God doesn’t need you, me, or William Wilberforce

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4–7)

Prior to Christ, the only object of Wilberforce’s work was his own glory. But upon his conversion, Wilberforce began asking questions about what God was up to in the world and how he might leverage his vocation to join in his Savior’s mission.

But where was Wilberforce to start? Britain had so many wrongs that needed to be righted: prolific prostitution, the orphan crisis, poverty, and of course the slave trade, which Wilberforce described as “that hideous traffic, so disgraceful to the British character.”

Wilberforce knew that he needed to focus intensely on one or two causes in Parliament in order to make the most of the life the Lord had given him to steward. But he was far less clear about what that cause should be. So, he took more than a year to explore his options. As one of his biographers wrote, “[Wilberforce] wasn’t about to be bullied or badgered into a decision on how to spend the rest of his life….He would need to know God’s mind, as he would put it…Wilberforce was not about to leap into the fray thoughtlessly; he would first ‘count the cost.’”

After he counted the cost and identified the object the Lord was leading him to focus on (the abolition of slavery), Wilberforce recognized that he needed to go all-in and focus singularly on that “Great Object.” And quickly, too. As his dear friend and prime minister William Pitt told him as Wilberforce was close to committing to the cause of abolition, “Do not lose time or the ground will be occupied by another.”

Wilberforce knew that if “God Himself was calling him to this task and he shrank from it, God too could find another to do it, and surely would.” In this, Wilberforce demonstrated remarkable humility in choosing his vocational path. He knew that if God wanted slavery abolished, He would find the right person to work through to that end. God didn’t need Wilberforce specifically to accomplish His plans.

I imagine Wilberforce meditating on Proverbs 19:21 at this critical juncture of his career: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” The Lord’s purpose would have prevailed with or without Wilberforce. But Wilberforce wanted the privilege of being a part of fighting evil on behalf of his Savior. And so, Wilberforce committed to the “Great Object” of his career from that moment forward: He would be God’s instrument for ending slavery throughout Great Britain.


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