The Anti-Saccharists

Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod. (Matthew 2:7–12 NLT)

William Wilberforce is today known as a leader in the abolitionist movement in 18th century England. As a member of British Parliament and son of a wealthy merchant, he wielded such power that he was instrumental in helping to change the laws surrounding the slave trade, leading to its end in Britain. At the time, Britain was one of the three points in the triangular route of goods and people, the other two being Africa and the West Indies; the sugar, cotton, and tobacco grown by African slaves in the West Indies accounted for roughly 80 percent of Great Britain’s foreign income. In fact, much of the wealth Wilberforce inherited stemmed from the sugar industry.

It was not the work of Wilberforce alone that brought about a change in the law; many other abolitionists were hard at work for many decades before and after, spreading the word about the evils of slavery. As more and more hearts were won over to this cause, it was only natural that children would begin to learn about it through their parents, teachers, and caregivers. In response, any children throughout the 1790s and into the 1830s voluntarily gave up the use of sugar. These British children – known as “anti-saccharists” – chose to boycott candy, sweetened tea, and anything else they thought might contain sugar because of its source and importance within the slave trade.

For Wilberforce and many others, it was their faith that spurred them to act, even when it meant significant financial sacrifice or giving up the simple pleasure found in sweetened food and drink. The wise men were not exactly spurred on by their faith, but they did follow God’s leading. The natural route back home for the wise men would have been north through Jerusalem to connect with the roads heading to the east, but that would have meant walking right through Herod’s backyard. Instead, these men likely chose the more difficult, southern route. They went out of their way to avoid Herod because God asked them to. They made a significant sacrifice of their time and resources, and potentially their safety, in service to God.

Are we willing to do the same? Let us take David’s lead when he says, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24 NIV).