Tuesday, February 13

Book Review: Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

by John Piper

William Wilberforce, for those of you who are as clueless as I was when I started reading this book, was the British parliamentarian who spearheaded the campaign to abolish the slave trade, and then slavery itself, in the British Empire. This book is the story of this man who fought persistently, even when he suffered defeat after defeat, for a cause he knew was right.

But this little book (76 pages) isn't so much about the historical facts of Wilberforce's life, although it includes many of them, as it is about the faith (or the religious affections, to use Wilberforce's own quaint language) that made him the force that he was. What changed him from the lackadaisical parliamentarian that he was as a young man first elected to parliament at twenty-one? How did Wilberforce's faith influence the causes he chose to pursue? How did it help him persevere in despite defeat? How did it make him a man about whom it was said, "His joy was quite penetrating?" What was the content of his faith? What set him apart from the Religionists (another of Wilberforce's own words) of his day? These are the questions John Piper is seeking to answer in this book.

When I first saw the size of the book, I was disappointed that it wasn't thicker, since I really love reading a thorough biography; but after finishing, I've decided that it's better as a short book with a narrow focus. For one thing, that makes it accessible to those who don't have the time or inclination to tackle a longer biography. For another, its focus sets it apart from the other biographies of Wilberforce, and there are many. In addition, in a longer and more detailed biography, the lesson of this book—that sound doctrine is necessary in order to persist in fighting for social justice, because good fruit over the long haul comes from a healthy root—might have been lost.

As you can probably guess by now, Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce is a book I recommend. I enjoyed it; I learned from it. What more could I ask from a book? It prodded me to consider some things I hadn't considered previously, and I'm still thinking about the lessons of this book. I kept it tucked in my bag, by the way, to read in those moments waiting for my son during his drum lessons, or waiting for an appointment, or waiting in the long checkout line at Superstore, and it worked really well for making productive use of those moments that might otherwise have been wasted reading a gossip magazine.

Also related to William Wilberforce: February 2007 is the 200 year anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. To mark that event, February 18th has been declared Amazing Grace Sunday in North America.* You can read the details here, and register your church if it is participating.
Two hundred years ago, British politician William Wilberforce and his band of loyal friends took on the most powerful forces of their day to end the slave trade. His mentor was John Newton, the slave-trader-turned-song-writer, who wrote the world’s most popular hymn, Amazing Grace. . . .

Join churches around the globe in singing Amazing Grace and in praying for the end of slavery once and for all.

*Amazing Grace Sunday is not until March 25 in the United Kingdom.