Wesley to Wilberforce
WRITTEN FEBRUARY 24, 1791 at age 88 from Balam, England, six days before his death, this last letter of Wesley’s was addressed to William Wilberforce. Wesley had spoken out forcibly against slavery, repeatedly referring to the slave trade as the “execrable sum of all villainies”. In 1774 he wrote the influential Thoughts Upon Slavery.
Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, was active at the time in an unsuccessful attempt to pass abolition. Debate continued for several years and in 1807 the abolition of slavery was effected thoughout the British Empire.
The text of the letter is given below and can be used to follow the aged, faltering hand of the still hearty Wesley. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa, who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold for a slave in Barbados. In 1757 he was sent to England and, according to church records, was soon converted to Christianity.
24 February, 1791
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 and 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 a black skin being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in all of 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,
By John Wesley
[Christian History originally published this article in Christian History Issue #2 in 1983]
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