William Wilberforce

Daily Reading for July 30 • William Wilberforce

Compared with the work of the Quakers, the Salvation Army, or Anglo-Catholic “slum priests” later in the nineteenth century, the Evangelical movement has sometimes been accused of lacking a spirituality of social engagement. This is an unfair generalization. It is true that “action” implied an active spreading of the word of God (evangelism) expressed, for example, in the work of the Church Missionary Society throughout the British Empire. However, for many people action also implied social philanthropy. The former slave trader John Newton, later Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London, became a notable supporter of William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish slavery. William Wilberforce (1759-1833) was the leading champion of the abolition of slavery as a result of his evangelical conversion. Wilberforce witnessed to the direct connection between spirituality and social action by beginning each working day with two hours of prayer and Bible reading. Wilberforce became the political leader of the Evangelical movement and on his death this role was taken on by Anthony Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, a leading Conservative parliamentarian and one of the greatest social reformers of the nineteenth century.

From A Brief History of Spirituality by Philip Sheldrake (Blackwell Publishing, 2007).

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