How Justification by Faith Impels Justice: The Biographical Testimony of William Wilberforce

wilberforceAt 4:00am on February 24, 1807, the British Parliament voted to end the British slave trade. With a count of 267 to 16, the House of Commons voted with loud cheers for the abolition of this abominable institution.

Though it would take another 26 years for slavery to be ended in Britain and its colonies,  this decision by the House of Commons, which followed the majority decision of the House of Lords, proved that in the span of 50 years what was unthinkable—namely, the end of the slavery—could be put to an end through a radical change in public and political opinion.

This change raises the question: What led to that remarkable act of liberation? What changed the hearts of the British governors? Was it a war? No, not unless you count the war of words in parliament. Was it a pragmatic argument based upon economics. No, it actually cost Britain a fortune to end slavery. What was it then?

The answer can be given in three words—a man, a mission, and an unusual motivation. Continue reading

A Tragic Irony: What Blacks Lives Matter Means for the Family

Perhaps you have seen this Speak for Yourself  video about the NBA’s decision to paint “Black Lives Matter” on the basketball courts in Orlando. I saw this video last week, as it was sent to me by a handful of family and friends. It’s worth watching, especially the first section with Marcellus Wiley. Here’s the core of what he had to say (You can find a transcript of Wiley’s whole statement here):

I don’t know how many people really look into the mission statement of Black Lives Matter, but I did. And when you look into it, there’s a couple of things that jump out to me. And I’m a black man who has been black and my life has mattered since 1974. And this organization was founded in 2013 and I’m proud of you but I’ve been fighting this fight for me and for others a lot longer.

Two things: My family structure is so vitally important to me. Not only the one I grew up in but the one I am trying to create right now. Being a father and a husband, that’s my mission in life right now. How do I reconcile that with this, the mission statement that says, “We dismantle the patriarchal practice. We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.”

When I know statistics, when I know my reality, forget statistics, I knew this before I even went to Columbia and saw these same statistics that I’m going to read to you right now.

Children from single-parent homes versus two-parent homes. The children from the single-parent homes — this was in 1995 I was reading this — five times more likely to commit suicide. Six times more likely to be in poverty. Nine times more likely to drop out of high school. Ten times more likely to abuse chemical substances. Fourteen times more likely to commit rape, 20 times more likely to end up in prison, and 32 times more likely to run away from home.

I knew that. You know why I knew it? Because a lot of my friends didn’t have family structures that were nuclear like mine, and they found themselves outside of their dreams and goals and aspirations. So when I see that as a mission statement for Black Lives Matter, it makes me scratch my head.

The irony in this statement is thick. Not only does it bring to the forefront the difference between affirming the statement, “black lives matter,” and rejecting the organization Black Lives Matter, a distinction Albert Mohler has helpfully noted. But Wiley’s point also gets at one of the chief aims of the organization, which is to “disrupt” the family and “dismantle” the place of fathers leading in their homes. In this concern, along with others, Black Lives Matter sets forth objectives which have proven devastating to families in and out of the black community. Continue reading

Answering the Call: Toward a Biblical View of Vocation (1 Corinthians 7:17–24)

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Eight times in eight verses the apostle Paul speaks to the Corinthians about understanding their various vocations in light of God’s effectual “call.” These instructions about one’s calling before God broaden Paul’s focus in chapter 7 from marriage, singleness, and sexuality to matters concerning circumcision (Jew vs. Gentile) and slavery (bondservant and free).

All in all, Paul’s heavy emphasis on the Christians upward call in Christ make these verses a cornerstone for understanding our earthly labors at home, in the marketplace, or the church. You can listen to the audio from Sunday’s message (shortly) or peruse the sermon notes here. For those who want to go deeper, there are discussion questions below and links to a few other resources on the doctrine of vocation. Continue reading

William Wilberforce: A Factory of Good Works

I love the way politician William Wilberforce united his faith to his legislative action.  For those who don’t know Wilberforce, he was the single driving force in England to end the slave trade.  He was a peer of John Newton, pastor and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  He was a bold advocate for public justice, but one who spent countless hours in personal meditation on the truth of God’s word.  In other words, his appeals for justice were fruit the Spirit at work in his life.

Consider John Piper’s description of Wilberforce in his biographical sermon, “Peculiar Doctrines, Public Morals, and the Political Welfare.”  He shows how good works overflowed from this man who was filling his mind with Christian truth and walking in the power of the Spirit.

What made Wilberforce tick was a profound Biblical allegiance to what he called the “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity. These, he said, give rise, in turn, to true affections – what we might call “passion” or “emotions” – for spiritual things, which, in turn, break the power of pride and greed and fear, and then lead to transformed morals which, in turn, lead to the political welfare of the nation. He said, “If . . . a principle of true Religion [i.e., true Christianity] should . . . gain ground, there is no estimating the effects on public morals, and the consequent influence on our political welfare.” [1]

But he was no ordinary pragmatist or political utilitarian, even though he was one of the most practical men of his day. He was a doer. One of his biographers said, “He lacked time for half the good works in his mind.” [2] James Stephen, who knew him well, remarked, “Factories did not spring up more rapidly in Leeds and Manchester than schemes of benevolence beneath his roof.” [3] “No man,” Wilberforce wrote, “has a right to be idle.” “Where is it,” he asked, “that in such a world as this, [that] health, and leisure, and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate?” [4] In other words, he lived to do good – or as Jesus said, to let his light shine before men that they might see his good deeds and give glory to his Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

But he was practical with a difference. He believed with all his heart that new affections for God were the key to new morals (or manners, as they were sometimes called) and lasting political reformation. And these new affections and this reformation did not come from mere ethical systems. They came from what he called the “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity. For Wilberforce, practical deeds were born in “peculiar doctrines.” By that term he simply meant the central distinguishing doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in a life devoted to good deeds. [5]

Wilberforce’s public service is not only a model for Christian politicians, but a model for all Christians.  He was a factory of God works, as his friends attested, and in this way he shows the kind of worldly good the gospel can effect when a man is gripped by the “peculiar doctrines” of Jesus Christ.

May we consider his life and imitate his faith.  (Piper’s biography is available online and in print.  I would encourage you to read or listen to it).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss