In the autumn of 1785 William Wilberforce experienced a conversion to Christianity that was to change the direction of his life forever.  Initially the conversion produced in him a deep despair as he wrestled to be free of the sin of his previous life.  He spent many hours each day in devotions and reading the Bible.  It seems he contemplated withdrawing from the world altogether so that he would be free to spend the whole of each day in prayer.  He wrote to his dear friend, William Pitt, to tell him of his decision.  Pitt replied with a wonderful letter of friendship which urged Wilberforce to consider how he could use his faith for wider purposes:

“… but forgive me if I cannot help expressing my fear that you are nevertheless deluding yourself into principles which have too much tendency to counteract your own object, and to render your virtues and your talents useless to both yourself and mankind.  I am not, however, without hopes that my anxiety paints this too strongly.  For you confess that the character of religion is not a gloomy one, and that it is not that of an enthusiast.  But why then this preparation of solitude, which can hardly avoid tincturing the mind either with melancholy or with superstition?  If a Christian may act in the several relations of life, must he seclude himself from them all to become so?  Surely the principles as well as the practice of Christianity are simple, and lead not to meditation only but to action…

What I would ask of you, as a mark of both your friendship and of the candour which belongs to your mind, is to open yourself fully and without reserve to one, who, believe me, does not know how to separate your happiness from his own.  You do not explain either the degree or the duration of the retirement which you have prescribed yourself; you do not tell me how the future course of your life is to be directed, when you think the same privacy no longer necessary; nor, in short, what idea you have formed of the duties which you are from this time to practise …  I will not importune you with fruitless discussion on any opinion which you have deliberately formed … name any hour at which I can call upon you tomorrow.  I am going to Kent, and can take Wimbledon in my way.  Reflect, I beg of you, that no principles are the worse for being discussed, and believe me that at all events the full knowledge of the nature and extent of your opinions and intentions will be to me a lasting satisfaction.

Believe me, affectionately and unalterably yours,

W. Pitt.”

 William Pitt did call on his friend William Wilberforce.  Wilberforce also went to see another friend, John Newton.  John Newton was a former slave trader who became an Anglican priest.  He stayed Wilberforce’s mentor for his political life, approving of Wilberforce’s eventual decision to take up politics again:

“I believe you are the Lord’s servant, and are in the post which He has assigned you; and though it appears to me more arduous, and requiring more self-denial than my own, I know that He who has called you to it can afford you strength according to your day.”

John Newton wrote the hymn Amazing Grace

I’m reading the new biography of William Wilberforce by William Hague.  It is quite wonderful and very inspiring.

Advertisements