Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Who Were the Clapham Saints?

By Doug Reynolds, Head of School

 

In reflecting on an increasingly partisan and negative atmosphere during this election season, I’m reminded again of the importance of training up future servant leaders who can engage our culture in a winsome way for change that glorifies God. There are many examples throughout church history of men and women who served this way. In fact, the inspiration and name for our school comes from such a group.

 

 

Wilberforce

 

Clapham is today an area of southwest London. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries it was the place for worship and fellowship by a group of believers who became known as the “Clapham Saints” or the “Clapham Sect” (as they were negatively called in the London press). Their devotion to Christ helped change countless lives in London and beyond.

 

Perhaps the most famous member of the Clapham Saints was William Wilberforce. As a young student at Cambridge in the 1770’s, he turned away from his evangelical youth and pursued a worldly lifestyle. Socially gifted and very wealthy, Wilberforce exuded the qualities of a natural leader while still an undergraduate.

 

He eventually became one of the youngest and most charismatic members of Parliament. His life changed, however, after taking two trips to the Continent with a dear friend and mentor, Isaac Milner. It was on these trips that he immersed himself in his own study of the classics and Scripture, was convicted of the depth of his sin, and turned to Jesus.

 

Wilberforce felt compelled to retire from public life and Parliament, but after some counsel was persuaded instead to utilize his position of influence to serve Christ. He dedicated his parliamentary life to the abolition of slavery, and he and his friends in the Clapham Saints labored over twenty years until slave trade was outlawed. He lobbied another 25 years for emancipation. Three days before his death, he was sent word that the House of Commons had outlawed the institution of slavery.

 

Other members of the Clapham Saints included Hannah More, a well-known writer and social reformer, an advocate for the poor and for the education of women. Their meetings were often centered at the Holy Trinity Church in Clapham, London, then pastored by John Venn. Undaunted by ridicule or opposition and tireless in their cause for moral reform, this group set up numerous Christian societies and published volumes of Christian material concerning social reform. They founded the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Church Missionary Society and led the charge for prison reform.

 

Wilberforce and his friends understood the calling of the Christian to stand for what is right. They understood the Scripture to be good and true and lived under the compulsion of its commands. Together they stood against the powerful tide of their culture.

 

With these examples it should be obvious why we chose the name “Clapham” for our school. However, one final point may be the most important. Many schools are named for individuals who achieved greatness in some way or another. Our school is named for a community of individuals. They, together, exemplified the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Through all night prayer sessions, solid biblical teaching and encouragement from each other, they made a difference in early 19th century England.  We can thank God for their example and pray for more like them in our culture today.

 

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