He would have turned 253 today. Fortunately his memory is immortal, as is his dedicated Christian soul, and we can celebrate a life that over two centuries later is still bearing fruit. Though slavery is not erased from the world, yet through his work, it is no longer acceptable to Christians and the majority of society--but only those whose evil hearts remain unswayed.
I learned much from Wilberforce. He is one of my historical heroes, and his fight to end the slave trade inspires me weekly in my fight for the reform of family and society. If you have met him, you can never learn too much, and if you never have, it is my pleasure and honor to introduce you to a man that I greatly esteem. I have three items of interest to offer you today: a book, a radio drama, and a movie. And they are all entitled Amazing Grace.
To state the conclusion first, I was not disappointed with my second foray into Metaxas' work. He did an excellent job portraying Wilberforce's life and times in an engaging style. From Wilberforce's early leanings towards Christianity, through the influence of his Methodist aunt, to his riotous years in Cambridge that may have affected his mental capacity, to his entrance into Parliament and his growing faith, Metaxas captures it all with laid-back style and deep interest. You can tell that he was profoundly interested by his research into Wilberforce's life.
You'll find out many things about Wilberforce that you never would have believed were true--his harum-scarum lifestyle, complete with myriads of pets--his abstractedness and childlike love for nature and little people--his kind philanthropy and inability to refuse the slightest request offered him. Elements that I thought were a modern gag in the movie proved to be actual events and attitudes that Wilberforce took part in. Surprise, surprise.
But most breathtaking and inspiring of all was his fight to better society in his wars with Parliament. When he first stood up to present his bill to abolish the slave trade, he had less supporters in the House than the fingers of one hand, and hundreds against him. From fighting the debauchery of the Prince of Wales to dealing with double-faced supporters, he persevered time and time again when the odds were against him. The most heartbreaking moment was in 1796, when his bill failed 70-74 because his loyal supporters chose to attend the opera rather than stay to vote--he would have had more than plenty to succeed, had they done their duty. But above all, he cared for others--the slaves enduring the monstrous Middle Passage, and dying by torture in the West Indian plantations. And because he cared for others above himself, he persevered first for twenty years to abolish the slave trade itself, and then another thirty to achieve ultimate emancipation.
I would critique Metaxas on a couple of points in his literary style. For one thing, he persisted in comparing people of that day to imagined modern-day counterparts. Had I had any idea who the modern comparisons were, it might not have been lost upon me. But it was a bit annoying to wade through the comparisons--mainly because I didn't know who they were, but also because the reformers in Wilberforces' day were giants in their own right--they don't need a comparison to our day to make them greater or more understandable. So that, I thought, could have been left out. The only other thing which I think he did poorly as a Christian author was one of the primary quotes he included using the name of the Lord in vain--twice. Metaxas was on a rabbit trail at that point anyway, and the whole paragraph was dispensable. It illustrated nothing that needed to be said, and I thought that his choice to include an unnecessary quote that was dishonoring to the Lord was a poor one. But these points aside, I think his overall work was well-done.
A couple of points that were not Metaxas' fault but rather the fault of history, I would also like to warn new readers about: Chapter 8 and the first section of Chapter 9 were detailed accounts of the slave trade and the horrors involved in the Middle Passage. Personally, I recommend skipping them. Some of the details are quite heartbreaking, as well as explicit, and may be more emotionally traumatic than everyone can handle. If you do decide to skip them, you won't lose any part of Wilberforce's life, or important links in his Parliamentary struggle, and I think you would enjoy the book better without them. The last half of Chapter 22 is quite sordid, discussing the trial of Queen Caroline and her numerous adulteries, along with those of her husband, the Prince of Wales. While nothing totally inappropriate is said, I would urge caution depending on your individual standards and where you draw the limit. It is a section more for older readers.
But however long it takes to detail all these points, they are really rather small in the grand scheme of things. For the majority of the book it's an engaging and informative look into William Wilberforce's life. Most of the facts in the book I was already acquainted with--due to the movie and the radio drama--but I did learn a few new things, as well as getting events put into their proper chronological context. I enjoyed it immensely, would recommend it as a read to anyone, and would read it again, multiple times.
The Radio Drama
I highly recommend this drama for the older listener, as it gives a clear and Christian picture of the lives of these three men.
Today is a very special day to celebrate around the globe, for it is the day to celebrate one man whom God used to fight for the abolition of the slave trade and the emancipation of Africans.
God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.