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"When they burned the New Testament they pretended a zeal very fervent to maintain only Godís honor, which they said with protestation, was obscured by translation in English, causing much error. But the truth plainly to be said, this was the cause why they were afraid, least laymen should know their iniquity."

A Lollard (1450ad)

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William Wilberforce (1759-1833)

Real Christianity
or Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Middle and Higher Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity

by William Wilberforce

1797 Edition


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EXCERPT On Persecution and Purity: "Christianity especially has always thrived under persecution. At such a season she has no lukewarm professors; no adherents concerning whom it is doubtful to what party they belong. The Christian is then reminded at every turn, that his Master's kingdom is not of this world. When all on earth wears a black and threatening aspect, he looks up to heaven for consolation; he learns practically to consider himself as a pilgrim and stranger. He then cleaves to fundamentals, and examines well his foundation, as at the hour of death. When Religion is in a state of external quiet and prosperity, the contrary of all this naturally takes place. The soldiers of the church militant then forget that they are in a state of warfare. Their ardor slackens, their zeal languishes. Like a colony long settled in a strange country, they are gradually assimilated in features, and demeanor, and language, to the native inhabitants, till at length almost every vestige of peculiarity dies away."

...

William Wilberforce, 1759-1833, was an English Politician and a leading Abolitionist to end the slave trade in England.

On Reading and Studying Scripture:

"No one expects to attain to the height of learning, power, wealth or military glory without vigorous resolution, strenuous diligence and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labour, study, or inquiry. This is the more preposterous as Christianity [is] a revelation from God ... containing doctrines, motives, practical principles and rules. ... Reason dictates, revelation commands "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." ... Yet ... with the Bible in our houses we are ignorant of its contents ... such lamentable ignorance."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

"Doubtless there have been too many who ... have vainly trusted in Christ for pardon and acceptance, when by their vicious lives they have plainly proved the groundlessness of their pretensions."

"The apostles ... in addressing others also whom they conceive to be living in habits of sin, and under the wrath of God, they rather advise them to amend their ways as a preparation for their coming to Christ, than exhort them to throw themselves with deep prostration of soul at the foot of the cross, there to obtain pardon and find grace to help in time of need. ... Doubtless there have been too many who, to their eternal ruin, have abused the doctrine of Salvation by Grace; and have vainly trusted in Christ for pardon and acceptance, when by their vicious lives they have plainly proved the groundlessness of their pretensions. The tree is to be known by its fruits; and there is too much reason to fear that there is no principle of faith, when it does not decidedly evince itself by the fruits of holiness. ... Repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, was the sum of the apostolical instructions."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

Conversation Shows Forth the Heart:

"Let us appeal to a test to which we resorted in a former instance. 'Out of the abundance of the heart ... the mouth speaks.' Take these persons then in some well selected hour, and lead the conversation to the subject of Religion. The utmost which can be effected is, to bring them to talk of things in the gross. They appear lost in generalities; there is nothing precise and determinate, nothing which implies a mind used to the contemplation of its object. In vain you strive to bring them to speak on that topic, which one might expect to be ever uppermost in the hearts of redeemed sinners. They elude all your endeavours; and if you make mention of it yourself, it is received with no very cordial welcome at least, if not with unequivocal disgust; it is at the best a forced and formal discussion."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On persecution and purity:

"Christianity especially has always thrived under persecution. At such a season she has no lukewarm professors; no adherents concerning whom it is doubtful to what party they belong. The Christian is then reminded at every turn, that his Master's kingdom is not of this world. When all on earth wears a black and threatening aspect, he looks up to heaven for consolation; he learns practically to consider himself as a pilgrim and stranger. He then cleaves to fundamentals, and examines well his foundation, as at the hour of death. When Religion is in a state of external quiet and prosperity, the contrary of all this naturally takes place. The soldiers of the church militant then forget that they are in a state of warfare. Their ardor slackens, their zeal languishes. Like a colony long settled in a strange country, they are gradually assimilated in features, and demeanor, and language, to the native inhabitants, till at length almost every vestige of peculiarity dies away."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On the depravity of man:

"That the sacred name of Religion has been too often prostituted to the most detestable purposes; that furious bigots and bloody persecutors, and self-interested hypocrites of all qualities and dimensions, from the rapacious leader of an army, to the canting oracle of a congregation, have falsely called themselves Christians, are melancholy and humiliating truths, which (as none so deeply lament them) none will more readily admit, than they who best understand the nature, and are most concerned for the honor of Christianity. We are ready to acknowledge also without dispute, that the religious affections, and the doctrine of divine assistances, have almost at all times been more or less disgraced by the false pretences and extravagant conduct of wild fanatics and brain-sick enthusiasts. All this, however, is only as it happens in other instances, wherein the depravity of man perverts the bounty of God."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On the purpose of God's revelation to man:

"It might perhaps be said to be the great end and purpose of all revelation, and especially to be the design of the Gospel, to reclaim us from our natural pride and selfishness, and their fatal consequences; to bring us to a just sense of our weakness and depravity; and to dispose us, with unfeigned humiliation, to abase ourselves, and give glory to God. 'No flesh may glory in his presence; he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord' - 'The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted.'"

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On Christian precepts:

"'Mortify the flesh, with its affections and lusts,' is the Christian precept; a soft luxurious course of habitual indulgence, is the practice of the bulk of modern Christians: and that constant moderation, that wholesome discipline of restraint and self-denial, which are requisite to prevent the unperceived encroachments of the inferior appetites, seem altogether disused, as the exploded austerities of monkish superstition."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On Christian duty:

"No man has a right to be idle - not to speak of that great work which we all have to accomplish, and surely the whole attention of a short and precarious life is not more than an eternal interest may well require; where is it that in such a world as this, health and leisure and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate? Shall ambition and avarice never sleep? Shall they never want objects on which to fasten? Shall they be so observant to discover, so acute to discern, so eager, so patient to pursue, and shall the benevolence of Christians want employment?

Yet thus life rolls away with too many of us in a course of 'shapeless idleness.' Its recreations constitute its chief business. Watering places - the sports of the field - cards! Never failing cards! - the assembly - the theatre - all contribute their aid - amusements are multiplied, and combined, and varied, 'to fill up the void of a listless and languid life;' and by the judicious use of these different resources, there is often a kind of sober settled plan of domestic dissipation, in which with all imaginable decency year after year wears away in unprofitable vacancy. Even old age often finds us pacing in the same round of amusements, which our early youth had tracked out. Meanwhile, being conscious that we are not giving into any flagrant vice, perhaps that we are guilty of no irregularity, and it may be, that we are not neglecting the offices of Religion, we persuade ourselves that we need not be uneasy. In the main we do not fall below the general standard of morals, of the class and station to which we belong, we may therefore allow ourselves to glide down the stream without apprehension of the consequences.

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On the manner of keeping of the Lord's Day:

"Let us appeal to that day which is especially devoted to the offices of Religion: do they joyfully avail themselves of this blessed opportunity of withdrawing from the business and cares of life; when, without being disquieted by any doubt whether they are not neglecting the duties of their proper callings, they may be allowed to detach their minds from earthly things, that by a fuller knowledge of heavenly objects, and a more habitual acquaintance with them, their hope may grow more 'full of immortality?' Is the day cheerfully devoted to those holy exercises for which it was appointed? Do they indeed 'come into the courts of God with gladness?' And how are they employed when not engaged in the public services of the day? Are they busied in studying the word of God, in meditating on his perfections, in tracing his providential dispensations, in admiring his works, in revolving his mercies, (above all, the transcendent mercies of redeeming love) in singing his praises, 'and speaking good of his name?' Do their secret retirements witness the earnestness of their prayers and the warmth of their thanksgivings, their diligence and impartiality in the necessary work of self-examination, their mindfulness of the benevolent duty of intercession? Is the kind purpose of the institution of a Sabbath answered by them, in its being made to their servants and dependents a season of rest and comfort?"

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On the Christian character and temperament:

"It is not however only in these essential constituents of a devotional frame that the bulk of nominal Christians are defective. This they freely declare (secretly feeling perhaps some complacency from the frankness of the avowal) to be a higher strain of piety than that to which they aspire. Their forgetfulness also of some of the leading dispositions of Christianity, is undeniably apparent in their allowed want of the spirit of kindness, and meekness, and gentleness, and patience, and long suffering; and above all, of that which is the stock on which alone these dispositions can grow and flourish, that humility and lowliness of mind, in which perhaps more than in any other quality may be said to consist the true essence and vital principle of the Christian temper. These dispositions are not only neglected, but even disavowed and exploded, and their opposites, if not rising to any great height, are acknowledged and applauded. A just pride, a proper and becoming pride, are terms which we daily hear from Christian lips. To possess a high spirit, to behave with a proper spirit when used ill, - by which is meant a quick feeling of injuries, and a promptness in resenting them, - entitles to commendation; and a meek-spirited disposition, the highest Scripture eulogium, expresses ideas of disapprobation and contempt. Vanity and vain glory are suffered without interruption to retain their natural possession of the heart."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On the desire for honor:

"But the truth is that the reasonings of Christian moralists too often exhibit but few traces of the genius of Christian morality. Of this position, the case before us is an instance. This principle of the desire of worldly distinction and applause, is often allowed, and even commended, with too few qualifications, and too little reserve. To covet wealth is base and sordid, but to covet honor is treated as the mark of a generous and exalted nature. These writers scarcely seem to bear in mind, that though the principle in question tends to prevent the commission of those grosser acts of vice which would injure us in the general estimation; yet that it not only stops there, but that it there begins to exert almost an equal force in the opposite direction. They do not consider how apt this principle is, even in the case of those who move in a contracted sphere, to fill us with vain conceits, and vicious passions; and above all how it tends to fix the affections on earthly things, and to steal away the heart from God."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On the desire of human approbation:

"The Christian too is well aware that the excessive desire of human approbation is a passion of so subtle a nature, that there is nothing into which it cannot penetrate; and from much experience, learning to discover it where it would lurk unseen, and to detect it under its more specious disguises, he finds, that elsewhere disallowed and excluded, it is apt to insinuate itself into his very religion, where it especially delights to dwell, and obstinately maintains its residence. Proud piety and ostentatious charity, and all the more open effects it there produces, have been often condemned, and we may discover the tendencies to them in ourselves, without difficulty."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On false contrition:

"There are not a few in our relaxed age, who thus satisfy themselves with what may be termed general Christianity; who feel general penitence and humiliation from a sense of their sinfulness in general, and general desires of universal holiness; but who neglect that vigilant and jealous care, with which they should labor to extirpate every particular corruption, by studying its nature, its root, its ramifications, and thus becoming acquainted with its secret movements, with the means whereby it gains strength, and with the most effectual methods of resisting it. In like manner, they are far from striving with persevering alacrity for the acquisition and improvement of every Christian grace. Nor is it unusual for ministers, who preach the truths of the Gospel with fidelity, ability, and success, to be themselves also liable to the charge of dwelling altogether in their instructions on this general Religion: instead of tracing and laying open all the secret motions of inward corruption, and instructing their hearers how best to conduct themselves in every distinct part of the Christian warfare; how best to strive against each particular vice, and to cultivate each grace of the Christian character. Hence it is, that in too many persons, concerning the sincerity of whose general professions of Religion we should be sorry to entertain a doubt, we yet see little progress made in the regulation of their tempers, in the improvement of their time, in the reform of their plan of life, or inability to resist the temptation to which they are particularly exposed. They will confess themselves, in general terms, to be 'miserable sinners:' this is a tenet of their creed, and they feel even proud in avowing it. They will occasionally also lament particular failings: but this confession is sometimes obviously made, in order to draw forth a compliment for the very opposite virtue: and where this is not the case, it is often not difficult to detect, under this false guise of contrition, a secret self-complacency, arising from the manifestations which they have afforded of their acuteness or candor in discovering the infirmity in question, or of their frankness or humility in acknowledging it. This will scarcely seem an illiberal suspicion to anyone, who either watches the workings of his own heart, or who observes, that the faults confessed in these instances are very seldom those with which the person is most clearly and strongly chargeable.

We must plainly warn these men, and the consideration is seriously pressed on their instructors also, that they are in danger of deceiving themselves. Let them beware lest they be nominal Christians of another sort. These persons require to be reminded, that there is no short compendious method of holiness: but that it must be the business of their whole lives to grow in grace, and continually adding one virtue to another, as far as may be, 'to go on towards perfection.' 'He only that doeth righteousness is righteous.' Unless 'they bring forth the fruits of the Spirit,' they can have no sufficient evidence that they have received that 'Spirit of Christ, without which they are none of his.' But where, on the whole, our unwillingness to pass an unfavorable judgment may lead us to indulge a hope, that 'the root of the matter is found in them;' yet we must at least declare to them, that instead of adorning the doctrine of Christ, they disparage and discredit it."

read online: "Real Christianity" by William Wilberforce

On morality and society:

"Let them boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many, who bear the name of Christians, are ashamed of Him: and let them consider as devolved on them the important duty of suspending for a while the fall of their country and, perhaps, of performing a still more extensive service to society at large; not by busy interference in politics, in which it cannot but be confessed there is much uncertainty; but rather by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of Religion, and of raising the standard of morality.

Let them be active, useful, generous towards others; manifestly moderate and self-denying in themselves. Let them be ashamed of idleness, as they would be of the most acknowledged sin. When Providence blesses them with affluence, let them withdraw from the competition of vanity; and, without sordidness or absurdity, show by their modest demeanor, and by their retiring from display, that, without affecting singularity, they are not slaves to fashion; that they consider it as their duty to set an example of moderation and sobriety, and to reserve for nobler and more disinterested purposes, that money, which others selfishly waste in parade, and dress, and equipage. Let them evince, in short, a manifest moderation in all temporal things; as becomes those whose affections are set on higher objects than any which this world affords, and who possess, within their own bosoms, a fund of satisfaction and comfort, which the world seeks in vanity and dissipation. Let them cultivate a catholic spirit of universal good will, and of amicable fellowship towards all those, of whatever sect or denomination, who, differing from them in non-essentials, agree with them in the grand fundamentals of Religion. Let them countenance men of real piety wherever they are found; and encourage in others every attempt to repress the progress of vice, and to revive and diffuse the influence of Religion and virtue. Let their earnest prayers be constantly offered, that such endeavors may be successful, and that the abused long-suffering of God may still continue to us the invaluable privilege of vital Christianity.

Let them pray continually for their country in this season of national difficulty. We bear upon us but too plainly the marks of a declining empire. Who can say but that the Governor of the universe, who declares himself to be a God who hears the prayers of his servants, may, in answer to their intercessions, for a while avert our ruin, and continue to us the fullness of those temporal blessings, which in such abundant measure we have hitherto enjoyed. Men of the world, indeed, however they may admit the natural operation of natural causes, and may therefore confess the effects of Religion and morality in promoting the well being of the community; may yet, according to their humor, with a smile of complacent pity, or a sneer of supercilious contempt, read of the service which real Christians may render to their country, by conciliating the favor and calling down the blessing of Providence. It may appear in their eyes an instance of the same superstitious weakness, as that which prompts the terrified inhabitant of Sicily to bring for the image of his tutelar saint, in order to stop the destructive ravages of AEtna. We are, however, sure, if we believe the Scripture, that God will be disposed to favor the nation to which his servants belong; and that, in fact, such as they, have often been the unknown and unhonored instruments of drawing down on their country the blessings of safety and prosperity.

But it would be an instance in myself of that very false shame which I have condemned in others, if I were not boldly to avow my firm persuasion, that to the decline of Religion and morality our national difficulties must both directly and indirectly be chiefly ascribed; and that my only solid hopes for the well-being of my country depend not so much on her fleets and armies, not so much on the wisdom of her rulers, or the spirit of her people, as on the persuasion that she still contains many, who, in a degenerate age, love and obey the Gospel of Christ; on the humble trust that the intercession of these may still be prevalent, that for the sake of these, Heaven may still look upon us with an eye of favor."

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