His 40-year struggle against slavery makes William Wilberforce a model of Christian persistence.

London, October 25, 1787. It was still dark when the slight young man quickly pulled the dressing gown around his small, thin frame and sat at the worn oak desk in the second-floor library. As he adjusted the flame of his lamp, the warm light shone on his piercing blue eyes, upturned nose, and high wrinkling forehead—an agile face that reflected an inner turmoil as he eyed the jumble of pamphlets on his cluttered desk. They were all on the same subject: the horrors of the slave trade.

He ran his hand through his wavy hair and opened his well-worn Bible. He would begin this day, as was his custom, with a time of personal prayer and Scripture reading. But his thoughts kept returning to the pamphlets’ grisly accounts of human flesh being sold, like so much cattle, for the profit of his countrymen. Something inside him—that insistent conviction he had felt before—was telling him that all that had happened in his life had been for a purpose, preparing him to meet that barbaric evil head-on.

William Wilberforce was born in Hull in 1759, the only son of a prosperous merchant family. He was an average student at Cambridge, but his quick wit made him a favorite among his fellows, including William Pitt, who shared his interest in politics. Often the two young men spent their evenings in the gallery of the House of Commons, watching heated debates over the American war.

After graduation, Wilberforce ran as a conservative for a seat in Parliament from his home county. He was only 21, but the prominence of his family, his speaking ability, and a generous feast he sponsored for voters on election day carried the contest.

When he arrived in London, ...

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