Wilberforce: See Him, Read Him, and Hear Him Twice

William Wilberforce

I admit to being historically challenged. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. I’m working on it. Recently I’ve enjoyed getting to know a little more about William Wilberforce. There are a lot of resources available on Wilberforce.

First, you can download an audio copy of John Piper’s biography of Wilberforce for free right now from Christianaudio.com. Free is good.

Speaking of Piper, I enjoyed hearing him give a lecture on Wilberforce during a family vacation this summer. Piper has made the biographical lecture into an art form, IMO. You can find them here. (Note: I’m assuming that the two audio files are very similar. The audio book is read by someone else, and is not as engaging, IMO. If you’d like to download another of the 10 books being offered at Christianaudio.com for Thanksgiving, you can still get the lecture free from DesiringGod.org.)

Since you can listen to those two items, here’s something to read. Piper recommends that you read Wilberforce’s own book A Practical View of Christianity before reading any biography. (Whether he would include the book he himself published since making that statement is unclear.) Beyond that, there are, of course, a number of other biographies available on Wilberforce. If you have read one that is particularly good, I’d appreciate a recommendation.

Finally, I was recently able to see Amazing Grace, the movie on Wilberforce’s work to bring about the abolition of slavery. I understand that it’s got more of a social outlook than a particularly spiritual one. Also, it does portray John Newton as an eccentric (as I was warned by someone somewhere). Still, I found it to be informative and moving. I borrowed it, but I plan to buy it.

During the documentary included with the Amazing Grace DVD (which, alas, allows you to “see him” twice, too), actor Ioan Gruffodd put the abolition of slavery into perspective. He says that slavery was such a major part of the English economy and way of life in Wilberforce’s day that the effort to have it outlawed would be comparable to a politician working to eliminate the Department of Defense or outlaw the use of oil in our day. Of course, morally it is more comparable to the abolition of abortion.

I’ve come to appreciate this exceptional man, and I’m looking forward to further study. Inspiring stuff.


11 Responses

  1. So I’m explaining the evils of slavery and racism and the work of Wilberforce to my daughters. My six-year-old’s response?

    “I’m glad God made us white people!”

    I appreciate her having a grateful spirit, but I think I have a bit more work to do. ;)

  2. I just watched Amazing Grace a few days ago and had been wanting to look for a good biography of Wilberforce. Thanks for the recommendations.

  3. Super-Blogger Tim Challies gives his two cents on Amazing Grace here.

  4. The free audio book I mentioned in the post is excellent. I recommend it highly!

  5. Chris (and others),

    You can also download the Wilberforce biography by Piper in written form – PDF for Free at this location: http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bww/books_bww.pdf

    I am not much for reading books online, but, at the worst, this lets you see if you want to get it as a book to hold in your hands.

    In Christ,

    Pastor Frank Sansone

  6. My In-Laws just bought us the Amazing Grace DVD and we watched it last night. I didn’t find the movie all that compelling and you’re right about how they presented John Newton — just weird. I found the presentation to be very herky-jerky.

    We listened to the the audio book on the way down to Florida and then we watched the DVD when we returned. I don’t really think they captured Wilberforce all that well, either, based on what we had just heard on the audio book.

    Unless the documentary or other special features are really good, I would say skip the DVD and stick with the audio resources.

  7. Someone told me that they used the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in that movie. Interesting, as neither John Newton or Wiberforce would have allowed that in any biographical work…


  8. Speaking of things in this movie that would give Wilberforce a rash…

    This comes from my article entitled “Can Hollywood and Holiness Co-Exist?”:

    “William Wilberforce, commenting on Christians partaking of the theater of his day, states this point forcefully: ‘Let it be sufficient to remark, that the controversy would be short indeed, if the question were to be tried by this criterion of love to the Supreme Being.’ (quoted by Wayne Wilson, Worldly Amusements, p. 38)”

  9. Wow – what happened to english like that?

  10. We also recently watched the movie, which I thought was good. It made me more interested in the history of that time period. I am interested to read and listen to the resources mentioned here. I was a little confused in the movie as to Newton’s connection to Wilberforce – not much is explained other than that he knew Wilberforce as a child, but I thought it was unclear.

  11. I happened upon Kevin Charles Belmonte’s book, William Wilberforce Hero for Humanity, at my local library. I was initially interested by the lovely painting of Wilberforce on the cover. After reading the book I feel that the picture is a good rendition of his character. I’m not much for biographies, and I don’t favor history, but this book by Belmonte had me in its grip to the end. I’m not saying I read it in my usual two day sprint, though. I read and tried to digest every page in as long as it took to do it right. This is one of those books that I will have in my library someday, and couldn’t stop recommending it, even weeks after I had read it. It was encouraging to me as a Christian to see how Wilberforce had a life-changing experience and how his changed life was played out in his familiar surroundings, even in politics.

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