Can a nation be born in a day?
Low church attendance, binge drinking, poor housing, violent crime, limited Christian impact. It looked like Christianity was in trouble.
At the beginning of 18th Century Britain, confidence in the old faith was in serious decline.
‘God is not Great’ circa 1700
Amongst scholars belief in the miraculous elements of the Christian faith were considered superstitious. ‘Christianity Not Mysterious’ (1696) by John Toland, a leading Deist, represented the only serious intellectual position of that period. Perhaps mild by today’s standards, at the time it represented a new departure.
It is interesting to note that such publications seem to precede a sudden, sweeping and unexpected moves of God’s grace. Could it be that God Himself seeks to vindicate His own glory? Can God be provoked?
Now that we’ve had ‘The God Delusion’ (Richard Dawkins) and ‘God is not Great’ (Christopher Hitchens), could we also suddenly find ourselves in a fresh era of power and Christian influence, where God’s Spirit seems to be poured out more effectively, more powerfully and with greater impact than we’ve seen before?
Church Influence and Attendance in Decline
As Deist and Rationalist ideas gained ground across the leadership of the church in the early 1700’s both the spiritual and moral impact of Christianity began to wane.
Church attendance began to fall rapidly and churches began to be reorganised and scaled down.
The infamous ‘Gin Craze’, spurred on by the prohibition of imported liquor, swept the nation as multitudes took to making their own gin and created a genuine national crisis. Alcoholism was common.
Social and Economic Crisis – Poverty and Violent Crime
The former restraints of the Puritan era were being thrown off with relative ease. Living conditions for many were squalid. The slums were a breeding ground for disease as well as violent crime and the meagre efforts of churches, religious organisations and Parliament made very little impact.
The general view of the Christian faith was summed up by Bishop Butler who, in 1738 asserted that Christianity was treated as though ‘it was now discovered to be fictitious…and nothing remained but to set it up as the subject of mirth and ridicule (Quoted by Arnold Dallimore, George Whitefield, vol 1, Banner of Truth, p.31)
A Brand Plucked from the Fire!
What the good Bishop failed to take into account was that three years previously a young man called George Whitefield had been born again. He had begun preaching the gospel with a fervency that hadn’t been heard since the days of John Bunyan.
Also, in the very year in which Butler lamented the loss of Christian influence in England, two brothers had finally humbled themselves, followed in Whitefield’s footsteps, and given their lives to Christ, John and Charles Wesley.
You can purchase Dallimore’s biography of Whitefield here
© 2009 Lex Loizides