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William Wilberforce

Religious Beliefs and Influences

William Wilberforce was a deeply religious man who dedicated his life and his work to acting on his beliefs and moral conscience. He had many religious and political influences during his lifetime.

One of his earliest influences was that of Isaac Milner, who was a young teacher at Hull Grammar School. They were to become lifelong friends and several years after William left school, he asked Milner to join him and his family on a long tour of Europe. During the many months they spent together, Milner introduced William to his own religious beliefs and encouraged him to read an essay entitled 'The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul' . The whole experience had a profound affect on William and he returned home to England a changed man and devout Christian.

On the death of Robert Wilberforce, William's father, William was sent to live with his Aunt and Uncle Hannah and William Wilberforce in London. William's guardians were keen Methodists. They took the young William to church regularly and were known to be personal friends of George Whitefield. George Whitefield was one of the founders of Methodism. Methodism was known at that time, as a branch within the Church of England, focussing on a concern with social welfare and public morals.

Another influence on William was John Thornton, his Aunt Hannah’s half-brother. He was known to be one of the wealthiest men in Europe and a great humanitarian and philanthropist, and gave many gifts to the Evangelical church.

Following William's religious conversion during his tour of Europe with Milner in 1784-1785, William met up with John Newton to discuss his new found faith. John Newton was a reformed ex-slave trader who later became a Methodist Rector of St Mary's church, Woolnoth, London and is also known as the author of the famous hymn, Amazing Grace.

William wrote in secret to Newton: ’Sir, there is no need of apology for intruding on you, when the errand is religion. I wish to have some serious conversation with you… the earlier the more agreeable to me. I have ten thousand doubts within myself, whether or not I should discover myself to you; but every argument against doing it has its foundation in pride. I am sure you will hold yourself bound to let no one living know of this application, or of my visit, till I release you for the obligation… P.S. Remember that I must be secret, and that the gallery of the House is now so universally attended, that the face of a member of Parliament is pretty well known’.

Following his early conversion to Methodism in 1785, William wrote a best selling book a "Practical View of Christianity" thirteen years later.

Click here to take an interactive journey through the life of William Wilberforce.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Wilberforce House, Hull | 

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