"A Lesson from the Past."
Tomorrow is July 29th. Unless you have a photographic memory or have a personal anniversary or birthday on that day, that date probably does not carry much significance for you. The date has been historically significant, however. The English defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1957. I suppose, if you are into such things, it was this day in 1981 that Lady Diana married Prince Charles. I only know these things because I looked up the date on several of those "What Happened on this Date in History" sources that you can find on the internet.
What all of those sources fail to note, however, was that on July 29th, 1833, a death occurred. One William Wilberforce, a retired Member of the House of Commons in England, passed away a scant three days after final passage of the British Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery in most of the British Empire, with the exception of a few territories then held by the East India Company. Wilberforce was a largely forgotten name for many years until a blockbuster movie came out about his life a few years ago. Even with that movie, however, the name of William Wilberforce and the lessons we can learn from his life are already quickly waning in the public consciousness.
Wilberforce's personal mission was to end slavery in the British Empire. This was not a popular stance with very many people at the time. Wilberforce was scorned and mocked. He was even burned in effigy more than a few times during the Napoleonic wars because his message of liberating slaves was viewed as both unpatriotic and detrimental to the economy in time of war. After years of proposing legislation to curtail the slave trade and watching that legislation voted down year after year, Wilberforce despaired of the entire political process and wanted to resign and wash his hands of the filth of politics.
Only his colleague and spiritual mentor, John Newton, was able to pursuade the young William Wilberforce to not forsake his calling as a legislator and political leader. In a letter responding to Wilberforce's private wishes to retire from public life and be done with politics, the author of one of the most famous hymns in the English language, Amazing Grace, offers Wilberforce the following words,
"But you have no claim to my pity, though you have a just right to my prayers, and a frequent place in them. Because I believe you are the Lord’s servant and are in the post which he has assigned you; and though it appears to me more arduous, and requiring more self-denial than my own, I know that He who called you to it, can afford you strength according to your day, and I trust He will, for He is faithful to his promise."
With all the rancor and drama going on in Washington these days concerning spending cuts and debt ceilings, the lessons of the life of William Wilberforce are as important today as they were on the day he died. The life of William Wilberforce refutes the popular notion that being a politician is somehow incompatable with a God given vocation of one who is primarily dedicated to the service of humanity. Wilberforce's life also refutes the utter cynicism and hopelessness many people, legislators included, feel about politics and government in general. If more politicians would follow the examples of people like Wilberforce, the country would be in far better shape. I invite you, therefore, to pray for and hold accountable those politicians that represent us because God has called civic leaders to a life of public service for the common good and not private service for the good of political parties or special interests.