Now that I am older by quite a bit, I like reading biographies of more regular heroes. This gives me hope, especially when I read about my current hero, William Wilberforce, who spearheaded the fight against the British slave trade. He was an unlikely hero. His contemporaries called him short and ugly with too long a nose. But even though tiny in stature, he was tall in significance. As J. Douglas Holladay would say, "Wilberforce arguably led the single most effective stand against evil and injustice in all history." Or as John Pollock wrote in his biography, William Wilberforce was "a man who changed his times." Indeed, this one proved that one man can change the world.
In spite of great opposition including the Royal Family and Admiral Lord Nelson (Wilberforce became the most vilified man in England), and in spite of the vast revenue it brought to the British Empire (hundreds of ships and thousands of sailors depended on the trade for their livelihood), Wilberforce overcame.
It was not without cost. It cost Wilberforce his health. He was physically attacked on several occasions. As one of his friends remarked to him,
"I shall expect to read of you being carbonadoed (scored and broiled) by West Indian planters, barbecued by African merchants, and eaten by Guinea captains, but do not be daunted, for - I will write you epitaph."Indeed, there is great personal cost to changing the world for good. The devil doesn't give up any ground without a fight.
Most Englishmen of the time thought the Slave Trade was a nasty business, but they also thought that economic ruin would come to their country if it was outlawed. Few thought it wrong or evil. Wilberforce, on the other hand, saw it differently. He told the House of Commons,
"So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition."Like today, most people agree that abortion is nasty business, but most think it is politically untouchable. Few see it as the horrific moral evil that it really is. But those who understand the true nature of this slaughter of the innocent can never rest until it is eradicated.
Wilberforce answered the question, "Can a culture that is drifting from it's original ideals ever be won back?" He answered it with a resounding, YES! Sometimes all it takes is one determined person. Boris Pasternak concurred, writing, "It is not revolutions and upheavals that clear the road to new and better days, but. . . someone's soul, inspired and ablaze." That was Wilberforce. In his diary on October 28, 1787, he wrote, "God almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of manners (meaning attitudes and morals)." He was motivated by a deep belief in a God who was concerned about individual human justice. It took a full 46 years for the British Parliament to vote to abolish the Slave Trade, and it happened just three days before his death. But he overcame.
We currently live in a world filled with great evils. Since 1973, over fifty million unborn babies have been slaughtered in the womb. There is now a full scale onslaught to destroy and redefine marriage. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion are under attack by this administration. Like Wilberforce, we have suffered defeat after defeat. But William Wilberforce would not be denied. We will not be denied either. By bringing to light the atrocities, Wilberforce changed the thinking of a society.
As he told Parliament, "The nature and all the circumstances of the Trade are now laid open to us. We can no longer plead ignorance. We cannot evade it." Likewise, since ultrasound technology became common giving us a window into the womb, no one can any longer deny that the life aborted in the womb is anything other than a human baby. And as God Himself said in Proverbs 24:12 immediately after calling on us to rescue those being led to slaughter,
"If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?"Each person must make a difference. One person can change their world.
When the Nation of Israel was enslaved in Egypt for 430 years, God heard their plight and raised up Moses. When the evil Persian Prime Minister Haman was bent on exterminating the Jews, God raised up a reluctant young woman named Esther. Her uncle encouraged her with these words in Esther 4:14, "Who knows whether you have come into the kingdom for such a time as this?" Maybe now is your time to make a stand.
An interesting ice-breaker is to have everyone in a group write their own obituary. It isn't that morbid. Everyone thinks about how they want to be remembered by those they leave behind. Usually, after awhile and after the jokes quiet down, people begin to think about what truly makes a difference. As someone said, "It is easy to make a fortune, but harder to make a difference." We long to live lives that count for something.
The cynic claims that the individual can do nothing to change the world. William Wilberforce proved one person can. But will you? Will you make a difference within the group of people you influence? We can't all be members of Parliament like Wilberforce, but we have those we can influence, if we want to.