Saturday, March 25, 2006

Hague on Pitt aided by Lloyd-Jones

I’m slowly reading through William Hague’s bio of William Pitt the Younger, published by Harper Perennial. Whatever you think of his political outlook it’s difficult not to admire Hague. In my opinion he was unfortunate to grasp leadership in the Conservative Party at exactly the wrong moment in the Blairite era. Yet, I guess no young political animal could turn down the opportunity to become Leader of the Opposition. As Shadow Foreign Secretary in David Cameron’s new-look Conservative front bench, Hague looks set to become the statesman he has longed to be since his childhood. But, surely PM is beyond his reach now that Cameron and Osbourne are shaping the Tory party for the next decade or so. Even if Cameron loses the next general election to Gordon Brown I would be surprised if the Conservative Party ditch him.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. Hague’s book on an earlier young political animal is excellent. It follows the standard form for such biographies. I have to confess I picked it up as much because Hague was the author as because Pitt was the subject.

While browsing through the bibliography I was surprised and intrigued to find Darkness and Light, Ephesians 4:17-5:17 by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Most of you reading this will have heard of MLJ. A Google search will help those of you who haven’t. I haven’t read this volume, so at first I couldn’t work out the connection. But when I was reminded that Pitt was close to William Wilberforce things became a little clearer. Still, I wonder how Hague knew about MLJ’s reference to Wilberforce?

Hague recounts Pitt’s reaction to Wilberforce’s conversion to Christianity in 1785. The effect on Pitt was that he lost close contact with one of his closest friends and political allies. Wilberforce could no longer commit himself to following Pitt’s line at all costs. Hague quotes in full a touching letter from Pitt to Wilberforce – touching, not just because of the nature of Pitt’s affection for Wilberforce, but because it illustrates the inevitable gulf between Christians and non-Christians, especially when a close friend believes the gospel for the first time.

Pitt wrote to Wilberforece: ‘You will not suspect me of thinking lightly of any moral or religious motives which guide you… But forgive me if I cannot help expressing my fear that you are nevertheless deluding yourself into principles which have but too much tendency to counteract your own object, and to render your virtues and your talents useless both to yourself and to mankind.’

To 21st century readers this sounds like strong stuff. But the reaction of unbelievers to those who suddenly turn to Christ often mirrors Pitt’s concerns about Wilberforce. Can any Christian converted in their late teens or later in life not give similar testimony about the reaction of friends to their new found faith and their newly formed ambitions and motivations?

Despite the work that Wilberforce achieved as a Christian politician, I pondered the change of direction in his life at this point. Could he have remained faithful to Christ while working more closely with Pitt? Pitt would certainly have used Wilberforce’s talents in the highest offices in government had Wilberforce consented. Perhaps it is impossible for a Christian to hold the highest political offices and remain effective in service to Christ? John Newton persuaded Wilberforce not to enter the Anglican ministry but to remain a politician. I wonder if we would have urged Wilberforce in the other direction? I wonder if we would have pleaded with him to court favour with Pitt for the ‘Christian good’ of the nation? Wilberforce walked between power for power’s sake and abandonment of political life for church life, choosing to remain a politician while giving up the privileges of patronage to pursue good causes.

Can we learn anything from these men still? On one occasion Wilberforce took Pitt to hear Richard Cecil, a noted evangelical preacher of the time. After the service Pitt confessed that he did not have ‘the slightest idea what that man has been talking about.’ The lesson, surely, is that unbelief is the greatest mystery to fathom. And belief is often worked out in ways that appear less than fulfilling. What would Wilberforce have achieved as a minister of state, or as a minister of the church? God only knows. But, I suggest that his name would not be so familiar had he chosen either of those paths. God knows how best to use our gifts, and he will vindicate the righteous sooner or later to the glory of his own name, even if our closest friends and family cannot understand our choices.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Truly fascinating! Is Hague a closet Calvinist? Could be more shocking than recent lib-dem revelations ...