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Evangelism - Myers Mott Maggay Linthicum        


William Wilberforce, Evangelical Reformer

This page is excerpted from the "The Surprising History of Evangelicalism"  by Robert Linthicum.  For the  
complete paper on morality and American evangelicals Jonathon Blanchard and Charles Finney plus the reasons 
evangelicals lost their social justice orientation, see the end of this page for ordering information.

"Evangelicalism has a surprising history.  When we think of the three related religious traditions that make up this movement – Pentecostalism, the holiness tradition and evangelicalism – we think of these churches as being concerned about right relationship with God, right theology and right conduct.  But we don’t often think of the evangelical movement as originating in social reform.  Yet that was essentially what it was about for its first one hundred years. ...

Becoming a serious Christian created a real crisis for William Wilberforce (a member of parliament).  How should he live out his Christian faith, he wondered.  Should he become a clergyman?  The idea appalled him. ... Wilberforce chose as his targets for the use of his public office the evils of slavery and the rapidly declining morality of Great Britain.  The two issues were, in reality, linked. ...

At each season of Parliament, from 1788 to 1806, Wilberforce made the motion to outlaw the slave trade.  At each season of Parliament, the bill was defeated, even in spite of the organizing that Wilberforce and those working with him – both inside Parliament and throughout Great Britain.  Each year, Wilberforce built his base of power.  Each year, the margin of defeat lessened.  Finally, on February 23, 1807, the motion was carried and Great Britain became the first nation in the world to outlaw the trading in slaves ...

Finally, between 1808 and 1833, Wilberforce led the organizing effort to outlaw slavery itselfthroughout the entire British Empire.  Two days before his death, the bill was approved by Parliament, and slavery was outlawed throughout the British Empire.  Wilberforce had spent his entire public life in fighting that evil system – and he had won!

            A word needs to be said about the cost to Great Britain of outlawing slavery throughout the British Empire.  It cost Great Britain 20,000,000 pounds or $800,000,000.  That money was spent in two ways.  First, some of it was spent to purchase each slave from each slaveholder, so that the slaveholder would not face economic ruin when his means of production was taken away from him.  Second, most of it was spent to pay the 700,000 slaves for their period of slavery and to equip them to compete successfully in the Empire’s economy.  No Civil War to rid the empire of slavery, no loss of life of millions of people, no destitute former slave holders, no vulnerable former slaves unable to cope with their changed condition, no nation with scars of hatred and defeat for a hundred years thereafter!   ...

The second objective of Wilberforce’s was the reforming of the morality of the nation (what was quaintly called at the time, the “reforming of manners”). ... Thus did the evangelicals transform Great Britain and the British Empire into a society where morality and justice could exist hand-in-hand."

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