05-12-16 GRACE: 'IN
ALL AND FOR ALL'
By John Aldworth
Can New Zealand be again a godly nation? Can its character once more become one which adorns the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can your community, your family, and mine, your workplace and school place be so enthused with salvation by grace that they are transformed?
Today the land once called ‘Godzone’ is a dark place. Christ is openly mocked, the gospel spurned; the truth of God is rejected on every hand, drunkenness, drug-taking and child abuse are rampant. Idolatry and religions that maintain it are vaunted on every hand. Science and education both deny Bible truth.
And yet … and yet … the grace that saves hath appeared – and still appears – unto all men (Titus 2:11). And by no means has this free grace lost its power.
If John Wesley were to visit New Zealand today I believe he would say of it, as he did of the English nation prior to the Great Awakening, ‘Ungodliness is our universal, our constant, our peculiar character.’ You see Wesley saw a nation, a people that in character were rotten to the core. Fact is, no organised officially recognised church of the time believed you needed a direct encounter with Christ to be saved. The sacraments and church rituals were enough it was held.
What made a nation great, Wesley believed, was truth, honesty and respect for and faith in the one true God and the Saviour, ‘the one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’ (1 Tim. 15, 2:5), not economic prowess, clever inventions or the ability to conquer and oppress others and one’s own people.
Godly character was the key to achieving a better life for all, not military might or smart politics. And the Wesleys and Whitefield believed fervently godly character could be achieved in all because Christ had died for all and God in their hearts had quickened all. And history shows that they were right.
Wesley’s answer to desperate wickedness of Britain in his day was to preach ‘God's grace ‘free in all, and free for all’. And by preaching free grace and the saving work that God has already made available within every human heart (Eph. 2:5, Col. 1:27-28), Wesley, his brother Charles, George Whitefield and others so changed Britain for the better that some benefits of the Great Awakening still come down to us today. You can measure that in terms of hospitals, schools, jobs and respect for human welfare and dignity. Truly this awakening changed the world.
Best of all, slavery was abolished both in the British Empire and in America as a direct result of the Great Awakenings. And that’s an amazing thing when you realise the economies of both the British Empire and the Americas were built on and rested on slavery and exploitation. Stunningly, George Whitefield himself not only condoned slavery he persuaded the State of Georgia to enact it in order to fund his orphanages. However, it should also be said he also preached grace intensively among the slaves, commanded masters to be kind to their slaves and was the main founding instrument of the African American churches still evident in the USA today.
Whitefield freely acknowledged to the end that though saved he was still a sinner. But God so worked in him he was able to preach grace in the fields to up to 8,000 people, a crowd almost equivalent to the then population of the city of Boston. The existing churches could not contain him.
A host of social reforms followed the Wesley-Whitefield awakenings. Lord Shaftesbury and others brought an end to child labour in mines and factories; hospitals and universal education was brought in, along with better wages and conditions for workers. Mark well, no such improvements followed either the Pentecostal inspired ‘Welsh Revival’, still less the so-called ‘Charismatic Renewal’ a few decades ago.
As to the more recent and self-proclaimed ‘Laughing Revival’, since apparently few, if any, got saved that must rank as one the devil’s sickest jokes ever. Does anybody today seriously still believe they can laugh their way to heaven led by a spirit that spurns the Bible?
But back to our first question. Can awakening happen again in our land in our time? Many would say no; but I would urge you to say, yes, yes, it can. And for several good reasons. Among them are:
1) It is the will of God’ who will have all men to be saved’ (1 Tim. 2:4).
2) … the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, neither his ear heavy that it cannot hear (Isaiah 59:1).
3) Christ ‘tasted death for every man’ (Heb. 2:9)
4) If our speech be always with grace then we will know how to answer every man. The Apostle Paul said so (Col. 4:6).
5) Even when we were dead in sins (and that is all of us) God hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace ye are saved) (Eph. 2:5).
But let us not use the word ‘revival’. We are not turning the clock back but forward. ‘Revival’ would imply there’s some vestige of humanly organised professing Christianity that though at death’s door can be revived. The truth is it can’t. No mass awakening of God ever took place inside the doors of organised religion; it was always outside and persecuted by the professing church of the day. Which is why the Apostle Paul writing to the Hebrews (13:12-13) said:
… Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto Him, without the camp, bearing his reproach.
You see while so-called ‘revival’ supposedly takes place in churches, awakenings take place outside. They reach the great unwashed, unchurched mass of sweaty, dirty sinners, in short the unsaved. They change nations, indeed they change the world. But awakening comes at a price. Wesley and Whitefield were reviled, sworn at, sometimes beaten, vilified by church leaders and unpaid.
Recently I asked a professional church pastor if New Zealand need revival. ‘Oh, we’ve experienced that,’ he said. ‘There was a move of the Holy Spirit (sic) one night and people stayed on after the service for hours; they didn’t want to go home. There was enthusiasm for quite some weeks.’ Really? Is that all? By contrast the effect of the Wesley-Whitefield awakenings lasted for centuries; its benefits are still with us today.
Now ‘revival’, according to the Dictionary of the Christian Language (1st ed.), is:
A movement of the Holy Spirit (sic) that imbues a large group of people with a greater desire for God, music or faithful tithing. Normally accompanied by miraculous signs and tongue talking, which can be replaced with gospel singing and spitting preachers among the Baptists.
Not a mention of anybody being saved, you notice. And not a word about doctrine or awakening.
Larry Sparks in America’s Charisma magazine says ‘revival’ is about ‘welcoming back the holy, glorious, manifest presence of the Holy Spirit (sic)’. ‘Revival is Heaven’s sovereign jump-start to get the church operation in her inheritance again’, he asserts. And by ‘inheritance’ he means a full on Acts 2 Pentecostal experience in fulfilment of the ‘Great Commission’. Not surprisingly, he damns a dispensational perspective on ‘revival’ as ‘downright deadly to a church that is consistently being called by God Himself, (so he maintains) to operate in her Acts 2 inheritance’.
BUT and it’s a big but, it wasn’t the ‘Holy Spirit’ as a supposed separate person in the Godhead that kick started the Wesley-Whitefield awakenings. It was the preaching of the doctrines of grace straight from the Bible. It was confronting the desperate needs of poor people with their greater need – to have Christ formed in their heart by grace through faith.
Whitefield began as a theatre actor then became a religious church man. Then he read the Bible and found himself a guilty sinner. He asked God to show him what real Christianity was and found it ‘a vital union with the Son of God – Christ formed in the heart’. And Whitefield preaching to thousands could be heard two miles away. He would weep, shout, stamp, bawl and act out truth from the Bible.
‘I will not,’ he said, ‘be a velvet-mouthed preacher’. He studied the Bible daily and in it saw light and power from above which he prayed for grace to present and truly portray grace, as the glorious truth it is, in his preaching
Tens of thousands were saved and the ‘Holy Spirit’ wasn’t mentioned once. Know why? The words ‘Holy Spirit’ are not found in the King James Bible and that was the only Bible Whitefield read. What is found in God’s perfectly preserved word, the King James Bible, is the ‘Holy Ghost which dwelleth within us’ and whose function is to keep in our memory the truths of grace. The Holy Ghost is, of course, Christ Himself and salvation is knowing and experiencing that ‘Christ in you (is) the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27).
Christ ‘lighteth every man that cometh into the world’. He is the Spirit that gives us life at birth; it is his Spirit that is our conscience (con = about, science = to know). Thus the Christ within speaks to show us good from evil, truth from error, what we should do and what we shouldn’t do, so that we know).
Sadly, in childhood all we sinners have gone astray. We quenched this ‘still, small voice’ within and became ‘dead in trespasses and sins’. But God ‘for his great love for us’ in his mercy has quickened all men back to life again. And this is why the great finding of this truth in the hearts of men is called the awakening.
To briefly digress, let me explain that in true scripture the ‘Spirit of God’ is that of the Father while the ‘Spirit’ is often that of Christ. Often the meaning of ‘Spirit’ must be determined from the context. E.g. Eph. 5:18: ‘And be not drunk with wine wherein is excess but be filled with the Spirit’. The Spirit here is defined in Eph. 3:16 as ‘his Spirit’, i.e. the Father’s Spirit which Paul prayed would strengthen the ‘inner man’. And again the ‘inner man’ is ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27).
Earlier the Apostle Paul had prayed (Eph. 1:17) that ‘the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory would give believers ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him (i.e. the Father). Again, this the Spirit of the Father. Now, if the Bible teaches that Holy Ghost is Christ and the Spirit is that of God the Father then it is hard to see how there can be a separate person who is the ‘Holy Spirit’. And if there isn’t then the whole concept of so-called ‘Holy Spirit revival’ is found to be unscriptural and outside of the word of truth rightly divided.
Doesn’t the Bible say (Col. 2:9): ‘For in Him (Christ) dwelleth the fullness of the Godhead bodily’? Doesn’t it say ‘Ye are complete in Him’? Didn’t Jesus say (John 4:21) of the coming dispensation in which we now live: ‘The hour cometh - and now is -when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth’? [To explain, Jesus said the ‘hour cometh’ and the Apostle John, writing his gospel later after the dispensation of grace had come in, said ‘is now’. There was no punctuation in the early texts.]
So let’s forget about so called Holy Spirit ‘revival’. It’s bogus. Let’s plump for real awakening which is Christ-centred, reliant on the Spirit of God the Father and the truth of grace from scripture and is heart and world changing in its effect.
(To be continued).