Is it Too Late for a Global Awakening?July 31, 2023
Far too many believers think that the world, especially America, has already struck the iceberg of judgment and it is too late to live with any worldview other than that America is like the doomed “Titanic ocean-liner.” This being the assumption, a “sinking ship” mentality is necessary due to “prophetic inevitability”, i.e., the Bible prophecies that this will be the way it all comes down and so nothing will change it. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 has been interpreted to mean that we are to be “launching the lifeboats” and making the gospel of Jesus Christ that of saving as many as possible for heaven by and all out, last ditch effort, while the majority sink into hell.
Although I have used the following illustration in previous blogs, it will serve us well to print it out and keep it in a place that will remind us to reflect on it frequently and ask the Lord to do it again.
Historically, many felt that England was a “sinking ship” at the beginning of the eighteenth century. If ever there was a nation sinking in a moral quagmire and spiritual cesspool, it was England at this juncture in history. Deism was rampant, and a bland, philosophical morality was standard fare in the churches. Sir William Blackstone visited the church of every major clergyman in London, but “did not hear a single discourse which had more Christianity in it than the writings of Cicero.” In most sermons he heard, it would have been impossible to tell just from listening whether the preacher was a follower of Confucius, Mohammed, or Christ!
Morally, the country was becoming increasingly decadent. Drunkenness was rampant; gambling was so extensive that one historian described England as “one vast casino.” Unwanted newborns were left exposed in the streets to die; 97% of the infant poor in the workhouses died as children. Bear baiting and cock fighting were accepted sports, and tickets were sold to public executions as to a theater.
In politics, nepotism, place-seeking, and bribery were the order of the day especially at election times. For the first half of the Century, the Prime Minister, Robert Walpole, epitomized the management of men, means, money and manipulation of laws, their administration, or the penal system. Britain at this time, more than any other, was two nations - the rich and the poor. The laws were devised largely to keep the poor in their place and under control. There were over 150 offenses for which one could get the death penalty. Thus to steal a sheep, to snare a rabbit, to break a young tree, to pick a pocket for more than one shilling, to grab goods from someone’s hand and run away with them, were hanging offences. The executions at Tyburn at London were known as Hanging Shows. They occurred regularly and drew huge crowds. As for existence in jails, the transportation to Australia of both sexes, and of children, the flogging of women, the pillory and branding on the hand - the horrors continued unabated.
The slave trade brought material gain to many while further degrading their souls. Bishop Berkeley wrote that morality and religion in Britain had collapsed “to a degree that was never known in any Christian country.”
But remember, one man, filled with the Spirit of God, operating in alignment with the Word of God, is a majority. God raised up three men, George Whitfield, John and Charles Wesley, and filled them with His Spirit and they changed the course of a nation and shook the world.
“That Methodist”, “that enthusiast” was described also by Anglican clergy as “that mystery of iniquity”, “a diabolical seducer, and impostor and fanatic”. For three decades magistrates, squires and clergy turned a blind eye to the constant drunken and brutal attacks by mobs and gangs on Wesley and his supporters. They endured physical assault with missiles of various kinds; frequently bulls would be driven into the midst of congregations, or musical instruments blared to drown the preacher’s voice. Time after time, the Wesleys and Whitfield narrowly escaped death, while several of their itinerant preachers were attacked and their houses set on fire. Hundreds of anti-revival publications appeared as well as regular inaccurate and scurrilous newspaper reports and articles. And the virulent attacks, not surprisingly, came from the clergy.
From 1739 to his death in 1791, Wesley was untiring. His energy was prodigious. He got up each morning at four and preached his first sermon most mornings at five. He and his itinerant preachers divided each day into 3 equal parts: 8 hours for sleeping and eating, eight for meditation, prayer, and study, and eight for preaching, visiting and social labors. He organized hundreds of local Methodist societies after each place he visited; established and kept an eye on Kingwood School; opened the first free medical dispensary for the poor, a rheumatism clinic in London, and wrote a treatise on medicine; prepared and preached at least 45,000 sermons; travelled a quarter of a million miles on horseback, in all weather, night and day, up and down and across England on roads that were often dangerous and sometimes impassable; during which time he composed his commentary on the Bible verse by verse, wrote hundreds of letters, and a daily journal from 1735 to the year before his death in 1791; and he also wrote some of the 330 books that were published in his lifetime. He composed English, French, Latin, Greek and Hebrew grammars; edited, for the general education of his preachers and congregations, many books which became the 50 volumes of his famous Christian library. This cultured man, keen theologian and esteemed intellectual, warned his preachers that one could “never be a deep preacher without extensive reading, any more than a thorough Christian”. Every preacher was made a distributor and seller of books and was expected to have mastered their contents.
In addition to Wesley’s wide interests, concerns and activities which we have noted, should be added his practical interest in the potential uses for electricity; vocational training for the unemployed; raising of money to clothe and feed prisoners and to buy food, medicine, fuel, tools for the helpless and the aged; the founding of a Benevolent Loan Fund and the Stranger’s Friend Society. He believed in God-given nature and, therefore, the nobility of work and the qualities such engendered.
Also we must not forget that the Evangelical Revival caused the masses of England to sing. His poet brother, Charles, whose fame as a preacher is still overshadowed by his fame as a hymn-writer, wrote the words of 8-9,000 poems many of which became hymns. John taught the people to sing. Many hymns were set to popular tunes of the day; they paved the way for the sermon and presses home its message. And thousands of those who sang that, “Their chains had fallen off and their hearts were free,” were singing not only about their salvation.
Wesley, Whitfield and their associates revitalized and reinforced the truths of real and vibrant Biblical Christianity. The Bible, that during the 18th Century had been a closed book to Englishmen, became the Book of Books and the power of God unto salvation to all who believed it. By the ministry of Spirit-filled men and women proclaiming the life-giving truth of God’s Scriptures, Britain was saved from lapsing into infidelity and joining France in the experience of godless blood-letting history calls the French Revolution.
Although this spiritual and intellectual giant, John Benjamin Wesley, was God’s man in the 18th Century, the real enlightening power did not lie in any human instrument at all. It lay in the Word of God, taken by available Spirit-filled men and women of God, and again opened, free to all who would come to them to drink the water of life. Just as the study, dissemination, and publication of Scripture, accompanied by the power of the Spirit of God, brought life from the dead to Europe in the Reformation of the 16th Century, so did the same Spirit and Scripture bring about the Evangelical Revival and the Great Awakening in America. (The event that has become known as the Great Awakening in America actually began years earlier in the 1720s. And, although the most significant years were from 1740-1742, the revival continued until the 1760s.)
Ask yourself is global destruction unavoidable, or is all the hope given to Christians in the Scriptures, in general, and the gospel of the kingdom of God in particular, powerful enough to alleviate poverty, overcome racial hostility and conflict both inside and outside the Church, outlaw abortion, tear down same sex marriage, and restore true gender identity? Is the Gospel powerful enough to transform not just individual sinners but entire communities, cities, states, nations, and our world for the better? As Bible scholar, Kenneth Gentry asked, “…Which is more powerful? The fall of Adam or the Resurrection of Christ?”
To receive the gospel message – the good news – that is God-authored, Christ-centered, and has a Cross-shaped, Resurrection-sized hole, is to cease to be a “last days” people and become a “new days” people in a new age! It is the invitation of Acts 5:20 – to speak, see, and savor the words of this LIFE. (“Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life” Acts 5:20).
The new age has been formed in Christ – the new age is being formed in God’s redeemed people – the new age will be formed in the whole of creation – just as Isaac Watts wrote in his hymn, “Joy to the World”: “He makes the blessings flow – far as the curse is found!”
King Jesus will receive the reward of His sufferings and that won’t be a few survivors from a sinking ship, but a number as vast as the sand on the seashore from every tribe and tongue (Rev. 7:9)! They will come to love and obey Him like all the redeemed of God do – by grace alone, though faith alone, through Christ alone, through Spirit-filled men and women proclaiming the only way of salvation is in the gospel alone! Truly, the Gospel of our salvation is the power of God!
The same truth and power that transformed 18th Century England can, and I believe will, transform, not only America, but eventually the whole world!
Lord, do it again and let it spread from nation to nation for Your glory!