At church this Sunday, I’ll be preaching on Paul’s prayer for the Colossian Christians in Colossians 1:9-14. One of the remarkable requests Paul asks of God on behalf of these believers is that they would “be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (v. 11). The apostle Paul wanted to see these Christians stick it out to the very end and he asked God to strengthen them so it could happen. He knew that was God’s will for them and wanted to spur them on. Over 1700 years later John Wesley did the same thing for a struggling William Wilberforce.
On February 24, 1791, six days before John Wesley died, the 88-year-old minister asked his helper to bring paper and quill to his bed.
For years Wesley had followed the attempts of William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament, to have slavery abolished in England. In 1774, Wesley had written Thoughts on Slavery, a book that had influenced Wilberforce to push for abolition. Sadly, all attempts had been unsuccessful.
Now, on his deathbed, Wesley heard that Wilberforce was about to give up the fight. The vested interests of slavery in Parliament were too powerful.
With faltering hand, Wesley wrote Wilberforce a powerful letter of encouragement.
“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 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. John Wesley.”
Wilberforce received the letter after Wesley died. He vowed to once again take up the fight. It took 16 years, but in 1807 the British empire abolished slavery. (Jeremiah, David. Prayer: The Great Adventure. Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1997.)
The road will get rough. The obstacles may seem insurmountable. But remember: God wants to see you finish well and to stay the course. May God grant you the strength to do so.