Detestation of the Diabolical Slave Traffic (Cowper)

The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper Most of us have heard about the great work of William Wilberforce who used his God-given gifts and talents to work towards ending the evil practice of the slave trade.  There were others, of course, who worked so diligently with Wilberforce in attaining the goal.  In fact, William Cowper was one of those who spoke early on against the “diabolical traffic” (as he called it).  Cowper wrote and published several poems describing the evils of the slave trade.  Here’s one called “The Negro’s Complaint” (1788/1793):

Forc’d from home, and all its pleasures,
Afric’s coast I left forlorn;
To increase a stranger’s treasures,
O’er the raging billows borne.
Men from England bought and sold me,
Paid my price in paltry gold;
But, though theirs they have enroll’d me,
Minds are never to be sold. 

Still in thought as free as ever,
What are England’s rights, I ask,
Me from my delights to sever,
Me to torture, me to task?
Fleecy locks, and black complexion
Cannot forfeit nature’s claim;
Skins may differ, but affection
Dwells in white and black the same. 

Why did all-creating Nature
Make the plant for which we toil?
Sighs must fan it, tears must water,
Sweat of ours must dress the soil.
Think, ye masters, iron-hearted,
Lolling at your jovial boards;
Think how many backs have smarted
For the sweets your cane affords. 

Is there, as ye sometimes tell us,
Is there one who reigns on high?
Has he bid you buy and sell us,
Speaking from his throne the sky?
Ask him, if your knotted scourges,
Matches, blood-extorting screws,
Are the means which duty urges
Agents of his will to use? 

Hark! he answers—Wild tornadoes,
Strewing yonder sea with wrecks;
Wasting towns, plantations, meadows,
Are the voice with which he speaks.
He, foreseeing what vexations
Afric’s sons should undergo,
Fix’d their tyrants’ habitations
Where his whirlwinds answer – NO!

By our blood in Afric’ wasted,
Ere our necks receiv’d the chain;
By the mis’ries we have tasted,
Crossing in your barks the main;
To the man-degrading mart;
All sustain’d by patience, taught us
Only by a broken heart: 

Deem our nation brutes no longer
Till some reason ye shall find
Worthier of regard and stronger
Than the colour of our kind.
Slaves of gold, whose sordid dealings
Tarnish all your boasted pow’rs,
Prove that you have human feelings,
Ere you proudly question ours!

William Cowper, 1788 (The Complete Poetical Works of William Cowper, 371).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

…Relative Value of Temporal Things (Wilberforce)

Jacket In 1797 William Wilberforce published a book called “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity.”  In this book, Wilberforce compared and contrasted true Christianity and nominal Christianity.  The section below is where Wilberforce shows a major contrast between a real Christian and one in name only:

“The true Christian knows from experience that the eternal will probably fade from sight and the temporal will exaggerate itself.  Therefore he carefully preserves those just and enlightened views of the future given to him by divine mercy.  This does not mean he retires as a recluse, for he is active in the business of life and enjoys its comforts with moderation and thankfulness.”

“But the Christian will not be wholly in the world or give up his soul to worldly things.  For the truth sinks into his mind that ‘the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal’ (2 Cor. 4.18).  In the tumult and bustle of life, the still small voice sobers him with the whispered statement, ‘The present form of this world is passing away’ (1 Cor. 7:31).”

“This disposition alone must constitute a vast difference between the habitual temper of the real Christian and that of the mass of nominal Christians.  The concerns of the present world dominate them almost entirely.  They know indeed that they are mortal, but they do not feel it.  For the truth finds its way only into their minds but cannot gain admission to their hearts.  This understanding of the mind is altogether different from that strong practical impression of the infinite importance of eternal things.”

“This attitude of knowing that ‘the night comes, when no man can work’ (John 9.4) produces a firmness of character that hardens us (true Christians) against the buffetings of life.  It prevents the cares and interests, the good or evil of this transitory state from deeply penetrating us.  This proper impression of the relative value of temporal things and infinite importance of eternal things maintains in the soul a dignified composure throughout all of the difficulties of life.  It quickens our diligence yet moderates our zeal.  It urges us to just pursuits, yet it checks any undue care about their success.  It enables us in the words of Scripture, ‘to use this world, not as abusing it’ (1 Cor. 7:31).”

(This is a re-post from August 2016)

The above slightly edited quotes come from William Wilberforce, Real Christianity, p. 102-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

…Less of Our Hearts (Wilberforce)

Real Christianity by [Wilberforce, William] I appreciate the following section of William Wilberforce’s book called “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity.”  I’ve edited it slightly:

True, practical Christianity consists in devoting the heart and life to God.  It is governed supremely and habitually by a desire to know God, to be disposed to God’s will, and to live in his glory.  Where these essential requisites are wanting, one cannot complement it with the name of Christianity.

…Is he [the Christian] too keenly engaged in worldly business?  Let him carefully examine the state of his own heart.  If he finds himself pursuing wealth or status or reputation too much, he must realize, ‘No man can serve two masters’ (Mt. 6:24).  The world evidently possess his heart.  So it is no wonder that he finds himself dulled, or rather, dead to the impression and enjoyment of spiritual things.

Let us carefully scrutinize our whole conduct to see if we have breached or omitted a duty toward God.  Particularly, we need to see if we are negligent of self-examination, of secret and public prayer, of reading the Scriptures, and of other prescribed means of grace.  If we find the allotment of time that should be devoted to our spiritual development lacking, let us be open about it with ourselves and remedy the situation.  Otherwise, this fatal negligence will begin to affect our hearts and our conduct.  So we need to ascertain if other matters that preoccupy us are not consuming too large a share of our time.  By careful management, we might still fully satisfy their legitimate claims and then devote time to our devotional life.

But if we deliberately and honestly conclude that we ought not to give these worldly affairs less of our time, let us endeavor at least to give them less of our hearts.

Let us at least have a just sense of our great weaknesses and numerous infirmities.  This is a becoming spirit in those who are commanded to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12).  It prompts us to constant and earnest prayer.  It produces that sobriety, lowliness, and tenderness of mind, that meekness of behavior and care in conduct, that are such notable characteristics of the true Christian.

This is not a state devoid of consolation.  ‘Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord” (Ps. 27:14).  “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Is. 40:31). “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt. 5:4).  These divine assurances soothe and encourage the Christian’s disturbed and dejected mind and instill unconsciously a holy composure.

William Wilberforce, Real Christianity (Victor: Colorado Springs, 2005), p123-124.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Religious Compartment

Jacket Two days ago I mentioned William Wilberforce’s book called Real Christianity (that’s the modern title for it anyway).  In chapter four he explains the true character of the real Christian life and then contrasts it with the beliefs and practices of nominal Christians.  The second section of this chapter is where Wilberforce describes how nominal Christians view the Christian religion.  Here are a few excerpts:

“They [nominal Christians] assign to religion a plot of land – larger or smaller according to their views and circumstances – in which it has merely a qualified (limited) jurisdiction.  This done, they presume they have a right to roam at will over the spacious remainder of territory.”

“In other words, religion can claim only a stated proportion of their thoughts, their time, their money, and their influence.  If they may give a liberal allowance to one or more of these resources, then they assume they have satisfied religion.  The rest is theirs; they do with it what they please.  They have paid their tithes; they have satisfied the demand of the church.  Surely they have won permission to enjoy what is left without interferences!

“It is scarcely possible to state too strongly the mischief that results from this fundamental error.  Its consequences are obvious.  For it assumes the greatest part of human actions are indifferent to religion.  If men are not chargeable with actual vices, they are decent in the performance of their religious duties; and they do not stray into the forbidden ground.  And if they reflect the rights of the portion of land given to religion, what more can be expected of them?”

Wilberforce is saying that nominal Christians give a portion, or compartment, of their life to the Christian religion.  That compartment has a place in life along with other things, and sometimes the religious compartment claims some of their time or thoughts or money, and they think that’s good enough.  The other compartments of life are theirs to do with what they want. What happens then, as Wilberforce notes, is that the religious compartment doesn’t affect/influence other parts of life; however, no one can criticize them (they think), because they are “religious” (i.e. they have a religious compartment).

Later Wilberforce says first of all this is unbiblical because Scripture says that the heart and actions – indeed, all of life – should be lived by faith and obedience.  Secondly, this is a tragedy because often the religious “compartment” of a nominal Christian’s life shrinks as time goes on and as the world gets into the heart:

“The space occupied by it (the religious plot/compartment) diminishes until it is scarcely discernible.  They (nominal Christians) extinguish its spirit and destroy its force, reducing it to little more than the nominal possessor even of its contracted area.”

The next step is totally avoiding religion and becoming one’s own master.

In summary, compartmentalizing our faith (the Christian religion) is an unbiblical error that often leads to complete denial of the faith.

This should not make us point fingers at others; rather, it should encourage us to “decompartmentalize” our lives if we’ve done so.  It should make us pray that God would grant us the grace to be truly religious in every area of our lives – for his glory (1 Cor. 10:31)!

For more info, see Chapter 4, section 2, of Wilberforce’s Real Christianity.

shane lems

Vigor, Exertion, Diligence, Faith

Jacket William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity is a fascinating and helpful book first published in England in 1797 (with this title: “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity”).  In this book Wilberforce criticizes the notion of being a Christian in name only, but not in faith and practice.  I’m not yet finished with the book, so I can’t give a full review, but I did want to point out a helpful section where Wilberforce talks about vigor, exertion, and diligence in the Christian faith.  Basically, he rebukes those who say they are Christians but don’t put any effort into growing in knowledge, faith, and obedience.

“How criminal, then, must this voluntary ignorance of Christianity and the Word of God appear in the sight of God.  When God of His goodness has granted us such abundant means of instruction, how great must be the guilt, and how awful must be the punishment of voluntary ignorance.”

“And why are we to expect knowledge without inquiry and success without endeavor?  Bountiful as is the hand of Providence, it does not bestow its gifts to seduce us into laziness.  It bestows gifts to arouse us to exertion.  No one expects to attain to the heights of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or militant glory without vigorous resolution, strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance.”

“Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry!  This is the more preposterous because Christianity, a revelation from God and not an invention of man, shows us new relations with their correspondent duties.  It contains also doctrines, motives, and precepts peculiar to itself.  We cannot reasonably expect to become proficient accidentally, as one might learn insensibly the maxims of worldly policy or a scheme of mere morals.

“…Scripture everywhere represents the Gospel by figures strongly calculated to impress on our minds a sense of its value.  It speaks of the Gospel as light from darkness, as release from prison, as deliverance from captivity, as life from death.  The early converts universally received it with thankfulness and joy.  At one time, the communication of it is promised as a reward.  At another, the loss of it is threatened as a punishment.  And the more general extension of the kingdom of Christ constitutes one of the  leading petitions of the short prayer taught by our blessed Savior.  What exalted conceptions of the importance of Christianity ought to fill us when we read these descriptions(!).”

William Wilberforce, Real Christianity, chapter 1.

shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi