William Wilberforce was born into an affluent Yorkshire family in Hull in 1759, and was educated at St John’s College, Cambridge. He was elected to the House of Commons in 1780, and he served in the House until 1825.
His conversion to an evangelical Christian life occurred in 1784. He was induced by friends not to leave Parliament and abandon his political activities after this inward change in his life, but to bring his newfound principles to bear in political life. He remained in the House of Commons, but thereafter he steadfastly refused to accept high office or a peerage.
Wilberforce gave himself unstintingly to the promotion of overseas missions, popular education, and the reformation of public manners and morals. He supported parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation. But chiefly his fame rests on his persistent and uncompromising crusade for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. Chiefly due to his efforts, Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807, and in 1833 slavery itself was abolished throughout the British empire, just one month after Wilberforce’s death.
Wilberforce’s eloquence as a speaker, his charm in personal address, and his profound Christian spirit, made him a formidable power for good. He died on July 29, 1833, and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
adapted from Lesser Feasts and Fasts (1980)
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, kindle in your Church the never-failing gift of love, that, following the example of your servant William Wilberforce, we may have grace to defend the poor, and maintain the cause of those who have no helper; for the sake of him who gave his life for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of William Wilberforce are published on the Lectionary Page website.