So this is it. As of today we’ve read the final chapter of William Wilberforce’s Real Christianity. This marks the seventh classic we’ve read together. I am going to offer a few closing remarks and then open it for discussion in case you’d like to reflect on the book. And then I guess we’ll have to start thinking about what comes next.
In the book’s final chapter, Wilberforce offers “Practical Hints for Real Christianity.” To be honest, I was not entirely sure how the chapter title accurately summarizes the chapter contents. I guess I was expecting something a little bit more practical in nature than what was actually there. But no matter. This chapter seemed to tie up a few loose ends—to offer reflections on a variety of issues. Hence I will just offer some loosely connected quotes that stood out to me.
I enjoyed Wilberforce’s words about the dread of sin that is a sure characteristic of the true Christian. “Such a dread causes him to look back upon the vices of his own youthful days with shame and sorrow. Then instead of conceding to young people to be wild and thoughtless—a privilege of their age and circumstances(!)—he is prompted to warn them against what has proved to him to be a matter of such bitter reflection.” Too often I have seen Christians look back on their wild days of youth with a certain fondness or even jealousy rather than the shame that seems more fitting to one who truly understands how even then he was living in utter rebellion against his God.
His words on humility were worth highlighting. The more I read of the lives of great men, the more I see how they emphasized humility. This was true of Wilberforce. “In proportion as a Christian grows in grace, so he grows in humility. Humility is indeed the principle first and last of Christianity. By this principle it lives and thrives. As humility grows or declines, so Christianity must flourish or decay.”
Writing about people who have satisfy themselves with a kind of “general Christianity,” Wilberforce says “they feel a general penitence and humiliation from a general sense of sinfulness and have general desires for holiness.” Biting words, those, and ones worthy of reflection. Do you feel only a general dislike for sin and desire a general holiness?
I think the best words in this chapter came in the final section where Wilberforce challenged people to be true Christians because of the state of the times. He knew what a nation of such Christians could accomplish and desired that the people of his nation and of his time would turn to the Lord, putting aside their general Christianity, their counterfeit Christianity, and that they would truly embrace the Lord. The final five or six paragraphs stands as his challenge to them. It could as easily stand as a challenge to us today, as we live in nations that are quickly becoming post-Christian, looking more and more like the nation he describes throughout this book. “Let [Christians] boldly assert the cause of Christ in an age when so many who bear the name of Christian are ashamed of Him. Let them accept the duty to serve, if not actually save, their country. Let them serve not by political interference, but by that sure and radical benefit of restoring the influence of true religious and of raising the standard of morality.”
And so Real Christianity, written though it was hundreds of years ago, is applicable and relevant even today. Wilberforce’s challenge is one we can ignore, regarding it as trapped in a different nation and a different time. But we do well, I think, to see that nations come and go but the spiritual realities remain the same. At any time there are many who profess faith, but there is usually only a remnant who truly embrace that faith and who live lives subjected to the Scriptures. Our task, like Wilberforce’s, is to urge people to give up their counterfeit faith and to turn to the freedom, the beauty, of real Christianity. And all for the glory of God.
Now what? That’s a good question. In a week or two I will announce the next book we will be taking on. I think we are going to go Puritan, though I am open to any and all of your suggestions.