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A Glimpse into Wilberforce’s Inner Thoughts

Michael D. McMullen

‘An Agent of Usefulness.’ This is how William Wilberforce viewed himself as he reflected on the call of God on his life, and his constant prayer became that he might remain so for the benefit of mankind. He would end up giving his life and health in the pursuit of that call.

Wilberforce has been neglected for too long, so this volume lets him speak for himself, and so continue to be that Agent of Usefulness in the 21st century. Numerous biographies have been written about Wilberforce, but this is the first time his Spiritual Journals have appeared in print since he composed them. As a relatively new Christian, Wilberforce recorded that God had laid before him 2 Great Objects – Abolition of slavery and the impacting of the world for good.

Because he never intended for anyone else but his beloved wife to read his Journals, they are his honest record and self–assessment of his heart and walk with God. As such, his entries are encouraging, challenging and very convicting. Being from Hull as Wilberforce was and born 200 years after him, has made this labour of love all the more a wonderful privilege and honour. I spent over a decade transcribing and annotating them, and what is certain is that while the secular world has sought to marginalize his evangelical faith, it was actually the driving force in all he did.

As evangelical believers living and seeking to make a difference in the hostile culture of the present time, Wilberforce’s words will be such an encouragement and motivation to never give up living for Christ and His Gospel.

Readers will not discover a superhero in his entries, but you will encounter a humble man of God, who against all the odds, including physical disabilities and worldly opposition, witnessed God’s faithfulness and His hand at work in so many ways.

For those with a love for history, Wilberforce certainly lived at a momentous time and had correspondence, personal meetings and friendships with many of those who would be considered great names, including Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, William Pitt the Younger, John and Charles Wesley, and of course John Newton. But for Christians, Wilberforce’s special value lies in his entries in which he records intimate details of how he lived for Christ and pursued his call, while coping with debilitating pain and weaknesses; death threats and physical attacks; with losing some of his children; and all the while having a real concern and conviction that he failed God so often. The call of God on one’s life does not and usually will not guarantee an easy life, that certainly was not the lot of William Wilberforce. But by his enduring so much and remaining steadfast and proving God faithful, his words, prayers and reflections will bring much counsel and comfort for all who travel a similar path.  

We discover through Wilberforce’s own very personal words and thoughts, a pilgrim who loved and memorized Scripture; one to whom prayer was absolutely central to all he was and did; a lover of the lost who did all he could to bring family and friends to Christ; and an evangelical who loved the Church and Christian fellowship.

Wilberforce had a winsome personality and child–like spirit, and there gathered around him an incredible group of friends, encouragers, prayer–warriors, pastors and counsellors. He recognized that the seeming impossibility of what he was seeking to achieve required many acting together, helping encouraging and praying for each other. His Journals reveal just how much this fellowship, friendship and prayer–support meant to him.

I have also included in the book Wilberforce’s Autobiography and his Thoughts on Psalm 40, both of which too have never before been published. As for the Journals, they have been left as he wrote them, I have given many helpful annotations, introductions and footnotes in an attempt to highlight significant people, places and events that he mentions throughout his entries, but no attempt was made to alter anything of what he wrote.

How blessed we are that the usual course was not followed with Wilberforce’s Spiritual Journals, that a family member would follow the diarist’s wishes, and destroy the various books he used to record his life. Here two hundred years or so after he penned them, is a single volume that shares the words of that Agent of Usefulness that was raised up for such a time. Oh that God would do the same in this present generation.  

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