Methodist connection to a movie


An anecdote to history connects Methodism with the subject of a movie currently running nationwide.

Amazing Grace is a version of the story behind one of the best-known and most deeply loved hymns of all time. The movie is based on the very real life of William Wilberforce, a popular member of the House of Commons in Parliament, and his two-decade campaign to abolish the traffic in human slavery in the British Empire. Later, through the influence of his crusade against slavery in England, America would also free her slaves. 

Wilberforce was concerned not only for the abolition of slavery. He worked for “the relief of boy chimney sweeps,” was instrumental in opening India to Christian missionaries and worked in founding the British and Foreign Bible Society.  

Having read Wesley’s Thoughts Upon Slavery (1774), he called on John Wesley in 1789. He was also impressed by Wesley’s assignment to Methodist John Howard “to cleanse the prisons of Europe,” in which he saw prison conditions as similar to slavery in the dehumanization of God’s children.   

Wilberforce was greatly influenced by his staunch Methodist aunt with whom he lived in his youth. There he met George Whitefield, the great Methodist evangelist, and John Newton who was converted from a life of evil as a slave trader. The movie relates his long and close friendship with Newton, who wrote the great hymn and counseled Wilberforce away from becoming a priest, and that perhaps his political life could be used for the service of God.  

Some historians give greater credit in the abolition of slavery to Thomas Clarkson, who indeed worked tirelessly and effectively to bring an end to what Wesley saw as an evil of the worst kind. Wesley twice wrote to Clarkson, who partnered with Wilberforce in the movement. Methodists put all their strength into the battle for freedom. Out of the 352,404 signatures on the petitions to Parliament on that behalf, 229,426 were those of Methodists. (Telford, A Sect That Moved the World, ch. 4)   

The accidental founder of Methodism kept a vigorous correspondence all his life. Ever the champion of the Christ who said, “I was hungry...thirsty...stranger...naked...sick... in prison,” Wesley’s concern for his fellow man was part of him to the end. His last letter has been called “one of the notable letters of the world.” Written just six days before his death, it was a word of encouragement to William Wilberforce:  

London,  February 24, 1791

“My dear Sir, Unless the divine Power has raised you up to be as Athanasius contra mundum, 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 together stronger than God? O! “Be not weary in 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 before it.  

“Reading, this morning a tract, written by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that 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 our colonies, that the oath of a black, against a white, goes for nothing. What villainy is this? 

“That He who has guided you, from your youth up, may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear sir, your affectionate servant.  

John  Wesley”


Barham is a clergy member of the Mississippi Conference and director of the Wood Institute at Mathiston.