. Something had bitten her leg. “Fleas!” she cried. “Betsie, the place is swarming with them!” Descending from the platform and edging down a narrow aisle, they made their way to a patch of light. “Here! And here another one!” Corrie wailed. “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?”

Womens' Barracks in a German Concentration Camp

Womens’ Barracks in a German Concentration Camp

“Show us. Show us how,” Betsie said matter-of-factly. It took Corrie a moment to realize that her sister was praying. “Corrie!” Betsie then exclaimed excitedly. “He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!”

Corrie checked to make sure no guards were nearby, then drew from a pouch a small Bible she had managed to smuggle into the concentration camp. “It was in First Thessalonians,” she said, finding the passage in the feeble light. “Here it is: ‘Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all. Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus …’ ” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18).

Betsie ten Boom

Betsie ten Boom

“That’s it!” Betsie interrupted. “That’s His answer. ‘Give thanks in all circumstances!’ That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this barracks!”

Corrie stared at her incredulously, then around at the dark, foul-smelling room. “Such as?” she inquired.

“Such as being assigned here together.”

Corrie bit her lip. “Oh yes, Lord Jesus!”

“Such as what you’re holding in your hands.”

Corrie looked down at the Bible. “Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all the women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.”

“Yes,” agreed Betsie. “Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!” She looked at her sister expectantly and prodded, “Corrie!”

“Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed, suffocating crowds.”

“Thank you,” Betsie continued on serenely, “for the fleas and for …”

That was too much for Corrie. She cut in on her sister: “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“ ‘Give thanks in all circumstances,” Betsie corrected. “It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.” So they stood between the stacks of bunks and gave thanks for fleas, though on that occasion Corrie thought Betsie was surely wrong.

As the weeks passed, Betsie’s health weakened to the point that, rather than needing to go out on work duty each day, she was permitted to remain in the barracks and knit socks together with other seriously-ill prisoners. She was a lightning fast knitter and usually had her daily sock quota completed by noon. As a result, she had hours each day she could spend moving from platform to platform reading the Bible to fellow prisoners. She was able to do this undetected as the guards never seemed to venture far into the barracks.

One evening when Corrie arrived back at the barracks Betsie’s eyes were twinkling.   “You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,” Corrie told her.

“You know we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,” Betsie said, referring to the part of the barracks where the sleeping platforms were. “Well—I’ve found out. This afternoon there was confusion in my knitting group about sock sizes, so we asked the supervisor to come and settle it. But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?” Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice as she exclaimed, “Because of the fleas! That’s what she said: ‘That place is crawling with fleas!’ ”

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten BoomCorrie’s mind raced back to their first hour in the barracks. She remembered Betsie bowing her head and thanking God for creatures that Corrie could see no use for.

May our own hearts and lips overflow with gratitude this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. Even when faced with deeply trying and discouraging circumstances, we can identify numerous blessings that the Lord continues to pour into our lives. Some of those blessings come as a result of the difficulties we’re facing. As we focus on the Lord’s blessings, we will be heartened and enabled to persevere through life’s discouragements. And we’ll never fail to appropriately honor God by thanking Him for His ever-present blessings.

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You will find this and many other inspiring incidents from the life of Corrie ten Boom in her own book, The Hiding Place, and in two of my works, Women of Faith and Courage and Timeless Stories.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

 

John Piper

John Piper

In his excellent book for pastors, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper includes a chapter on “Brothers, Read Christian Biography.” His encouragements to do so, of course, apply not only to vocational ministers but to all Christians. So please consider his perspectives for your own spiritual benefit. And if you think these thoughts would encourage and profit your own pastor, perhaps you’ll want to share this blog with him.

Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John PiperHere are some of Piper’s key thoughts on this subject in his own words: “Hebrews 11 is a divine mandate to read Christian biography. The unmistakable implication of the chapter is that if we hear about the faith of our forefathers (and mothers), we will ‘lay aside every weight, and sin’ and ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (Heb. 12:1). If we asked the author, ‘How shall we stir one another up to love and good works?’ (10:24), his answer would be: ‘Through encouragement from the living (10:25) and the dead (11:1-40).’ Christian biography is the means by which the body life of the church cuts across the centuries.”

“[God] regularly uses human agents to stir up His people. So the question for us is: Through what human agents does God give us vision and direction and inspiration? For me, one of the most important answers has been great men and women of faith who, though dead, are yet speaking (Heb. 11:4).”

“Christian biography, well chosen, combines all sorts of things pastors [and other Christians] need but have so little time to pursue. Good biography is history and guards us against chronological snobbery (as C.S. Lewis calls it). It is also theology—the most powerful kind—because it bursts forth from the lives of people. It is also adventure and suspense, for which we have a natural hunger. It is psychology and personal experience, which deepen our understanding of human nature (especially ourselves). Good biographies of great Christians make for remarkably efficient reading.”

“Since biography is its own best witness, let me tell a little of my own encounter with biographies. Biographies have served as much as any other human force in my life to resist the inertia of mediocrity. Without them I tend to forget what joy there is in relentless God-besotted labor and aspiration.”

John Calvin

John Calvin

Piper then cites the examples of Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin. Of the latter he writes: “How Calvin could work! After 1549, his special charge in Geneva was to preach twice on Sunday and once every day of alternate weeks. On Sunday, August 25, 1549, Calvin began to preach on Acts and continued weekly in that book until March 1554. On weekdays during this time, he preached through eight of the minor prophets as well as Daniel, Lamentations and Ezekiel. But what amazes me is that between 1550 and 1559 he took 270 weddings. That’s one every other week! He also baptized (about once a month), visited the sick, carried on extensive correspondence, and sustained heavy organizational responsibilities.”

“When I look at Calvin and Edwards and their output, it is hard for me to feel sorry for myself in my few burdens. These brothers inspire me to break out of mediocre plodding.”

“George Mueller has been a pacesetter for me in prayer. His Autobiography is an orchard of faith-building fruit. In one section he tells us, after forty years of trials, ‘how to be constantly happy in God.’ He said, ‘I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.’ ” Piper then relates how that for ten years Mueller would go to prayer first thing in the morning, but often suffered from wandering thoughts for up to half an hour.

George Mueller

George Mueller

Mueller himself describes a significant change he then made in his personal devotions routine and the benefits that yielded: “I began to meditate on the New Testament, from the beginning, early in the morning … searching into every verse for the sake of obtaining food for my own soul. The result I have found almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, thanksgiving or supplication. So that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer.”

Comments Piper: “I have found Mueller’s way absolutely crucial in my own life: be with the Lord before I am with anyone else and let Him speak to me first.”

Piper shares a number of other personal encouragements he has received from historic Christian biography in his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals (Broadman and Holman, 2002), chapter 13, “Brothers, Read Christian Biography” (pgs. 89-96).

The Swans are Not SilentPiper not only reads biography but also has written seven outstanding volumes of historic Christian biography in his “The Swans Are Not Silent” series published by Crossway. Each of those volumes contains a trio of biographies on noteworthy, influential Christians of the past.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

 

William Wilberforce as a Young Man

William Wilberforce as a Young Man

Properly balancing work, ministry and family responsibilities is not an easy feat to accomplish. Sometimes the pressures of seeking to do so are considerable. And even when we’re giving it our best we don’t always feel like we’re doing a very good job of maintaining a proper balance.

William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was a leading Member of Parliament (MP) in the British House of Commons whose enormous efforts helped bring about extensive social and moral reforms in nineteenth century England (see my September 13 & 28, 2016 Perspectives). But Wilberforce also serves as an encouraging example of an individual who did a good (though not always perfect) job of caring for and ministering to his family while at the same time carrying out his heavy vocational responsibilities.

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce

Wilberforce was thirty-seven years old when, on April 15, 1797, he first met Barbara Spooner, the young woman who would become his wife. By that time he had been leading the political fight to end the British slave trade for nine years, and another decade would elapse before that battle would be won. By all reports, Barbara was physically attractive and, like Wilberforce, was an ardent Evangelical Christian. Just eight days after their first meeting Wilberforce proposed marriage by letter, and Barbara accepted that same day, also by letter. They were married five weeks later. Theirs was a happy marriage that lasted till Wilberforce’s death thirty-six years later.

William and Barbara had six children in ten years, four boys and two girls. Wilberforce sometimes had to be away from his family, a circumstance he strongly disliked, while attending to parliamentary duties in London. But when home, Wilberforce was very attentive and involved in the lives of his family members. With them he played games, read, went on walks, observed nature, went to museums, picnicked and celebrated holidays.

Kensington Gore House in London

Kensington Gore House in London

The Wilberforce home was a little eccentric and rather lax. Numerous pets, including a rabbit, were kept in the house. Barbara’s strong suit was not as “domestic engineer,” and the servants were allowed to be somewhat too laid back in their responsibilities. Sometimes the Wilberforces’ guests, who tended to be numerous, had to wait till odd, late hours for meals.

But William Wilberforce was very regular in his personal and family devotions. He habitually dedicated the first hour to hour and a half of the morning to personal Bible reading and prayer. Then, after a late breakfast, he led his family in a briefer time of Scripture reading and prayer, always kneeling for the latter.

One way in which Wilberforce sought to compensate when he needed to be away from his family members was by writing them many letters. His missives were full of warm affection and sound advice. Throughout his life he wrote a total of hundreds or even thousands of letters to his wife and children. One son collected and numbered all 600-plus letters that his father wrote just to him!

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce with child

Barbara Spooner Wilberforce with child

In 1808, after the birth of their last child, Wilberforce moved his family to Kensington Gore House in London so he could be with them more, even when Parliament was in session. Four years later, one of Wilberforce’s small children began to cry when placed on his lap, and the nursemaid commented of the child, “He always is afraid of strangers.” The incident led Wilberforce to resign his position as MP of Yorkshire (England’s most powerful county) and to become MP of a smaller and much less demanding constituency.

Sadly, William and Barbara’s two daughters died as young women, one at age twenty-two of tuberculosis and the other at thirty years of age from complications resulting from a chest infection. Three of the Wilberforces’ sons gained top university honors and entered pastoral ministry. Two of those wrote a comprehensive five-volume biography on the life of their beloved and esteemed father after his death. Unfortunately, the oldest Wilberforce son lost the family’s considerable fortune in the mismanagement of a large dairy operation late in his father’s lifetime.

William Wilberforce was obviously sensitive about and determined in his efforts to strike a proper balance in fulfilling his work and family responsibilities. Though he sometimes struggled to do so as well as he would have liked, he continued to work at it. As a result, he achieved a good degree of success in appropriately discharging both responsibilities. With God’s help and their own conscientious effort, committed Christian parents can do the same today.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

William Wilberforce as an Older Man

William Wilberforce as an Older Man

On Sunday, October 28, 1787, a year and a half after William Wilberforce’s Christian conversion, he wrote on a blank page in his diary: “God Almighty has placed before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners [morals].” Wilberforce’s decades-long battle to help bring an end to slavery throughout the British Empire is well known. His equally-determined endeavors to promote a broad range of other social reforms and philanthropic causes are little known today so are well worth recalling.

Wilberforce (1759-1833) had a long and influential career as a Member of Parliament in the British House of Commons. In addition to the abolition of slavery, Wilberforce championed some seventy other legislative causes for the welfare of both people and animals. Several of those causes included: small pox inoculation; public relief of poverty; popular education; injustices of the penal code; prison reforms; child labor laws (protecting child factory workers and chimney sweeps); eliminating bear baiting and other forms of cruelty to animals.

William Wilberforce Statue in Hull England

William Wilberforce Statue in Hull England

Besides the anti-slavery issue, another twenty-year political battle that Wilberforce was part of (from 1793 to 1813) was to gain the right for Christian missionaries to minister in India. The powerful British East India Company fiercely opposed missionary activity in its trading domain, claiming (without an evidential basis) such efforts would cause agitation among non-Christian people groups and would adversely affect EIC financial profits. Significantly, Wilberforce himself always declared that gaining the right for missionaries to serve in India was the greatest cause he had lived for, not even excepting the emancipation of the slaves. He doubtless thought that due to the eternal benefits that came to countless people through the passage of the missionary legislation.

Wilberforce generously used much of his personal wealth to help support many individuals and charities. Before marrying, he donated 2,000 pounds per year (fully one-fourth of his annual income) to charity. Wilberforce personally supported nearly every charitable institution in London and Yorkshire (England’s most powerful county and the one he represented in Parliament). He also financially supported numerous young men training for pastoral ministry, as well as many other young people preparing for other careers (including the Bronte sisters who eventually gained literary fame). Wilberforce helped keep many individuals out of debtor’s prison and assisted in funding the erection of a number of churches. He was instrumental in founding the forerunner of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Britain’s National Gallery of Art, London University, and the British and Foreign Bible Society.

William Wilberforce Two Great Objects Quote

Rather ironically in light of his tremendous generosity, and through no fault of his own, Wilberforce lost his fortune near the end of his life. By the time Wilberforce was seventy years old, his oldest son had run the large dairy farm in which Wilberforce had invested much of the family fortune deep into debt. Over 50,000 pounds were owed. Wilberforce decided he needed to lease the estate and mansion where he had been living in retirement years to generate income. The final three years of his life he lived with two of his other sons, both of whom served as ministers.

William Wilberforce Quote 2

A number of beneficial biographies have been written on Wilberforce in recent years: William Wilberforce, A Hero for Humanity, by Kevin Belmonte (Zondervan, 2007); Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas (Harperone, 2008);Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, by John Piper (Crossway, 2007). Belmonte’s and Metaxas’s works are full-length biographies while Piper’s booklet of sixty-four pages focuses more specifically on Wilberforce’s conversion and Christian convictions that were at the foundation of his remarkable career of public service.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

William Wilberforce as a Young Man

William Wilberforce as a Young Man

Sometimes carrying out a particular ministry that the Lord would have us to fulfill requires not just weeks or months of effort. Sometimes it demands many years or even several decades of unrelenting, determined endeavor. But with the renewed encouragement, strength and tenacity that God Himself provides, we can successfully fulfill even the longest-term tasks to which He calls us.

William Wilberforce’s relentless efforts to bring an end to slavery in the British Empire are a sterling and instructive example of that. From the time he was twenty-eight years of age, Wilberforce felt definitely led of the Lord to do what he could to stop the British slave trade. As a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons, Wilberforce initially intended to move for the abolition of the slave trade in February, 1788. But that month he became dangerously ill with ulcerative colitis (an excruciating, stress-induced condition of the digestive tract) and was told he might not live two more weeks.

Prime Minister William Pitt

Prime Minister William Pitt

However, Prime Minister William Pitt, Wilberforce’s close friend and powerful political ally, got the ball rolling for Wilberforce during his illness. Pitt was able to pass legislation to conduct a formal government investigation of conditions in the slave trade.

Debate on Wilberforce’s bill for abolishing the trade did not start for three more years, until April, 1791, and it was defeated. When Wilberforce again moved for the slave trade’s abolition in 1792, the House of Commons voted to gradually eliminate the trade over the next four years. But the following year, 1793, the House refused to confirm that decision because France had just declared war on Britain, and many concluded it was not the right time to address the deeply divisive issue of slavery.

Those were extremely difficult years for Wilberforce. He was accused of undermining the British economy and received death threats on his life. He was challenged to a duel (which he refused on Christian principles) by anti-abolitionists who still strongly supported the slave trade.

In 1796 Wilberforce’s renewed motion that the slave trade be abolished was narrowly defeated by a vote of 74 to 70. Twelve supporters of his bill carelessly missed the session when that vote was taken, instead being at a new opera with free tickets supplied by anti-abolitionists! Wilberforce was bitterly disappointed at that tragic development and shortly thereafter suffered a serious relapse of intestinal problems.

William Wilberforce as an Older Man

William Wilberforce as an Older Man

The struggle to abolish the slave trade dragged on eleven more years. Every year from 1797 to 1803 the abolition cause suffered setbacks. Finally on February 23, 1807, the House of Commons voted to abolish the trade by an overwhelming majority of 283 to 16. Slave trading and the shipping of slaves to or from British territories were outlawed. Nearly twenty years had passed since Wilberforce had first agreed to lead the legislative effort to end slavery.

In the 1810s Wilberforce campaigned to emancipate slaves and completely abolish slavery throughout the British Empire. In 1821, due to failing health, he turned over the leadership of that legislative responsibility to Thomas Buxton, a young Quaker MP whose efforts at prison reform Wilberforce greatly admired. Wilberforce officially retired, for health reasons, four years later, at age sixty-five.

On July 26, 1833, Wilberforce received news that a bill for the complete abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire was now assured of becoming law. England was willing to give twenty million pounds to purchase the freedom of the 800,000 slaves in Britain’s colonies.

Just three days later, William Wilberforce died at age seventy-three. Forty-six years had elapsed since he was first led of God to take up the cause of ending slavery.

A number of beneficial biographies have been written on Wilberforce in recent years: William Wilberforce, A Hero for Humanity, by Kevin Belmonte (Zondervan, 2007); Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas (Harperone, 2008); Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, by John Piper (Crossway, 2007). Belmonte’s and Metaxas’s works are full-length biographies while Piper’s booklet of sixty-four pages focuses more specifically on Wilberforce’s conversion and Christian convictions that were at the foundation of his remarkable career of public service.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

Wlliam WilberforceWilliam Wilberforce (1759-1833) is best known as the extraordinary Member of Parliament whose tenacious efforts played a prominent role in bringing an end to the British slave trade. Wilberforce testified that his slavery abolition endeavors and his many other philanthropic works never would have come about without what he always called his “Great Change” – his Christian conversion.

Wilberforce was born in Hull, on the east coast of England, on August 24, 1759. The Wilberforces were a well-to-do merchant family, extravagant socialites who enjoyed lots of balls, lavish dinner parties, the theatre and card parties.

When William was just eight years old, his father Robert died at age forty. A short while later William’s sister Elizabeth died at fourteen years of age while at boarding school in London. Through that double shock William’s mother, also named Elizabeth, became gravely ill and only gradually recovered.

William WilberforceFor two years during his mother’s recovery, while William was between the ages of 10 and 12, he was placed under the guardianship of his uncle and aunt, William and Hannah Wilberforce. William and Hannah were committed evangelical Christians and good friends of John and Polly Newton, whom they often visited in Olney, where Newton pastored an Anglican Church. Newton took an interest in young William Wilberforce, and a fond friendship developed between the pastor and the boy during that time.

Elizabeth Wilberforce, like the Newtons, belonged to the Church of England. But she strongly disapproved of Dissenters, Methodists and other evangelists with whom William and Hannah Wilberforce and the Newtons associated. So when Elizabeth regained her health, she brought her son, at age twelve, back home to live with her in Hull. There she worked hard to stifle the religious convictions he had gained from his guardians, viewing them as unhealthy and extreme. Instead she sought to help him acquire a taste for the world and its diversions. At first this seemed distasteful to William but gradually he came to relish it.

William Wilberforce: A Hero for Humanity by Kevin BelmonteAt age seventeen William Wilberforce entered St. John’s College, Cambridge. He loved to socialize with his fellow students and was the life of the party with his lively spirit, quick wit, entertaining conversation and wealth. He had a gift for classical languages and literature but partied so much that he largely squandered his college years.

Wilberforce desired to enter politics. Just days before his twenty-first birthday, he was elected as MP (Member of Parliament in the House of Commons), representing his hometown of Hull, one of England’s most important port cities. During his early years in parliament his primary concern was gaining the approval of others and prominence. He quickly became known as an eloquent speaker and powerful debater. He was not above bribing voters (buying votes was a common practice in that day) and bitterly attacking and humiliating political opponents with sarcasm.

Wilberforce belonged to five clubs made up of well-born young men with similar political convictions. Drinking and heavy gambling were part of those clubs. Wilberforce was pained to see some young men lose far more than they could afford through gambling.

In March of 1784, at age twenty-four, Wilberforce pulled off an unlikely political victory by being elected as the MP representing Yorkshire County, where he had few contacts. Yorkshire was the most powerful county and one of the most coveted political seats in all of England.

Wilberforce’s “Great Change,” his gradual process of coming to embrace Christian beliefs, began that same autumn and continued for a year and a half, through the spring of 1786. During that period of time Wilberforce became convinced of and personally embraced the truths of Christianity, including the Deity of Jesus Christ, His atoning death on the cross for sin and the Bible as God’s authoritative Word.

Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric MetaxaxIn December 1785, Wilberforce made a secret visit to John Newton who, at age sixty, was then pastoring in London. Newton affirmed Wilberforce’s newfound Christian convictions and encouraged him to serve God by remaining in Parliament. They had other visits, which were enormously reassuring to Wilberforce, that winter and the following spring.

There were several noticeable, positive results of Wilberforce’s conversion: (1) He became kind and forbearing rather than being irritable and employing biting sarcasm with family members and political opponents. (2) He dropped out of all five of the worldly clubs he had been a member in and gave up gambling. (3) He took greater care to be present for every debate in the House of Commons in an age when legislators were commonly absent, and did the thankless work of serving on countless committees. (4) For the next seven to eight years he devoted much of his free time to making up for the educational opportunities he had squandered in college. Ever after he was a diligent lifelong reader and student, with his coat pockets often being full of books. (5) Instead of using politics to further his own prominence, he used it to diligently serve God and his fellow human beings. (I plan to devote a future blog to the significant ways in which he did that.)

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John PiperA number of beneficial biographies have been written on Wilberforce in recent years: William Wilberforce, A Hero for Humanity, by Kevin Belmonte (Zondervan, 2007); Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas (Harperone, 2008); Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce, by John Piper (Crossway, 2007). Belmonte’s and Metaxas’s works are full-length biographies while Piper’s booklet of sixty-four pages focuses more specifically on Wilberforce’s conversion and Christian convictions that were at the foundation of his remarkable career of public service.

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie

John NewtonIn recent Perspectives (June 13 & 28, 2016) I have shared the testimony of how John Newton, author of the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace,” was brought from fierce spiritual rebellion to saving faith in Jesus Christ, then how he went on to play a part in bringing an end to the British slave trade that he was once a part of. In this Perspective I’d like to relate a few highlights of Newton’s forty-three year career as a faithful, fruitful Christian minister. His example is instructive for all Christians (not just vocational ministers) in their service for Christ.

After leaving the slave trade at age twenty-nine, Newton served for nine years as Tide Surveyor in the Customs and Excise office at Liverpool. With a staff of fifty-five people under him, he was responsible for searching for smuggled goods in all vessels coming into port. By the time he was thirty-three years of age, Newton concluded (after months of earnest prayer about the matter) that God was calling him to be a vocational minister. But five more years would pass before he was able to start pastoring. During that rather unsettling period of Newton’s life he was turned down for, or declined himself, pastoral ministries in the Established Church (Church of England), Dissenting churches, itinerant Methodist ministry and starting a church of his own in Liverpool.

Finally at age thirty-eight he was ordained as a minister in the Church of England and began pastoring a parish in Olney, Buckinghamshire, about seventy miles northwest of London. Under Newton’s ministry in that small agriculturally-based market town, the church grew and soon needed to add a balcony to accommodate the increased attendances. In the era before Sunday Schools, Newton devoted Thursday evenings to children’s services, which were sometimes attended by a couple hundred young people. He also started a weeknight prayer meeting for adults which eventually grew so large it had to be moved from a cottage to the grand hall of the local Earl’s mansion house.

John Newton's Olney HymnsDuring his years in Olney, Newton was a faithful friend and neighbor to a poet named William Cowper (pronounced Cooper). Both Newton and Cowper were prolific hymn writers, and together they published a popular collection called The Olney Hymns. Besides “Amazing Grace, John Newton’s hymns still sung today include “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” and “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds,” while two of Cowper’s enduring hymns are “There Is a fountain Filled with Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Sadly, Cowper had a history of suicidal depression. After six pleasant years, Newton had to carefully shepherd Cowper through six dark and dangerous years, during which Cowper was convinced he had been rejected by Christ and was again suicidal.

Shortly after moving to Olney, at the ongoing insistence of friends, Newton published his personal testimony in book form. It became a bestseller in England and America, and led to his gaining prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. Newton was also a prolific letter writer. His thoughtful missives were of striking style and savory spiritual content. These were considered so worthwhile that Newton was encouraged to publish them. He eventually did so in a two-volume work entitled Cardiphonia (meaning “utterance of the heart”), and it too became a bestseller.

At age fifty-four Newton was called to pastor St. Mary Woolnoth Church, a prominent Anglican congregation in the heart of London. That church also grew under his capable pastoral ministry. So many strangers came to hear Newton preach that the church’s regular attendees complained they could not get to their normal seats!

St. Mary Woolnoth Church, modern London

St. Mary Woolnoth Church, modern London

During both his pastorates, Newton often traveled to visit friends in other locations. While doing so, he was frequently invited to speak in churches or house meetings. Often large audiences turned out to hear him. But many Anglican churches refused their pulpits to him due to his clear evangelical convictions.

Newton became largely deaf and blind in his latter years, but he insisted (against the advice of close associates) on continuing to pastor his church. He preached and quoted Scripture from memory. But his mind sometimes wandered in the middle of discourses and at times his understanding seemed unclear.

Near the end of his life Newton told a man who came to visit him: “My memory is nearly gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior.” At his death at age eighty-two on December 21, 1807, Newton immediately passed into the presence of his Savior in heaven.

A number of excellent biographies have been written on Newton’s extraordinary life and ministry: John Newton, From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, by Jonathan Aitken (Crossway, 2007 & 2013); “But Now I See,” The Life of John Newton, by Josiah Bull (Banner of Truth, 1998, a reprint of a work first published in 1868); The Life of John Newton, by John Newton and Richard Cecil (Baker, 1978, a reprint of a work originally published in the 1800s); John Newton, The British Slave Trader Who found “Amazing Grace,” by Catherine Swift (Bethany, 1991, a somewhat shorter account of Newton’s life).

Copyright 2016 by Vance E. Christie