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William Wilberforce: Erring on the Side of Graciousness

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hird William Wilberforce had two main goals: the abolition of slavery and the reform of morals.

 

Abraham Lincoln once said that every school child should know about William Wilberforce.[i]  Preston Manning, former Parliamentary Opposition Leader, recently gave a talk in Abbotsford on the gracious political persistence of Wilberforce.  For twenty long years from 1787 to 1807, Wilberforce campaigned relentlessly for the abolition of the slave trade.  It was incredibly painful and often deeply discouraging.  What kept him from giving up as he faced defeat after defeat?  Wilberforce had previously lived a self-indulgent life as a very wealthy upper class Englishman.  What motivated him to stopped wasting his life in drinking, gambling and endless parties?  Wilberforce was a popular Member of Parliament who wowed crowds with his remarkable singing and wit.  Prime Minister William Pitt said that Wilberforce had the greatest natural eloquence of all the men he had ever known.[ii]  What caused Wilberforce to choose the unpopular path of putting principle above politics, and conscience over ambition?

With the death of Wilberforce’s father at just age 40, William’s comfortable world was radically shaken.  At only eight, after his mother’s serious illness, he was shipped off to his Uncle William and Aunt Hannah in Wimbledon.  Unbeknownst to his mother, he became exposed to a deep faith, even becoming mentored by Rev. John Newton, the former slave-ship captain and author of the song Amazing Grace.  Some trace Wilberforce’s hatred of slavery back to this earliest encounter.  When Wilberforce’s wealthy grandfather got wind of his new spirituality, he threatened to disinherit him.  So Wilberforce’s mother promptly rescued him and did her best to cure him through endless parties and upper class distractions.  For a while, the cure was effective.  After his grandfather’s death, Wilberforce inherited the family fortune which funded his election as a very young English MP.  His good friend William Pitt Jr, at the age of only 24, became the youngest prime minister in English history.

While spending the winter at the fashionable French and Italian Rivieras, he was suddenly called back to London in support of William Pitt’s Parliamentary Reform Bill. While crossing the Swiss Alps, Wilberforce read The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul by Philip Doddridge.  Both Doddridge and John Wesley were instrumental in reintroducing the forgotten teachings of Richard Baxter about self-examination, solitude, devotions, and diligence.[iii]  In discussing Doddridge’s book with his former tutor Isaac Milner, Wilberforce’s life was never the same.  He rediscovered his childhood faith at an adult level.  Wilberforce, with Milner’s assistance, began reading the bible in the original Greek.  He wanted to find out for himself what the Christian faith was actually about.  He discovered that it was not about a system of gloomy prohibitions.  True faith is about peace and hope and joy.  The Amazing Grace movie, which Preston Manning often shows to young leaders, vividly portrays that when Wilberforce fell in love with Jesus, he also fell in love with God’s creation.  As a 18th-century flower child, he saw flowers as the smiles of God’s goodness.[iv]

Rather than drop out of politics as he was tempted to do, Wilberforce turned his new-found faith into practical action.  Prime Minister Pitt wrote him, saying: “Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action.”  We are called by Jesus to be salt and light in the public arena.  Reconnecting with his old mentor John Newton, Wilberforce realized that God could use him to end the slave trade: “God almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the reformation of manners.”  Eighteenth-century England was rife with epidemic alcohol abuse, child prostitution, child labour, and animal exploitation.  There were over 14,000 slaves in England alone, but hundreds of thousands more in the rich Caribbean colonies where it was out of sight and out of mind.[v]  The future King of England George IV was famous for his immorality and gambling debts, keeping lockets of hair from all 7,000 women that he had seduced.[vi]  He and his brothers dismissed abolitionists like Wilberforce as fanatics and hypocrites.[vii]

Preston Manning has for years encouraged Christians who want to make a difference in society to follow the example of William Wilberforce.Preston Manning, President and CEO for the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, told me that Wilberforce, in abolishing slavery, conducted a classic campaign integrating moral, economic and political issues.  As a committed Christian, Wilberforce followed Jesus’ teaching to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  He was careful how he introduced this taboo subject of abolition.  Rather than politically discrediting others, said Manning, it is better like Wilberforce to err on the side of graciousness.  Because England was the foremost slave-trading nation on earth, it was initially unthinkable to give it up, let alone discuss it.[viii]  Such moral reform appeared to many like commercial suicide.  One merchant accurately put it, the African slave trade was “the foundation of our commerce,…the life of our navigation, and first cause of our national industry and riches.”[ix]  Eighty per cent of overseas British income came from the Caribbean slave plantations.[x]  In Bristol, after the initial defeat of Wilberforce’s bill, bells were rung, a bonfire was lit, and a half-day holiday was awarded to sailors and workers.[xi]  The passion for slave-produced sugar had killed their conscience.  Trinidadian Prime Minister Eric Williams said that it was strange that an article like sugar, so sweet and necessary to human existence, should have occasioned such crimes and bloodshed![xii]

While fighting the slave trade, Wilberforce also invested in improving the life of England’s poor, giving one quarter of his income, representing the equivalent of $300,000 away each year.  He started cancer hospitals, eye clinics and many faith-based schools for the poor.[xiii]  One civic leader begged them to not bring ‘any religion into the country, it was the worst thing in the world for the poor, for it made them lazy and useless.’[xiv]  Wilberforce knew that without prayer, all his anti-slavery work would be in vain: “Of all things, guard against neglecting God in the secret place of prayer.”[xv]

While the slave trade was abolished in 1807, the slaves were not liberated until just before Wilberforce’s death.  800,000 Afro-Caribbeans were set free on July 31st 1834. Some abandoned slavery because of changes in the industrial free market.  Wilberforce however opposed slavery for godly, humanitarian reasons.  While moving a motion for abolition, Wilberforce said “Africa! Africa! Your sufferings have been the theme that has arrested and engages my heart – your sufferings no tongue can express; no language impart.”[xvi]

Sadly there are still today twenty-seven million people trapped in slavery and human trafficking.  May Wilberforce’s godly example cause us to choose to make a lasting global difference.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, D.Min

-published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News, the Light Magazine, Academia.edu, and Church for Vancouver

-award-winning author of the book Battle for the Soul of Canada

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form.  Dr. JI Packer wrote the foreword, saying “I heartily commend what he has written.” The book focuses on strengthening a new generation of healthy leaders. Drawing on examples from Titus’ healthy leadership in the pirate island of Crete, it shows how we can embrace a holistically healthy life.

In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook. It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ED HIRD, 102 – 15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 


[i] Ted Baehr, Susan Wales and Ken Wales, The Amazing Grace of Freedom: the Inspiring Faith of William Wilberforce. (New Leaf Press, Green Forest, AR, 2007), p. 23.

[ii] Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2007), p. 41.

[iii] William Hague, William Wilberforce: the Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade Campaigner,(HarperCollins Publishers, London, UK, 2007), p. 74.

[iv] Hague, p. 205.

[v] Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace (Harper Collins Publishers, New York, NY, 2007), p. 94.

[vi] Metaxas, p. 72.

[vii] Metaxas, p. 158

[viii] Eric Williams, Slavery and Capitalism, (Andre Deutsch Limited, London, UK, 1964), p. 34.

[ix] Hague, p. 119.

[x] Hague, p. 119.

[xi] Hague, p. 225.

[xii] Williams, p. 27.

[xiii] Hague, p. 221.

[xiv] Hague, p. 213.

[xv] Baehr, Wales, and Wales, p. 110.

[xvi] Metaxas, p. 151.


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Jesus Loves me, This I know…

By the Rev. Dr. Ed HirdChristlike

One of the most well-known children’s songs throughout the world is “Jesus loves me, this I know.”  Somehow that song, like “Amazing Grace”, forms part of the spiritual memory banks of most adults.  The vast majority of baby boomers and their ‘builder’ parents have gone as children either to Sunday School or Catechism.  As a result, most older adults, whether or not they currently attend church, have significant core memories connected with those early experiences. This would not necessarily be true with GenXers and Millennials.

 

As a teenager, I found church boring and avoided it by golfing and skiing on Sunday mornings.  But as a child, I remember enjoying Sunday School and looking forward to going.  I’ve always liked to sing, and one of my favorite hymns as a child was “Jesus loves me, this I know”.  Even though I did not know Jesus personally, something touched me as I sang that song in Sunday School.  Years later, I still feel deeply moved by this simple song.

 

Dr. Karl Barth was one of the most brilliant and complex intellectuals of the twentieth century.  He wrote volume after massive volume on the meaning of life and faith.  A reporter once asked Dr. Barth if he could summarize what he had said in all those volumes.  Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

chairman_maoWhen Mao Tse Tung attempted to crush the church in China, things seemed very bleak.  In 1972 however, a message leaked out which simply said: “The this I know people are well”.  The Communist authorities did not understand the message.  But Christians all around the world knew instantly that this referred to the world’s most famous children’s hymn.  Miraculously the Chinese Church, instead of being crushed, has boomed under persecution, growing from 1.5 million believers to over 100 million.

 

The author of this amazing little children’s song was Anna Bartlett Warner, sister to the famous 19th century writer, Susan B. Warner.  Susan’s first novel The Wide Wide World was an instant success, second only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the most popular 19th century novel written in North America.  Anna published her own novel Dollars and Cenannabartettwarnerts under the pseudonym “Amy Lothrop”.  Anna and Susan collaborated together on fifteen fiction and children’s books.  Neither sister ever married, so they shared a house on Constitution Island right across from the famous West Point Military Academy.

 

The two sisters took a great interest in the Military Academy in which their uncle Thomas Warner was a chaplain and professor.  As a result, they opened their home to the cadets and held Sunday School classes.  Anna outlived her sickly sister by thirty years, and continued to run a very large Sunday School throughout her life.  It was her invariable custom to write for her students a fresh hymn once a month. “Jesus Loves Me” was one of those monthly West Point hymns.  Anna also gave the song to her sister Susan to use in the novel Say and Seal. In Susan’s book, a Sunday School teacher sings ‘Jesus Loves Me’ to a sick pupil.

Great words without a great tune don’t get very far in the musical world.  Fortunately William Batchelder Bradbury stumbled across the “Jesus Loves Me” words, and wrote the now unforgettable tune.  Thirteen years earlier, Bradbury had written the tune for the “Just as I am” hymn, which everyone nowadays associates with Billy Graham Crusades.  In 1862, Bradbury found the “Jesus loves me” words in a best-selling 19th-williambradburycentury book, in which the words were spoken as a comforting poem to a dying child, John Fox.  Along with his tune, Bradbury added his own chorus “Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus Loves me…”   Within months, this song raced across the hearts of children throughout North America, and eventually all the continents of the world.

 

Even after 155+ years, “Jesus Loves Me” is still the No. 1 spiritual song in the hearts of children around the world.  Why is this?  I believe that it is because all of us deep down need to know that God loves us.  When I tell unchurched people that Jesus loves them, many of them genuinely thank me.  One lady said: “Great…we can use lots of love”.  A man said: “Thanks…I’m going to need Him some day.”  Whatever situation we are in, all of us need to know that the Lord really loves and cares for each of us.

I loved my Grandpa deeply, even though sometimes he was distant and abrasive.  Grandpa claimed to be an atheist, who had no time for religion.  One day I discovered to my surprise that Grandpa used to be active in a church choir, until his first wife died giving birth to her second child.  Left with two children under age two, he turned bitter and dropped out of church.

 

When Grandpa was in his late 80’s, I was speaking with him about that painful time in his life.  Initially he said that he didn’t want to talk about it, but then he started talking.  First he said that God sure works in mysterious ways.  Then my atheist Grandpa began to sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” to my three year-old son.  My son began to dance in front of Grandpa, and an amazing catharsis happened for my Grandfather.  Shortly after, my ‘atheist’ grandfather began listening to hymns again.  The next time I visited him, Grandpa spontaneously sang: “Up from the grave He arose!”  Within two years, I took my Grandpa’s funeral, confident that Grandpa had rediscovered that Jesus loved him too.

 

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin

-award-winning author of  Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapter for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, 102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC, Canada V4A 0A5. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca 

 


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Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound…

By the Rev. Dr. Ed Hirdcross light

A violent storm was the turning point in John Newton’s life. Motherless at age 6 and sent to sea on his 11th birthday, he soon became a teenage rebel. He was press-ganged into the Navy and flogged for desertion. Newton became involved with the African Slave Trade and came close to starvation while living in extreme poverty in Sierra Leone.

You name the corruption … he both saw it and lived it during his wealthy slave trading days. He even ended up for a short time as a slave himself. What he was most enslaved to, however, was a violent temper and a filthy tongue. John was so blasphemous that once even his hardened shipmates threatened to throw him overboard in order to calm a dangerous storm.

Throughout his blasphemy and rebellion, amazing-grace movieJohn had family members who never stopped praying for him.  Secretly he began to read the “Good Book:’ but somehow it never made sense. One night in March 1748, at the age of 23, he was on board a cargo ship which was fighting for its life against heavy seas and rough weather. Worn out with pumping and almost frozen, he called out for God’s mercy at the height of the storm, and was amazed to be saved from almost certain death.

 

Newton’s life had many twists and turns. Eventually he renounced his involvement with slave trading, and, at age 39, became an Anglican Priest. He persuaded the young William Wilberforce to stay in politics, and joined him in his fight to abolish the slave trade. After 40 years of prayer and hard work, Wilberforce, through Newton’s influence, finally had slavery abolished in 1833.

John Newton is a parable of what the Christian faith  is all about: moving from death to life, from slavery to freedom. Newton celebrated his new life in Christ  by writing one of the world’s most famous songs.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet

the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now

am found,

Was blind but now I see.”

May Amazing Grace touch your heart.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird

-author of the award-winning book Battle for the Soul of Canada

-previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News and the Light Magazine/City Light News

for better for worse-Click to check out our newest marriage book For Better For Worse: discovering the keys to a lasting relationship on Amazon. You can even read the first two chapters for free to see if the book speaks to you.

 

-The sequel book Restoring Health: body, mind and spirit is available online with Amazon.com in both paperback and ebook form. In Canada, Amazon.ca has the book available in paperback and ebook.

It is also posted on Amazon UK (paperback and ebook ), Amazon France (paperback and ebook), and Amazon Germany (paperback and ebook).

Restoring Health is also available online on Barnes and Noble in both paperback and Nook/ebook form.  Nook gives a sample of the book to read online.

Indigo also offers the paperback and the Kobo ebook version.  You can also obtain it through ITunes as an IBook.

To receive a signed copy within North America, just send a $20 cheque (USD/CAN) to ED HIRD, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5, Canada.

– In order to obtain a signed copy of the prequel book Battle for the Soul of Canada, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #102-15168 19th Avenue, Surrey, BC V4A 0A5.

For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD.  This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail ed_hird@telus.net . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $4.99 CDN/USD.

-Click to purchase the Companion Bible Study by Jan Cox (for the Battle of the Soul of Canada) in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.ca