As hard times are descending on America, what hope is there? Can one individual impact the world for good? The following story is one of the many powerful examples in history of a small group changing the world.
Like America today, England in the 18th century was facing an empire collapsing from within. The similarities between England then and America today are described by author, Herbert Schlossberg. He says, “The empty religiosity coexisting with open contempt for the Christian heritage of the nation, the widespread hypocrisy, the general lawlessness, and the political corruption were similar.” Both the English people and the clergy had become spiritually dull and committed to blatant materialism. Few people read the Bible and even church leaders ridiculed biblical faith as a myth and hindrance to hedonism. England had slid into a morass of immorality. It became unsafe to go out after dark. Gangs roamed the streets attacking, robbing and murdering. The Industrial Revolution (birthed through biblical principles a century before) became disconnected from its Christian roots and morality. England’s lower classes, including men, women, and children worked 16 hour days in dark and dangerous factories. They buried their sorrows in a sea of cheap gin. The higher classes and politicians were addicted to Madera, prostitution and amusements, such as gambling.
But suddenly a peaceful revolution began. The preaching of men like George Whitefield and John Wesley ignited a spiritual fire which exploded upon English society. The spiritual fire grew, as Schlossberg explains, “recreating in tiny villages or in isolated parishes the promise of a gospel that had atrophied from neglect and self-interest. As the movement spread, it coalesced around academic leaders in Cambridge and then political leaders in Clapham [South London]; it spawned publications and societies almost beyond number; it attracted the allegiance of many millions of people who accepted its claim upon them.”
The Clapham group, a small group of wealthy and influential leaders were radically converted to Christ. They settled on a goal that dwarfed the self-centeredness of their times. Their objective was no less than the total transformation of a decadent, godless England and the abolition of the horrific slave trade, the empire’s biggest source of revenue.
Who were these leaders? Their inspirational leader was William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament, who led the fight for abolition in Parliament for 42 years. One Clapham leader was Henry Thornton, a financial genius, whose practical business advice was indispensable. He gave away more than one third of his fortune to their cause. Other Clapham leaders included powerful business leaders, politicians in Parliament, a banker, a colonial governor, a brilliant lawyer, authors, educators, the Governor-General of India and clergymen. They were for the most part, wealthy and influential. But they were up against all the power, institutions, and wealth of the greatest empire since Rome.
Before he died, Wilberforce spoke about this group of believers who laid their fortunes, their reputations, and even their lives before a hostile, nearly pagan England. He said that the Clapham Group “challenged the whole moral climate of their times and changed their world!
Their efforts ranged across a wide spectrum of issues including slavery, missions, prison reform, public immorality, the needs of the poor.” Professor Richard Pierard says that British Christians “between 1780 and 1844…founded at least 223 national [private] religious, moral, educational, and philanthropic institutions and societies to alleviate child abuse, poverty, illiteracy, and other social ills.”
Read the rest of the article at World History Institute