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April 6: William Wilberforce and the Slave Trade

William Wilberforce Vision Viewpoint Hartford WIThe Christian radio program Vision Viewpoint discusses the actions of social reformer William Wilberforce of England, who, through a biblically-rich worldview and the precepts contained in the Word of God, brought an end to the African slave trade. Vision Viewpoint is a ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI.

William Wilberforce was the crusading Christian reformer who was responsible for bringing an end to the cruelty of the African slave trade. But we have to understand something about William Wilberforce: he didn’t just bring the Gospel in a manner that involved passing out some Bible tracts and expecting everything to change – certainly not overnight. His Bible was like a toolbox, in that it brought to him precepts of an exceptionally powerful worldview. He brought that worldview into play in bringing the slave trade, and all of its cruelties, to an end, in his lifetime.

One of the most important facts concerning Wilberforce was his understanding of the historic gospel of Jesus Christ.
Again, his understanding was not a quick fix. The historic gospel of Christ – referred to as a justifying faith in Jesus Christ – no doubt will bring the kind of thorough change in spirit that the Bible promises. But in addition, one of the things that it brings to mankind, when believed by individuals, is what we know as personal freedom and dignity.

Wilberforce understood that men are made in God’s image, and no one is made to be a slave. Wilberforce worked in England and around the world to attack the issue of the slave trade, and he did so using the Word of God. He was very effective at using his precepts and bringing deep conviction – public shame, exposure – to those who heard him.

Wilberforce exposed some of the cruelties of the slave trade had heard of. The trade involved packing people onto slave trips and sending them on long ocean voyages, with only a few square feet to live in, and with very little by way of good nutrition and sanitary facilities. When a person became ill, he was thrown overboard, which is why the sharks followed the slave traders.

Wilberforce exposed these issues and called them what they were: violations of the laws of God, and insulting and damaging to the whole concept of the biblical worldview of personal freedom and dignity. God’s Word teaches that all men are made in God’s image, man and woman alike. This refers to the structure of our soul – that there are attributes man shares with God, not the least of which is personal freedom and dignity. Any system that subjected men to the kinds of wanton cruelties of the slave trade – any system that, for dirty money in the trade, would subject men to slavery, was itself cruel. Wilberforce worked tirelessly for over three decades, and managed to shame and draw public remorse and conviction. He especially shined the light on the government, who had mercantilist control of the trade, and made it feasible for government officials, in particular, to become wealthy by the slave trade.

Wilberforce understood human nature: he used the Word of God powerfully. Like St. Paul, he would write that he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: “…for it is the power of God unto salvation everyone that believes – to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith, as it is written, the just shall live by faith.” Wilberforce was interested in not just a quick fix, but he also understood that unrighteousness and all of its manifestations were at the bottom of the wicked slave trade. Because of his understanding, his worldview, his understanding of man, of God, of truth, and most especially the presence of the gospel of Christ in his heart, William Wilberforce brought an end to the African slave trade.

Vision Viewpoint, as a Christian radio program and ministry of Reformation Hope Church in Hartford, WI, seeks to bring harmony between the Word of God and the accounts and evidences of the world and all its history.

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