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A Review of Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce

The author has provided us with a valuable, well-written biography of an individual who is little remembered today.

  • Byron Snapp,
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He met his future wife, Barbara Spooner, and proposed to her eight days after he met her. She accepted and they were married within two months. Yet, for most major events in the life of William Wilberforce, God's providence moved at a much slower pace.

He was born into a prominent family in 1759. His parents had no understanding of Christianity. Due to his father's death and mother's illness, he went to live with an uncle and aunt. This godly couple introduced him to a number of Christians. He became a Methodist.

Alarmed, his recovered mother brought him home to root out this religion in his life. While a student at St. John's College, Cambridge, he was popular but worldly. Shortly after graduation he was elected to Parliament. Wilberforce was well fitted for this vocation with his oratorical skills, outgoing personality, and logical thinking. Yet, a key element that should be the foundation for all political thought was still to come.

On a long trip to the continent, Wilberforce was accompanied by a Christian friend. Through long conversations, gospel seed was sown and soon bore fruit in his conversion. Encouraged to continue in his vocation by John Newton, Wilberforce began to live out Christianity in and outside the doors of Parliament. He openly sought to apply public policy in terms of Christianity.

His goals were not thwarted by the dread of insurmountable foes, the possibility of a lengthy fight, or the fear of being misquoted by his opponents. He began his anti-slavery fight in 1789. Amazingly, the victory he desired was not won until 1833. He fought for twenty years to get Britain to introduce Christian missions into India.

As the author so tellingly points out, Wilberforce was not simply concerned with laws being passed. He wanted to see consistent change in his countrymen's character. In writing, conversation, philanthropic endeavors, and by example, he sought to stress the importance of living life in terms of God's word, beginning with the necessity of conversion. His stands were often at great political cost. Even in this he showed the importance of standing on ultimate truth without thought of temporary loss.

His forty-four-year career in Parliament ended eight years prior to the ending of slavery in the British Empire. He wisely chose an able successor, Thomas Buxton, who was able to guide the anti-slavery movement to a successful conclusion.

Wilberforce's family life was marked by humility and love. This was vividly highlighted when he resigned his Parliament seat to spend more time with his children. He exemplified spiritual leadership in teaching family members daily from Scripture and in seeking to regularly observe the Lord's Day.

The author has provided us with a valuable, well-written biography of an individual who is little remembered today. In our culture Christianity is ebbing on many fronts. It is enlightening and encouraging to read of the impact individual Christians have made, by God's grace, in bygone days.

Belmonte's depth of research has yielded a volume that opens up Wilberforce's public and private life. The reader will see that Wilberforce was a sinner saved by grace. He was not concerned about being politically correct or keeping his Christianity private. These are great reminders for modern believers.

This volume needs to be read by Christians today. It is most important to observe how God has worked through His people to bring change in society. It should motivate readers and their families to consistently stand, both in public and private, on the knowledge that God will accomplish His purposes in His time.

  • Byron Snapp

Byron Snapp is a graduate of King College (B.A.) and Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.). He was Associate Pastor at Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church, Hampton, Virginia, from 1994 until his retirement in December 2014. He is a native of Marion, Virginia.  He has had pastorates in Leakesville, Mississippi, and Gaffney, South Carolina.  He served as Assistant Pastor in Cedar Bluff, Virginia prior to his ministry at Calvary Reformed. He has served as editor of the Presbyterian Witness and was a contributor to A Comprehensive Faith and Election Day Sermons. He is currently a member of Westminster Presbytery in the PCA. He and his wife Janey have 3 children and several grandchildren. 

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