Changing the Course of History

Changing the Course of History

One dedicated, determine person can impact history

2024 | Week of June 24 | Radio Transcript #1572

I am constantly amazed when I look back through history at how single individuals changed the course of history for communities, people groups, even nations. William Wilberforce was one of those individuals. Barely five-feet tall, racked with health problems his entire life, Wilberforce, and the people he inspired to action, created a legacy of freedom and liberty that we still benefit from today.

Born in 18th Century England to a merchant family, Wilberforce was quickly exalted to a place of honor as a Member of Parliament at the ripe old age of 24.  Given to an excessive, secular lifestyle as a young man, he experienced a rebirth in the Christian faith in his late twenties. Wilberforce was a devout Christian as a child but had fallen away from the faith in school and during his early years in Parliament.

Following this rebirth, Wilberforce entertained ideas of going into seclusion, or full-time ministry, confused as to what his calling was. However, through the encouragement of friends and colleagues, he discovered his two great callings in life: the end of slavery and the reformation of manners, both of which he would accomplish through his political involvement.

During Wilberforce’s childhood, he met and was mentored by John Newton—the former slaver trader whose life was turned around by the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Newton would later pen the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”

Newton and others counseled Wilberforce to use his silver tongue, famous wit and incredible passion on behalf of the slaves. Slaves were native Africans captured on the continent and shipped out like cargo by traders—many of whom were British at Wilberforce’s time. The slave trade was an unspeakably evil and notoriously wealthy industry, built on the blood, sweat, and suffering of innocent Africans—men, women, and children stolen from their native land.


When Wilberforce was made aware of the incredible sufferings and inhumane treatment the Africans underwent in capture, transport, and forced-labor—often resulting in their death—he threw himself wholeheartedly into the political effort to free them.

Wilberforce was surrounded by friends as passionate as he was to free the slaves. They started societies to inform and alert the public, gather signatures and create, really, the first human rights campaign. The campaign gained great momentum among the British people as they began to learn, many for the first time, the cruelties inflicted on Africans by the slave trade.

It would take his health, his fortune and the better part of his life, but Wilberforce eventually saw the end of the slave trade, and right before his death, he saw the abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1834. As glorious an accomplishment as that was, it was not his only one.

Using the same grassroots efforts and political activism he utilized to eventually defeat slavery in the British Empire, Wilberforce and his allies started dozens of campaigns across England for the “reformation of manners,” as Wilberforce referred to it. Their efforts drastically improved, among other things, education, prisons, working conditions for the poor, and the treatment of animals.

Wilberforce’s societies, campaigns and legislative bills literally changed the face of British society over time. Wilberforce’s humanitarian efforts laid the groundwork for the social reform of the Victorian Era and the non-profit activity we now have in the United States.

In a society that marginalized Christians and made every effort to keep Christianity out of the public square and out of politics—Wilberforce’s contagious and radical Christianity broke over a degenerative English society like a ray of sunshine. Where cruelty to animals, to the poor and rampant injustice was common, Wilberforce left behind a legacy of freedom, justice, and second-chances.

He was so liberal with his fortune that he died a pauper, having given away everything he had. And yet, he was rich in the grace and power of God.

Wilberforce was just one man, but he had Christ’s heart for the lost, the needy, the broken and the enslaved. And because of that heart—he changed the world.

I am so inspired by the life of William Wilberforce. May his story encourage us to put some boots on our Christianity as we minister to the needs in our community and in our government and perhaps change the course of history for our world.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you that God, through the Prophet Hosea, said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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