You’re probably familiar by now with William Wilberforce, the great Christian statesman who led the fight against the British slave trade. You probably know, too, that Wilberforce is an inspiration for so much of the work we do here at Prison Fellowship and BreakPoint. But how much do you know about William Wilberforce the father?
Wilberforce and his wife, Barbara, had four sons and two daughters. Despite the overwhelming weight of his religious and political duties, Wilberforce made his children a priority. And when they were away at school, he showered them with letters. Those letters tell the story of a father who was loving, encouraging, and always anxious for their spiritual welfare.
My friend Stephanie Byrd thought that this side of the great man deserved attention. And she’s right. She’s put together a book called Amazing Dad: Letters from William Wilberforce to His Children.
In the extensive excerpts from his letters, we see him advise his children about education, career, time management, and financial generosity, but most of all on the importance of a strong and secure faith in God. Without that faith, he told them over and over again, none of the rest mattered.
Having misspent his own youth before his dramatic conversion to Christ, Wilberforce wanted to make sure his children were grounded in the faith from their earliest years. Unlike many other parents in early 19th-century Britain, Wilberforce was far more concerned with their spiritual success than with their worldly success.
His priorities for them were always in the right order. When he wrote to his son Robert, he said, “I am quite satisfied with the diligence and zeal with which you are prosecuting your studies. But let me earnestly entreat you not to forget that there are claims and interests of a still higher order. And I hope my dear Robert will see to it that these are not neglected. There is always danger, lest students should abridge the time they ought to allot to prayer.”
Even though Wilberforce wrote in the style of his day-a style many today find slow going-anyone who reads his letters will feel Wilberforce’s passion for the spiritual well-being of his children.
For example, to another son, Wilberforce wrote, “You are the son, my dearest Samuel, of parents who I can truly declare have made your eternal interests the grand object of their care, and who on this principle...have endeavored to preserve you pure from all contagious influences from corrupt associates.”
And like parents today, William Wilberforce knew he could only offer guidance. The grown child would have to choose his course in life. So he continued to Samuel: “Now you will choose your associates for yourself, and on the choice you make...very much will depend [on] what is popularly called your character, meaning the aggregate of a man’s moral principles and feelings.”
If you, like Wilberforce, are consumed by the “eternal interests” of your children, I can heartily recommend the book Amazing Dad. Come to our website, BreakPoint.org, and we’ll show you how you can get a copy-and learn some vital parenting lessons from a great statesman and a great father.