The life of William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce is known for championing for the abolition of slave labor and slavery in Britain. And he is our this week’s focus. In case you missed it, last week we were dealing with the life of John Bunyan. And you could check it out too.


He was born on 24th August 1959, in Hull, England. When he was almost 9, his father died and he was sent to live with William and Hannah, his uncle and aunt.

His parents were very wealthy and he therefore had access to the best education. He was a graduate of St. John’s College at Cambridge.

Just when he was 21, he contested for the seat in the House of Commons for his hometown, Hull, in 1780, and won. He spent Β£8000 on the election. His money, together with the gift of speaking that he possessed, made him triumph over both his opponents.

He married Barbara, the love of his life, whom he met when he was 37 years old. He immediately fell in love with her, proposed within 8 days, and married 6 weeks later after they had met. They were blessed with two daughters and four sons in their first eight years of marriage. They stayed married until William died.


William Wilberforce did not live his life well as a youth. Having inherited a large fortune from his dad, he spent them at the gaming tables playing poker,gambling, wining and dining in fashionable London Clubs, and engaging in other things money can buy.

But when he was 25 years old, his life changed, when God sought him through a friend Isaac Milner.

During the long holidays when Parliament was not in session, William would sometimes travel with friends and family.

On winter 1784, he invited an old friend Isaac Milner, together with his mother and sister to go with him to the French Riviera.

They engaged in long conversations about Christianity, after he had found out that Milner was a convinced Christian, who didn’t have any of the stereotypes William had built up against evangelicals.

In the house they were staying at, William saw a copy of The rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, by Philip Doddrige. Milner suggested that he carries it along and read it on his way home. This was after William had asked him his thoughts about the book.

William went back home, having intellectual understanding of the biblical view of man, God and Christ but with no conviction yet. The following summer, he travelled with Milner again and they discussed the Greek New Testament for hours.

After that, he was met with profound conviction, so dramatic, that he considered leaving Parliament and becoming a clergyman instead.

He then decided to seek advice from a friend of his aunt Hannah, John Newton. ( the same Newton who wrote Amazing Grace among other contemporary songs)

John Newton advised him not to cut himself from the public life. He later wrote to him saying, “it is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.”

Project slave trade abolition

A year after his conversion, he obtained clarity on his calling in life, which was “the Suppression of the Slave Trade, and the Reformation of Manners ( morals)”

And in 1787, just a few days before the parliamentary recess, he issued a notice for the motion “abolition of slave trade” to be brought in early in the new season.

The motion was indeed brought to parliament but was defeated not less than eleven times for the two decades that followed. Reason being, slave trade injected finances into the British economy, gotten from the produce at West Indies plantations which used slaves as its main source of labor.

Not only that. Banning slavery in Britain would bring serious international and political ramifications. This is because, if Britain would have outlawed slavery, the colonies at West Indian would probably declare their independence from Britain, and federate with the United States.

And Britain wasn’t willing to take such risks. Yet Wilberforce kept persisting in his cause for the abolition of slave trade and slavery.

And 20 years later, after encountering 11 defeats, in 1807, came the victory. The House voted and the Ayes had 283 votes , the Noes 16. And on March 25, 1807, the royal assent was declared.

This however was not the end of the battle. All the law had abolished was slave trade only. Not slavery itself. And that became his next major cause.

He kept pressing on for the abolition of slavery, and 26 years later, only three days before he died, the decisive vote of victory came, and on 26th June 1833, slavery was outlawed in the British colonies.

Lessons from William Wilberforce.

1. Always stand up for the truth

Slave trade was just so wrong, but despite the fact that many knew that, they did nothing about it. After all, it didn’t affect them directly as it involved a bunch of African nobodies. Besides, the trade itself was a lucrative one with huge benefits to the slave owners and consequently the British economy. And no one was willing to stop it.

But it took one person to stand up for the truth, and despite the opposition, he kept forging forward until slave trade was abolished.

And likewise to us, we should always stand up for the truth at all times. Even when public opinion is not on our side.

2. Serve God in the position you are in.

God has placed us in the various positions we are in for a reason. We don’t have to be clergymen and women, or to be missionaries in order to make a difference. But instead, we should just serve God in the positions we are in currently. And we for sure will make a difference in the seemingly “ordinary” positions that we may be in.

William Wilberforce was a politician who served God in the capacity God placed him in. Though initially he wanted to join the clergy, he was advised not to. He therefore went and sought to make a difference using his political position.

3. Perseverance

William Wilberforce was a man of extraordinarily perseverance. He committed to fighting for the abolishment of slave trade and slavery for more than four decades.

He was a man who could take no for an answer if the cause was just. This is what his opponents said about him, “He jumped up whenever we knocked him down.” And eventually, his efforts bore fruits.

Success will sometimes come after 2 or 5 or 50 or maybe we won’t even see the fruits of what we have championed for all our lives.

But we shouldn’t give up! Like Wilberforce, let’s keep bouncing back even when we don’t see the fruits yet, knowing that one day we will be successful, if the cause is just.

4.Get counsel from wise mentors.

Wilberforce when faced with the “10,000” doubts as to whether to become a clergyman or continue with his political career, consulted a friend, “old Newton” as he referred to him.

Newton advised him to remain in his political position and to serve God in that position. That counsel went a long way to make a great impact to Britain and the world at large.

What if had gone to other people instead, and he was told to drop his political career and adopt something else? The story would probably not have been the same.

We need to seek advice from wise mentors. Not everyone will advise us accordingly, and we should be choosy on who to seek advice from.

And again, don’t let someone’s age be the basis of choosing who to seek counsel from or not. I recently have been working with teenagers and I am just amazed at the wisdom they exhibit. There is this 13 year old in my life whom I’d gladly seek advice from as opposed to that thirty something person I also know.

So don’t let age be the basis, but instead be guided by wisdom when it comes to choosing who to get advice from.

5.Bless others with what God has blessed us with

One of the things that William did immediately after he got saved, was to give out part of his wealth to the poor.

Generosity was the mark of his life. This is what he wrote after he was married, “by careful management, I should be able to give at least one – quarter of my income to the poor”

He wrote that, “riches are not to be valued chiefly as instruments of luxury or splendor, but as affording the means of honoring Our heavenly Benefactor, and lessening the miseries of mankind.”

And so the big question to us is, will we use the wealth God has blessed us with to grow even more wealthier, or like Wilberforce we’ll adopt a simple life and share with the less fortunate?

6. Let God come first in our lives before everything.

God should come first in our lives, before friendships, family or anything else we consider as dear in this world.

Wilberforce was best friends with William Pitt, the then Prime Minister of England. But when it came to matters relating abolishing slave trade, he stood to his ground, even if it meant hurting the feelings of his close friends or losing friendships as a result of his actions. What mattered was that he was obeying God and serving him in the position he had placed him in.

And likewise to us, God should come first in our lives, and we should be ready to take the risk of losing even those dear to us if they will come between us and God.

7. Make time for quality family time.

Most fathers who have the wealth and position Wilberforce had, hardly see their children.

But not Wilberforce. He insisted on eating as many meals as possible with his children, and joined them in their games.

And this is a challenge to us, married or not, however much busy we are in our various activities, let’s always make time for family. And especially, our children.


I have drawn largely from “Amazing Grace in the life of William Wilberforce by John Piper.

3 thoughts on “The life of William Wilberforce

  1. What an excellent reminder, Tabitha. I am so inspired by the story of William Wilberforce, and I love the lessons you draw from his life.

    Would you mind if I linked to this post in a post I’m doing on my blog?


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