Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Two Points of Interest From the Wilberforce Biography

First: Wilberforce believed that ethics should never be divorced from their doctrinal foundation.

Piper says: "He [Wilberforce] wrote his book, A Practical View of Christianity, to show that the "Bulk" of Christians in England were merely nominal because they had abandoned these doctrines in favor of a system of ethics and had thus lost the power of ethical life and the political welfare. He wrote:

The fatal habit of considering Christian morals as distinct from Christian doctrines insensibly gained strength. Thus the peculiar doctrines of Christianity went more and more out of sight, and as might naturally have been expected, the moral system itself also began to wither and decay, being robbed of that which should have supplied it with life and nutriment.
He pled with nominally Christian England not to turn "their eyes from the grand peculiarities of Christianity, [but] to keep these ever in view, as the pregnant principles whence all the rest must derive their origin, and receive their best support."

An open question: Is there any of that going on today??

Second: Those Who Seek to Live a Godly Life in Christ Jesus Will be Persecuted

It's difficult for us living in 2009 to understand what the arguments were against abolishing the slave trade in nineteeth century England. If I was given a blank sheet of paper and told I had to write down the most convincing ones, I'd be hardpressed to come up with anything. And yet, history shows that Wilberforces opponents were at no loss of words and arguments that sounded very convincing to many.

A wealthy slave holder by the name of William Cobett tried to misalign Wilberforce because Wilberforce had chosen as his life work the abolishing of the slave trade instead of abolishing many other of the injustices that were occurring in England at that time. Cobett said to Wilberforce:

You seem to have a great affection for the fat and lazy and laughing and singing and dancing Negroes. . . . [But] Never have you done one single act in favor of the laborers of this country [a statement Cobett knew to be false]. . . . You make your appeal in Picadilly, London, amongst those who are wallowing in luxuries, proceeding from the labor of the people. You should have gone to the gravel-pits, and made your appeal to the wretched creatures with bits of sacks around their shoulders, and with hay-bands round their legs; you should have gone to the roadside, and made your appeal to the emaciated, half-dead things who are there cracking stones to make the roads as level as a die for the tax eaters to ride on. What an insult it is, and what an unfeeling, what a cold-blooded hypocrite must he be that can send it forth; what an insult to call upon people under the name of free British laborers; to appeal to them in behalf of Black slaves, when these free British laborers; these poor, mocked, degraded wretches, would be happy to lick the dishes and bowls, out of which the Black slaves have breakfasted, dined, or supped.

It was a malicious accusation from a wealthy man who had never done anything to help the poor. Wilberforce had decided to take up the greatest injustice he could think of--the slave trade. This did not mean he did not care for poor English citizens. One thing at a time.

I sometimes hear this sort of argument in relation to the abortion issue. We've all heard it said: "You pro-lifers say you care so much about babies, but you don't care about women, or do anything to help unwanted babies." However, nothing could be farther from the truth. The pro-lifers who I know are traveling to Africa and adopting sibling groups from orphanages. Within our church there are children from adopted Ethiopia, Haiti, China, and domestic adoptions as well. I know of women who go to Planned Parenthood regularly and offer to women walking up to the clinic to adopt their babies, to pay for their medical bills, to provide them with a place to live (a boyfriend may not take them back unless they take care of their "problem.") They offer them diapers and formula and clothes and equipment if they want to keep the baby. The accusation may have been slightly true a few decades ago, but not anymore. Often, those making the accusation have done none of those things themselves.

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