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Doing good and helping the poor

"Doing good and helping the poor" Continued...

Issue: "'Into captivity they shall go'," Feb. 24, 2007

METAXAS: Wilberforce understood the Scripture about being wise as serpents and gentle as doves. He was a very wise man who worked with those from other views to further the causes God had called him to. Because of the depth of his faith, Wilberforce was a genuinely humble man who treated his enemies with grace-and of course that had great practical results.

WORLD: You are the host of a forum in New York City called Socrates in the City, a place for discussion of faith in a format comfortable for non-Christians. Wilberforce tried something similar with friends at social gatherings, to prompt a discussion of faith. What can we learn from Wilberforce's vigorous efforts to share his faith?

METAXAS: We have to speak to people on their own terms, and in their own language. That is God's way. He didn't say we had to go to heaven to find out about Him. He came to us, humbling Himself all the way down to our level. That's the love of God and that's what speaks powerfully to people. Wilberforce wasn't full of pious platitudes. He really had the ability to translate the things of God in a way that people could really hear what he was saying.

WORLD: You have read the British biographies of Wilberforce, such as John Pollock's or earlier ones. Why is it important for Americans to have some written by Americans?

METAXAS: There is much about British history and politics that needs explaining for most American readers, or at least some context. No one could top Pollock's or Ronald Coupland's books. But being farther from Wilberforce and newer to him, perhaps we Americans can see him with fresher eyes, too.

WORLD: On one hand Wilberforce was a very sociable and witty person with great gifts in friendships. Yet he worked so hard at what might be called the spiritual disciplines-Bible study, prayer, early rising, fasting, self-denial, temperance in eating habits. After growing up in ease and comfort, how did he become so disciplined?

METAXAS: As Americans we still react to what we think of as previous excesses in Puritanical rigidity. We are somehow afraid of self-discipline and self-denial. We're overdue for a swing back toward more formal spiritual disciplines. When you think of Wilberforce memorizing the 119th Psalm and reciting it as he walked though the tall grasses of Hyde Park, you realize we are really missing something beautiful.

WORLD: His political accomplishments perhaps overshadow this side of his life, but Wilberforce set a new standard for fatherhood, spending lots of time with his six children, taking Deuteronomy 6:5-9 very seriously. How and why did a man so busy in political life manage to develop this side of his life?

METAXAS: Wilberforce not only took this seriously, he did so when almost no one else did, and because of his fame set the fashion with regard to family togetherness and being together on Sundays that lasted far into the 19th and even 20th centuries. It wasn't an American invention. Just as no one can get on our knees and pray instead of us, no one can be a parent to our children as we can. These things themselves are spiritual disciplines that ground us and bring us closer to God, so that we are wiser and humbler in all else that we do.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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