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This month, 225 years ago …
Wednesday, December 15, 2010


225 years ago, on 7 December 1785, Rev John Newton urged the young MP William Wilberforce to stay in politics (click here to see the video - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZbhQ2Zd7js)

It was one of the most important conversations in British history – between William Wilberforce, a young politician, and the evangelical minister Rev John Newton.  Wilberforce had recently become a Christian and was considering going into the pastoral ministry.  Many evangelicals felt (and still feel) that politics is no place for a Christian.

The young Wilberforce was in turmoil over what he should do: give up his political career and be shunned by his contemporaries?  Or stay in politics and face the disapproval of his new Christian friends?

He therefore sought the advice of John Newton, the former slave trader, who had been dramatically converted to Christ.  Newton himself had entered the Anglican ministry – later penning the amazing hymn, Amazing Grace.

But the elderly Newton did not advise Wilberforce to follow his example.  Instead, he urged the young man to stay in politics and serve God there, with all the abilities and influence that he clearly had.

Newton later wrote to Wilberforce: “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.”  Newton also wrote to his close friend, poet William Cowper: “I hope the Lord will make [Wilberforce] a blessing both as a Christian and as a statesman.  How seldom do these characters coincide!  But they are not incompatible.”

Newton’s hopes were fulfilled.  Wilberforce spent the remainder of his life seeking to transform society through distinctively Christian political involvement.  For many years, he was almost a lone voice in parliament against slavery, yet he won through in the end.  He brought about many other enduring reforms and helped shape our modern concept of social responsibility.

Just three days before his death in 1833, Wilberforce learned that the Bill for abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire was set to be passed by parliament.

He showed that pastoral ministry is not the only way that Christians can serve God.

– from Colin Hart, Director, The Christian Institute: http://www.christian.org.uk/


  • Government and society

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