Book Review - Amazing Grace
"Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery" by Eric Metaxas
I recently saw a video of Mr. Metaxas' speech at the national prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. I really enjoyed what he had to say - how he was able to mix humor and truth. When I heard that he had written some books, I knew I had to check them out. This book on Wilberforce happened to be a much more manageable size than his one on Bonhoeffer so I chose to start here.
I found this book to be very well written and gripping. I read good chunks of it on a flight recently and had a hard time putting it down to step off the plane! Unlike the title may suggest, the material covers more than just Wilberforce's work on slavery. It's really a comprehensive biography of his life, his faith, and his two "great objects". I found it fascinating to see how people's lives intertwined during that era. William Carey met William Wilberforce and Wilberforce later led the charge to allow missionaries (and subsequently Christianity) to enter into India. The last letter John Wesley wrote was to Wilberforce, encouraging him in the long hard fight for abolition and emancipation.
When Wilberforce's father died, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle who were Methodist. In this era, Methodism was looked on with disdain and Christianity in general was a dying religion. But his relatives exposed him to the teachings of George Whitefield and John Newton. In fact, John Newton became a close friend to Wilberforce who viewed him "as a parent when I was a child." Odd as it seems to us today, his mother was appalled at his turn to Methodism and tried to do all she could to bring him out of it. It worked and it wasn't until his early 20's and not too long after his entrance into Parliament that he truly came to faith in Christ.
He had lived so long for his own ambition that to live for God, as he now longed to do, was a foreign and strange proposition and would take time to work out. (p.63)
I found that sentiment to be very encouraging - sometimes it takes awhile for us to figure out how to live for God and what He'd have us do. As well as the following quote by Wilberforce's friend, William Pitt when Wilberforce was considering leaving government work after his conversion -
Surely the principles and practice of Christianity are simple and lead not to meditation only, but to action.
The book dealt openly and honestly with the slave trade and some of the atrocities that were committed in the trade. It was very heartbreaking to see the rampant devaluation of human life. Yet it caused me to think - what lives does our culture today devalue? And am I as grieved and broken over that sin as that which was committed years ago?
One of the fabulous things about well written biographies is that you feel like the person is your friend when you get to the end. I longed to hop on over across the sea and meet this incredible man of faith! One of the things I found intriguing about Wilberforce is his ability to speak passionately - to take a strong stand for truth - but to still speak with grace and kindness.
Wilberforce's faith had given him first and foremost a painful but very real knowledge of his own sinfulness, and when he now spoke, he did so with remarkable generosity and graciousness.
His faith impacted every area of his life. It not only affected his policies and practice in government, it affected his relationships and his life outside of his job.
He wrote that he look to God in this battle now 'for wisdom and strength and the power of persuasion, and may I surrender myself to him as to the event with perfect submission and ascribe to him all the praise if I succeed, and if I fail say from the heart they will be done.' (p.144)
Wilberforce would prepare lists of his friend's names and next to the entries make notes on how he might encourage them in their faith, if they had faith, and toward a faith if they still had none. (p. 164)
I found this book to be very encouraging and inspiring. Wilberforce's faith challenged me to press on in my faith and to pray for areas to be passionately on fire for God. I borrowed this book from the library, but loved it so much it will be on my list to buy soon!
The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin and there is the comfort which combines the deepest Humiliation with the firmest Hope.