If I were asked to pick a life-hero, it would undoubtedly, unquestionably, emphatically, and immediately be: William Wilberforce. Ironic and almost humorous, really, since I am a woman, am quite the introvert, and am not a politician by profession. I don't wear a powdered wig, either, and am not named William (though my name does also begin with a "W") . Nonetheless, the famous British abolitionist and I do possess some similarities, however slight. We are both on the short side, for example. At barely 5 feet three inches tall, he would have, theoretically speaking, towered me by a full three inches. For this reason he, also like myself, was not regularly taken seriously upon first impressions. That is, until he spoke. And, while I am not a good speaker, I feel a burning in my heart to speak truth, which Wilberforce undoubtedly did at a more pronounced level.
He was a brave heart in his own right, a devoted family man, a passionate animal rights activist, and, of course, a powerful abolitionist. He enjoyed singing and reportedly stood on tables in order to belt out a hymn for all ears to hear. Perhaps not as well-known is the fact that he was a friend of dear brother-in-Christ and quotable John Wesley. In fact, they were kindred spirits when it came to plight of the defenseless. What Wilberforce deemed a "misery," Wesley condemned as an “...execrable sum of all villainies," and "the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature."
In a final correspondence before William's death, Wesley urged his friend to continue in his seemingly uphill battle:
"Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it."
This phrase would prove to be quite discerning as Wilberforce did have an influential role on American abolitionists.
"That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, your affectionate servant, John Wesley."
On this day, May 12, 1789, a young Wilberforce presented his case to the UK House of Commons; in a battle of odds which seemed overwhemingly against his favor, Wilberforce, in Christ, won the case for liberty. As the true story goes, Wilberforce's life-sacrifice effectuated the eradication of slavery forever in England. His impact also made a great impression on sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln, who revered his character as one which "every school boy" in America should know. With a deep breath, William began his speech:
"I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade."
With a sobering tone and ending on a poignant note, William's gentle but arresting reminder is relevant for every Christian of every era:
“You can choose to look the other way but never again can you say that you never knew.”