In the 1700s an exclusive little hamlet outside London called Clapham became home to a number of prominent evangelicals and evangelical causes. Historians call these Christians the “Clapham Sect.” The most famous member of the Clapham Sect was a shrimp-size politician named William Wilberforce who had come to Christ at age 25. Wilberforce gathered his Clapham friends into regular “Cabinet Councils” to discuss national trends and to establish Christian strategies for dealing with them, making the Clapham Sect one of the most unusual fraternities in British public life. Out of it sprang the Church Missionary Society, The British and Foreign Bible Society, the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor, the Society for the Reformation of Prison Discipline, and, most of all, Wilberforce’s history-changing crusade against slavery.
In 1789 Wilberforce first spoke against slavery in the House of Commons. Two years later in another speech he said: Never, never will we desist till we have wiped away this scandal from the Christian name, released ourselves from the load of guilt, and extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic.
The Clapham Sect went to work mobilizing opinion and helping Wilberforce marshal his arguments. They lectured on public platforms, wrote books, posted billboards, and lobbied leaders. Finally in 1807 after nearly 20 years of work, Wilberforce sat bent in his chair, head in his hands, weeping, as the parliament outlawed the trading of slaves in the British Empire. Later that night, a beaming Wilberforce turned to a friend and said, “Well, Henry, what do we abolish next?”
Slavery itself, that’s what. Wilberforce pressed on for another 20 years for complete emancipation of all slaves in the British Empire. He was a virtual one-man, nonstop crusade until his health broke and he became a dying man. His friends finished the fight. On July 26, 1833, the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery passed in the House of Commons. News was rushed to the bedfast Wilberforce who raised himself on one elbow, smiled quietly, and said, “Thank God that I have lived to witness [this] day.”
He died three days later, his life’s work finished.
The Spirit of the Lord God has taken control of me!
The Lord has chosen and sent me
To tell the oppressed the good news,To heal the brokenhearted,
And to announce freedom for prisoners and captives. (Isaiah 61:1)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 26.