The Church's Red Sea Crossing
Jan 07, 2019
Corruption is very expensive. Not only does corruption raise the cost of justice by adding bribes to the mix but it also creates the need for security measures. Until recently (in America), most people left their houses and automobiles unlocked. Even today there are certain vegetable booths in the countryside where people can pick up watermelons and other produce and place their money in an open can to pay for it. No one would think of stealing either the melons or the money in the can.
In a corrupt society, trust is non-existent. For those who live by godly principles, the thought of stealing from others would be appalling. I have raised my own standards of behavior over the years, where, if I find even a penny lying upon someone’s private property (even in a store), I will give it to the owner or the cashier. A penny is not worth a blot on my conscience.
It has nothing to do with external laws. It has to do with my own relationship with God and my attempt to live in conformity to His perfect law. Many religions allow their adherents to steal from those of other religions. Some even make this a virtue. But my understanding of Scripture tells me that theft is theft, and the Golden Rule applies to all men equally. We should set the example for others, rather than leave our virtues at the church doorstep as we leave.
The Degradation of 18th Century England
Toward the end of the 1600’s, “The Enlightenment” had largely replaced the Reformation in England. Deism claimed to be “natural religion” without a personal God of Love to change the hearts of men. God was said to be indifferent, if He existed at all. The Bible was just a sentimental book about wisdom and virtue, containing stories and myths.
Deism begat Rationalism. Rationalism begat Skepticism. Skepticism begat Atheism. Atheism begat Cynicism. Cynicism begat selfishness and immorality. Corruption spread throughout the clergy, and soon positions in the church were used as a means to gain wealth and live luxuriously.
In 1713 the Treaty of Utrecht gave England a monopoly on the slave trade just as the Industrial Revolution was beginning. Slavery made factories, mines, mills, and agriculture very profitable, as it allowed for cheap labor at the expense of the slaves. Millions of Africans were kidnapped from Africa in order to steal their labor. Men scoffed at Christian virtue, because vice paid so much better.
A great divide developed between the rich and the poor, and laws were put into place to maintain that disparity. Men were hanged for stealing a loaf of bread but not for kidnapping an African and stealing his labor for an entire lifetime. In this, he had much in common with his contemporary, Charles Dickens, whose books also criticized excessive punishment. Between 1730 and 1750, three out of four children died before reaching the age of five. Many were simply abandoned in the streets because parents could not afford to raise them. Others were placed in orphanages, where many were put to work as beggars, thieves, or prostitutes.
That century was sometimes called the “Age of Gin,” as the liquor industry grew amidst the despair of the people. This in turn led to games of cruelty, complete with gambling over which dog, bull, or cock might win a brutal fight to the death.
By mid-century, highway robbery was so rampant that men had to travel as if they were going into battle. All of this degradation came when the Bible lost credibility. Such was the fruit of the so-called “Enlightenment,” once the Bible was discredited and again discarded.
The Great Awakening
Into this environment stepped John Wesley and his brother, Charles. John was born in 1703, the same year as Jonathan Edwards. In 1728 John Wesley was ordained in the Church of England. He and his friends insisted upon a methodical study of Scripture, and hence, they were labeled “Methodists.”
But in 1730 they saw a need for social services, and so they began to teach prisoners to read and even to pay their debts. They gave food and clothing to the poor in the “workhouse.”
In 1737 he met some Moravians who appeared to have the inner peace that he himself lacked. Then he discovered Martin Luther’s commentary on Galatians, emphasizing simple faith. Soon afterward, while the Moravians were reading aloud Luther’s preface to Paul’s letter to the Romans, he realized that he had been a Christian in name only. He was forever changed, and he was then in a position to change English society itself.
His preaching, however, drew opposition from the clergy, and so he soon found himself barred from preaching in most churches. So he set up house churches all over Britain, Scotland, and Ireland. From 1739 until his death in 1791, he preached the word with great energy and devotion. He divided his day into three parts. Eight hours were for sleep, eight for meditation, prayer, and study of the word, and eight for preaching, visitation, and social labor.
Much of his energy was spent on denouncing the slave trade. He wrote a book called Thoughts Upon Slavery, and his final letter before he died was addressed to William Wilberforce, whose efforts finally succeeded in abolishing slavery in England. Wilberforce, in fact, had been converted through Wesley’s preaching.
John’s revival, supported by his poetic brother’s hymns, caused England to sing, not only about salvation but about how Jesus was the cure for social ills as well. His message was that salvation was by faith alone and that we would be judged by our works (Revelation 20:12). His labor was at first difficult, but in the last ten years of his life he was perhaps the most respected and beloved figure in England.
The fruit of Wesley’s ministry continued into the next generation, as the various Bible Societies were established, taking the propagation of the Bible itself to new levels. The popes raged against this practice, trying to contain the Bible within the walls of seminaries and monasteries, but the importance of the Bible in the people’s hands was by now obvious. The Wesleyan century had proven how detrimental it was for the Bible to be forgotten or locked away from the common people.
Bible Societies begat Missionary Societies, and translation work was done to bring the Bible to other parts of the world in their own languages.
John Wesley was God’s chief instrument to bring the church through the Red Sea. While Martin Luther had established the underlying truth of Passover—justification by faith alone—it was left to Wesley to establish the Holiness Movement. Luther led the church out of Egypt, but Wesley led the church through the Red Sea’s baptism (1 Corinthians 10:1, 2).
This in turn led the church to Marah, where it discovered Yahweh-Rapha, our Healer (Exodus 15:26), and from there to Elim, depicting the great missionary movement. Elim was the place of the twelve wells (of salvation) and the seventy palms (the seventy nations). Thus Wesley begat the Wesleyan Mission Society, and others were inspired to form their own foreign missions using his model.
Meanwhile, Wesley was said to have purged the soul of England, which changed society and laws to make the nation a better place to live. It is also said that his preaching prevented a French-style bloody revolution that plagued France during the final years of Wesley’s life.
When we understand how history is governed and directed by God and how the patterns were set in Scripture, we can more easily see the sovereignty of God at work. We can know that the authority of man does not reign supreme, as the doctrine of “free will” implies, nor can the will of sinful men prevail in the end.
God has a way of changing things, even while using flawed vessels. God has never needed perfect men to accomplish His will. Yet in the end, He will indeed perfect us at the proper time. We are now approaching the third Great Awakening, which will coincide with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that so many now anticipate.
We need this Great Awakening, not because the Scriptures are unavailable, but that the people are blinded to much of its revelation. The excessive punishment meted out in England in the 1700’s, which Wesley denounced, is now manifesting as the unscriptural doctrine of eternal punishment, which too has caused many to turn away from God.
The personal God was reintroduced to the church since Martin Luther in 1517, and the church has been following the pattern of Israel’s wilderness journey since that time. Truth has been revealed slowly with each great revival, but we are now finally coming to the end of the journey. Joshua the Ephraimite is being commissioned in our time to lead us into the Promised Land with the revelation of the New Covenant.
When the eyes of the church are opened to this great truth, we will know that the final Awakening has taken place.