How can we stand against evil? The rewards of feeling good about ourselves are fleeting, at best. Enlightened self-interest will fail us, so too a morality based on pragmatic considerations alone.
The day before he died (February 24, 1791) John Wesley wrote to William Wilberforce, who had been leading the crusade in the British Parliament against slavery:
“Unless the divine power has raised you to be as Athanasius contra mundum [against the world], 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 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.”
William Wilberforce had been standing against the world. Os Guinness wrote in Entrepreneurs of Life,
“Championing abolition was a dangerous business. The slave trade occupied a position in the British economy (as a percentage of gross national product) equivalent to that of the defense industry in the United States today. At one stage, Wilberforce was the most vilified man in England. He was even threatened and attacked physically…”
In a speech before the House of Commons in 1787, Wilberforce confessed:
“So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the Trade’s wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for Abolition. Let the consequences be what they would, I, from this time, determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.”
And Wilberforce, aided by his Christian colleagues, kept his vow, even to the day of his death, as Guinness points out: “On Friday, July 26, 1833, the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery passed… Wilberforce lapsed into a coma soon after hearing the news of his great success, and died three days later on Monday, July 29, 1833, aged 73.”
Wilberforce had travailed for almost 50 years. What gave him his fortitude? Certainly not moral relativism or simply what felt right to him! Instead, he was convinced that he was serving God.
How was Dietrich Bonhoeffer able to endure to his death in his fight against the National Socialists (Nazis)? He wrote:
“Who stands fast? Only the man whose final standard is not his reason, his principles, his conscience, his freedom, or his virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when he is called to obedient and responsible action in the faith and in exclusive allegiance to God – the responsible man, who tries to make his whole life an answer to the question and call of God. Where are these responsible people?”
They are the ones praying over the Word of God.