Amazing Grace, Eric Metaxas’ Story of William Wilberforce

Eric Metaxas, was a presenter last week at Acton University.  Eric is the author of the New York Times best seller Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  It was also named the Book of the Year by the EPCA.  He also wrote another one of my favorite biographies about William Wilberforce entitled Amazing Grace.  He wrote a wonderful children’s book about Squanto, that we read to our children at Thanksgiving when they were younger.  (I still read it every year as we approach Thanksgiving.)  He was a writer for Veggie Tales and is currently the voice of Breakpoint, the radio ministry of the late Chuck Colson.

It was a pleasure to meet him, he was generous with his time and listen to two of his lectures.  He is an excellent speaker who peppers his talk with interesting humor.   Here are some of my notes from his talk on Wilberforce.

William  Wilberforce was born in 1759 into a broken culture.  Great Britain was nominally a Christian culture, but in practice and belief was more pagan.  Social decay existed at every level.

There was a vibrant revival movement taking place primarily among the lower classes known as Methodism.  Among it’s ideas were a uniquely biblical idea, hat I am supposed to share what I have to assist those who don’t have anything.

Wilberforce’s family was wealthy but they were not aristocrats.  When young William was nine his father died and his mother became very ill.  She and his grandfather decided to send William to live with his aunt and uncle who were fabulously wealthy and also, unknown to his mother and grandfather, Methodists.

Serious Christians in this culture were Methodists.  Methodists were sneered at for being enthusiasts.  Enthusiasm was not a part of British culture.  What was acceptable was going to the Anglican Church.

His aunt and uncle were serious Christians and welcomed parlor preaching into their home.  Among the preachers were such notables as John Newton and George Whitfield.  (Two of my evangelist heroes.)  Their home was the epicenter of the Methodist movement.

Little William was a brilliant, sensitive, delightful child and he fell in love with Methodism and becomes a Christian.  He took his faith very seriously about age nine or eleven.  His aunt and uncle adopt him and he also develops a close relationship with John Newton.

About the age of twelve, his mother is horrified to discover what is taking place.  She didn’t want her son to become a Methodist.  She along with his grandfather have him removed breaking William’s heart and the hearts of his aunt and uncle.  The mother and grandfather begin doing everything they can to deprogram William and turn him into a “proper English gentleman.”

It wasn’t easy task for them.  He had seriously committed his life to Christ.  He wrote secret letters to the aunt and uncle through the maid.  He knew what he believed.  However, environment is important.  At the age of 16 he seems to have lost what he had.  He is sent off to Cambridge and no longer takes his Christian faith seriously.  He now sneers at it.  At Cambridge, he becomes friends with William Pitt the Younger.

Pitt has been trained by his father to be a political figure.  When Pitt takes him to Parliament to watch from the gallery.  Wilberforce discovers that political life holds great appeal to him. It was in (1776-1777) watching the parliament and the King arguing about the colonies.  He pursues a career in politics and is elected at 20 years old to Parliament.

Wilberforce and Pitt had an incredible rise and amass great power.  In his twenties Pitt became the Prime Minister.  He had Wilberforce as his wing man by his side with his rhetorical skills.  Wilberforce is as at the top of the world.

At age 26 he decides to take a vacation to the French and Italian Rivera mainly for health.  He is traveling by coach (1200 miles) and because coach travel was long and boring you wanted to invite someone to travel with you that you enjoyed their company and conversation.  His traveling companion was Isaac Milner.  Milner was a combination of Dick Cavet, Stephen Hawking, and Andre the Giant. He was the Lucasian Chair holder at Cambridge.  A chair held by men such as Isaac Newton and today by Stephen Hawking.  It also turns out that Milner is a Methodist.

Milner and Wilberforce discussed Christianity and Wilberforce felt compelled to accept the ideas that Milner was sharing.  These were not popular ideas in the circles of society that Wilberforce swam.  He assented to biblical Christian doctrine.  What do you do now?

He decides to go visit his old friend John Newton secretly.  He is careful to let Newton know that he not to be seen with him.  He is convinced that he has to leave politics.  He was convicted of having ignored the Savior and believes that he has to go into ministry.

Newton tells him no!  “Who knows that God has prepared you take your faith into the world of politics.”  Politics was very corrupt world in Wilberforce’s day.

Within two years Wilberforce had made his famous “two great objects” statement.  “God almighty has set before me two great objects the repression of slavery and the Reformation of Manners.”

It’s important to note”the “God Almighty has set before me”, he felt called to what he was doing.  In case you’re wondering, “reformation of manners: meant everything else in life.

Tomorrow, part two.

  1. Have you read the book Amazing Grace?  Seen the movie?
  2. What are you doing to disciple your children today to become passionate followers of Christ?
  3. Do you believe that your life can make a difference?  If so how?
  4. Finally, what difference do Christians make in politics today?


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