The recent movie ‘The Favourite’ stars Olivia Colman as Queen Anne. I haven’t seen it but it caught my eye because I was reading a book called ‘England: Before and after Wesley’ which describes the social transformation brought about by the great evangelical awakening in the 1700s.
In the early part of the 18th century, during and after the reign of Queen Anne, England was sinking into a deep moral abyss. ‘The drunkenness of the age is proverbial. Not a single class in the country seemed to be free from this vice,’ says one writer. Bishop Benson claimed that ‘Gin has made the English people what they never were before – cruel and inhuman’. Commenting on the early 1700s, G R Balleine said that ‘Another characteristic of the age was its extraordinary coarseness. In fashionable circles filth was regarded as the choicest form of wit, and few could rival the Queen in this, when she chose to jest with ministers.’ Later, in 1738 (the year of Wesley’s conversion), Archbishop Secker wrote ‘that an open and professed disregard to religion is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the distinguishing character of the present age’.
It was in these dark days for the Christian faith that
…a religious revival burst forth…which changed in a few years the whole temper of English society. The Church was restored to life and activity. Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade, and gave the first impulse to popular education. (J R Green in ‘A Short History of the English People’)
It is encouraging to remember this lesson from our own history – that the Gospel can thrive and bring new life, even while it is being pushed to the margins of society.
We must Take Heart.
This is the title of the book by Matt Chandler that I would like to recommend we read this Lent. Its subtitle is ‘Christian Courage in the Age of Unbelief’. The danger for us as Christians is that we will either adopt a hostile, angry sounding stance in relation to our culture, or that we will go native and simply become unquestioning consumers of it. “I want to give you something else”, writes the author:
I don’t want to offer you a strategy so much as a posture. I want to address the fears that grip our hearts and that drive so much of our responses as Christians to the age of unbelief. I want to give you courage. I want to give you a posture that allows you to look round and think, ‘This is a great time to be a Christian’. That’s what Christians most need in post-9/11, post-Christian, post-modern, post-everything world. If our hearts are not in the right place, if our hopes are misaligned, anything we try to do will be short-lived and misguided. So this book is about where to find real courage and how to live by it. I’m convinced that if we have a God-sized, God-given courage, then we will be freed up to be the people of God, living out the mission of God, marked by the joy of God. With courage, this season of history can be viewed not with fear and trepidation, but instead with hope and a sense of opportunity… Welcome to the age of unbelief. The church can thrive here.
‘Take Heart’ will be available in church for £5. I hope you find it encouraging.
With love in Christ,