Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Defining Grace

Sermon by Donald R Hart – Antioch Christian Church, Pittsburg, Missouri – February 18, 2007



Text: Romans 3:21-26


Last Sunday I spoke upon LOVE DEFINED – today I want to talk about GRACE DEFINED. One of the reasons is that today has been declared as Amazing Grace Sunday in anticipation of the release of the movie about the life of William Wilberforce and his battle to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain.

Wilberforce was a deeply religious English member of parliament a social reformer who was very influential in the abolition of the slave trade and eventually slavery itself in the British Empire. He was born on August 24, 1759, the son of a wealthy merchant. He studied at Cambridge University where he began a lasting friendship with the future prime minister, William Pitt the Younger.

Allow me to share a segment from this man’s life:

The strain showed on the face of young William Wilberforce. During their clandestine meeting, he told Reverend Newton that he had heard him preach when he was just a boy, but he “was afraid to surrender to Christ for fear of what others might say.”

“And now?” asked Newton quietly.

“Now I have come to a crisis of my soul,” answered the grim-faced Member of Parliament. “I am afraid of turning my back on Christ. But I also fear losing face and prestige. If my constituents were to hear that I embraced … religion, my career would be over.” Wilberforce paused and shifted in his seat, then gave Newton a determined half-smile. “But maybe that would not be so bad. You have always inspired me, Reverend Newton. When I used to go to Olney and hear your sermons I felt like jumping up and asking you to help me be a preacher like you.

“When I returned to London that enthusiasm cooled and I eventually got into politics. Still, as I read the Bible and Christian books, I am convinced that I must act on what I have read. I’ve come to see you about this before I go out of my mind.”

For the next few hours, Reverend John Newton explained the way of the Cross and total surrender to Christ. Wilberforce wept and gave his life to Christ. Now he was ready to follow Newton into the ministry and face the consequences.

But Newton wisely counseled against it: “If God can use an ex-slave trader for His work, imagine what He can do through a gifted Member of Parliament. There’s nothing in the Bible that says you cannot be both a Christian and a statesman. True, these two seldom are found in one person, but it happens.”

Wilberforce accepted this advice and decided to remain where he was and serve God. He went public with his newfound faith, enduring ridicule and then winning grudging respect from his contemporaries. He turned his considerable energy toward abolishing the slave trade, a blight on the soul of the British Empire.

In 1788, after a stirring three-and-a-half hour oratory on the subject, Wilberforce made his first motion to abolish the slave trade. His impassioned speech had such an impact on the other members of Parliament that the local papers predicted sure passage of the Bill. “The House of Commons on Tuesday was crowded with Liverpool merchants who hung their heads in sorrow, for the African occupation of bolts and chains is no more,” predicted the London paper.

The prediction, however, was premature. After delay tactics and other political maneuvering by his opponents, Wilberforce lost the first of many votes on this crucial issue. But it would not be the last. Every single year, for the next seventeen years, his motion would be defeated. But Wilberforce never forgot the words of Newton, and the conviction that he was called to fight for Christian principles in the Parliament never left him. Often, in the years following the death of his mentor, Wilberforce would be motivated by the words of Newton’s most famous song, set to the chant of an African folk melody:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

In 1806, after eighteen years of hard work, Wilberforce finally heard the “sweet sound” he had longed for. After they counted votes on his motion to abolish the slave trade, the ranking Member of Parliament said very simply, “The ayes have it!” Wilberforce had won.

The date was February 23rd. This week is the 200th anniversary of that historic vote which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire. Has all slave trade and slavery stopped in our world? No! There is still much to do for it is estimated that there are 27 million people yet not free, being held in the bonds of slavery.

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