Thursday, September 20, 2007

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce by John Piper, IVP, 2007, 76pp.
William Wilberforce is chiefly remembered for his role in the abolition of the slave trade 200 years ago. But his dogged anti-slavery campaign was far from being his only interest. At one time in his life, he was active in 69 different initiatives as diverse as the British and Foreign Bible Society and the RSPCA. He was a big name politician. Wilberforce may have refused to serve as a cabinet minister. But he was a friend and confidant to British Prime Ministers. In this delightful little book, John Piper seeks to explore what made this great man tick.

Biographical details are sketched in, but what drives the book is Piper’s desire to find the key to Wilberforce’s life as a Christian. He finds two main principles. First, Wilberforce’s insistence that Christian living cannot be separated from “the gigantic truths of the gospel”. His A Practical View of Christianity was written to shock the chattering classes out of their nominal Christianity. He knew that lives could only be changed if people wholeheartedly believed in the gospel of justifying grace. A holy life is the inevitable effect on saving faith in Christ. As Don Carson recently put it, Wilberforce was "radical from the centre". His reforming activities were rooted in the gospel of God's grace. The "Social Gospel" movement of the early 20th century turned its back upon the doctrines of historic Christianity and focused almost entirely on changing society. The movement was a spectacular failure. People had little interest in a Christianity devoid of saving power. Instead, they looked to socialism to cure the ills of society. Wilberforce however, whose reforms did change the world was a distinctly evangelical reformer.
Second, Piper shows that Wilberforce’s life was characterised by “childlike joy”. The reformer knew periods of discouragement and spiritual difficulty, but all who knew him testified to his sunny, joyful disposition. The cynical might raise a weary eyebrow at Piper's attempt to turn Wilber into a proto-Christian Hedonist. But if ever there was a happy believer it was William Wilberforce. The joy of the Lord was his strength and his joyful Christian life made him a winsome and lovable witness to Christ.
You will have to look elsewhere for a full biography of Wilberforce. This book is largely draws on two sources, John Pollock’s Wilberforce and Wilberforce’s own A Practical View of Christianity. A helpful Foreword is written by Jonathan Aitken, who warmly recommends this study. All Christians will be helped and challenged by this little volume. Are we vibrant, joyful witnesses to Christ? The book could also be given to non-Christians who were captivated by the film Amazing Grace and want to know more about what made William Wilberforce the man that he was.

1 comment:

Sam said...

There's also a great bio sermon on William Wilberforce here: