John Wesley’s Final Letter to William Wilberforce, Slavery, and The Sanctity of Life
John Wesley’s final letter happened to be penned for the abolitionist, William Wilberforce. I love the pastoral encouragement in this letter. Wesley also acknowledges that this work of opposing the slave trade would wear someone out if he was not “raised up for this very thing.” By the way, Wilberforce was worn out, nonetheless, even if called.
Victory is ultimately in God’s hands, so we work toward assured victory in opposing all that which is opposed to Him. It will cease. But God chooses to use human instruments and means to accomplish His purposes and bear witness to His holy opposition to the evils in our day. Wesley encourages Wilberforce, calling the enterprise “glorious.” He affirms God’s hatred of the “scandal,” “execrable villainy” of the slave trade.
Wesley was no moral relativist. Wesley abhorred the slave trade. Wesley realized the work of opposing it was exhausting. Wesley was used by God as a means for Wilberforce’s encouragement. And though Wesley would soon depart, he charges Wilberforce to go in the “name of God and in the power of His might.” And Wesley charged Wilberforce to persevere till the work is completed.
As we approach Sanctity of Life Sunday this January 15th, may Wesley’s encouragement to Wilberforce be our encouragement in our opposition to all the evil in our world, and to the particular evils where human dignity is relativized and threatened, where God’s glorious image-bearers are dehumanized, commoditized, and valued only for their utility as a means to our selfish lusts and pursuits.
BALAM, February 24, 1791.
DEAR SIR, — Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, [‘Athanasius against the world.’] I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance, that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a law in all our Colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,