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Models for Reformation: Wesley to Wilberforce On Slavery (1791)

By Jay Rogers
Published March 31, 2008

On February 24, 1791 at age 88, six days before his death, this last letter was addressed to William Wilberforce. Wesley had spoken out forcibly against slavery his whole life. In 1774, he wrote the influential Thoughts Upon Slavery.

Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, was active at the time in the unsuccessful attempt to pass abolition. Debate continued for several years and in 1807 the abolition of the slave trade was effected throughout the British Empire.

The text of the letter is given below. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold as a slave in Barbados. In 1757 he was sent to England and was converted to Christianity.

Dear Sir:

Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!

That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,

Your affectionate servant,

John Wesley


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Your comments are welcome!

Good post! One correction: Slavery was not abolised in England until 1833. In 1807, only the trading slaves became illegal.

Posted by TC on 03/12/2011 06:21 PM #

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Driving down a country road sometime, you might see a church with a sign proudly proclaiming: “No book but the Bible — No creed but Christ.” The problem with this statement is that the word creed (from the Latin: credo) simply means “belief.” All Christians have beliefs, regardless of whether they are written.

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Who is the dreaded beast of Revelation?

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All Christians believe that their great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will one day return. Although we cannot know the exact time of His return, what exactly did Jesus mean when he spoke of the signs of His coming (Mat. 24)? How are we to interpret the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:19)? Should we expect a time of great tribulation and apostasy or revival and reformation before the Lord returns? Is the devil bound now, and are the saints reigning with Christ? Did you know that there are four hermeneutical approaches to the book of Daniel and Revelation?

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