William Wilberforce on How Christians Defend Their Reputations

Wilberforce has much to teach us in our social media age:

Acting therefore on these principles, he will studiously and diligently use any degree of worldly credit he may enjoy, in removing or lessening prejudices; in conciliating good-will, and thereby making way for the less obstructed progress of truth; and in providing for its being entertained with candour, or even with favour, by those who would bar all access against it in any rougher or more homely form. He will make it his business to set on foot and forward benevolent and useful schemes; and where they require united efforts, to obtain and preserve for them this co-operation. He will endeavour to discountenance vice, to bring modest merit into notice; to lend as it were his light to men of real worth, but of less creditable name, and perhaps of less conciliating qualities and manners; that they may thus shine with a reflected lustre, and be useful in their turn, when invested with their just estimation. But while by these and various other means he strives to render his reputation, so long as he possesses it, subservient to the great ends of advancing the cause of Religion and Virtue, and of promoting the happiness and comfort of mankind, he will not transgress the rule of the Scripture precepts in order to obtain, to cultivate, or to preserve it, resolutely disclaiming that dangerous sophistry of “doing evil that good may come.” Ready however to relinquish his reputation when required so to do, he will not throw it away; and so far as he allowably may, he will cautiously avoid occasions of diminishing it, instead of studiously seeking, or needlessly multiplying them, as seems sometimes to have been the practice of worthy but imprudent men.

There will be no capricious humours, no selfish tempers, no moroseness, no discourtesy, no affected severity of deportment, no peculiarity of language, no indolent neglect, or wanton breach, of the ordinary forms or fashions of society. His reputation is a possession capable of uses too important to be thus sported away; if sacrificed at all, it shall be sacrificed at the call of duty. The world shall be constrained to allow him to be amiable, as well as respectable in other parts of his character; though in what regards Religion, they may account him unreasonably precise and strict. In this no less than in other particulars, he will endeavour to reduce the enemies of Religion to adopt the confession of the accusers of the Jewish ruler, “we shall not find any fault or occasion against this Daniel — except concerning the law of his God:” and even there, if he give offence, it will only be where he dares not do otherwise; and if he fall into dis-esteem or disgrace it shall not be chargeable to any conduct which is justly dishonourable, or even to any unnecessary singularities on his part, but to the false standard of estimation of a misjudging world.

When his character is thus mistaken, or his conduct thus misconstrued, he will not wrap himself up in a mysterious sullenness; but will be ready, where he thinks any one will listen to him with patience and candour, to clear up what has been dubious, to explain what has been imperfectly known, and “speaking the truth in love” to correct, if it may be, the erroneous impressions which have been conceived of him.

He may sometimes feel it his duty publicly to vindicate his character from unjust reproach, and to repel the false charges of his enemies; but he will carefully however watch against being led away by pride, or being betrayed into some breach of truth or of Christian charity, when he is treading in a path so dangerous. At such a time he will also guard, with more than ordinary circumspection, against any undue solicitude about his worldly reputation for its own sake; and when he has done what duty requires for its vindication, he will sit down with a peaceable and quiet mind, and it will be matter of no very deep concern to him if his endeavours should have been ineffectual.

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