When the prophet Isaiah foretold the advent of the Messiah centuries before His birth, he proclaimed, “of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.”
Historic Christianity, the kind practiced by the early Church and the Christians of the Reformation was one of expectancy and hope. They expected Christianity to take root and fill the whole earth. They expected that every nation would come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
Not only had they been commissioned by their Lord and Master to bring every nation under the dominion of the gospel, but they had total confidence that God’s kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. This caused them to march boldly into the strongholds of pagan Rome, smashing idols, driving out demons, defying Caesar, and bringing multitudes into the kingdom of God. In that great conflict of light and darkness, they were burned as living torches, thrown to the lions, and dragged behind chariots until their brains were dashed out on the ground. Theirs was the victory. History was on their side and Rome fell to the gospel. Europe was eventually Christianized.
Hundreds of years later apostasy set in. Darkness ensued for over a thousand years. When the Reformers found the Bible, they began to preach and teach the truth. They stood against papal Europe with the same tenacity as their early Christian brethren.
Europe burst into flame as multiplied thousands of martyrs and witnesses of Jesus were burned at the stake. Thousands were thrust into prison, while their orphaned children begged in the streets. Others were hung at the gallows, hacked to death, maimed for life, buried alive, or hurled from high walls. Thus, heroic souls continued to seek for freedom to worship God and to testify for truth and liberty. Willingly they offered their lives in the struggle. They were certain that history was on their side and that Satan’s domains were being shattered daily.
Christian forces advanced with the preaching and publishing of the truth. They sealed their testimony with their life’s blood and the hold of Satan began to weaken. They were not pessimistic about the power of the gospel, for they believed that everything not built on the truth must crumble before it. Consequently, God was able to use them to lay the groundwork for a Christendom which would someday embrace the entire world.1
At the time when Martin Luther drew a copy of the Bible from a dusty library where it had lain forgotten for centuries, Columbus had just discovered a New World. Remarkably, it has become evident through the many notes that Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal that when he set sail for the New World, “he had been long convinced that God had given him a special, almost mystical mission: to carry the Light of Christ into the darkness of undiscovered heathen lands, and to bring the inhabitants of those lands to the holy faith of Christianity.” His own name, Christopher, which literally meant Christbearer, was to him a clear indication that God had called him to do this.2
Columbus filled his journal with quotations from Isaiah which indicated that Christ’s dominion in the nations would become a reality.
Those who followed Columbus came to the New World expecting that it would be Christianized and that the world would inevitably be conquered for the kingdom of God. In the preface to Thomas Shepard’s The Clear Sunshine of the Gospel Breaking Forth Upon the Indians in New England, written in 1648, twelve prominent Puritans address their words to Parliament. They wrote:
“The utmost ends of the earth are designed and promised to be in time the possessions of Christ … this little we see is something in hand, an earnest to us of those things which are in hope; when the ends of the earth shall see His glory and the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and His Christ, when He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and they that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him.
“And if the dawn of the morning be so delightful, what will the clear day be? If the first fruits be so precious, what will the whole harvest be? If some beginnings be so full of joy what will it be when God shall perform His whole work, when the whole earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea…?“3
Although they had seen only a small number of American Indians receive the gospel, they were convinced of the ultimate triumph of Christ in the nations in time and in history. With such an attitude of expectancy, even the most dire circumstances, the most pressing trials, the most severe persecutions, and the most costly sacrifice seemed to be filled with meaning and hope. Nothing was ever thought to have been done in vain.
The Hope of the Gospel
The great hymns of the 18th and 19th century Church echo this hope. Issac Watts, a well-known hymnist of colonial America, states in one of his hymns, “Jesus shall reign wherever the sun does his successive journeys run: His kingdom spread from shore to shore … to Him shall endless prayer be made and endless praises crown His head. People and realms of every tongue, dwell on His love with sweetest song, and infant voices shall proclaim their early blessings on His name.”
Likewise, George Duffield’s “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” proclaims, “Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss, from victory unto victory, His army shall He lead, till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed. Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long; this day the noise of battle, the next, the victor’s song!”
This expectation of the victory of Christianity in time and in history is clearly expressed in the traditional Christmas carols. Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” declares, “In despair I bowed my head, ‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said, ‘for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.’ Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep, the wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth good will to men.’ “
Watts’ “Joy to the World,” an all-time Christmas favorite implores, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found!”
The same message resounds through “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”: “For lo! the days are hastening on, by prophet bards foretold, when with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold; when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendors fling and the whole world send back the song which now the angels sing!”
These ideas are based on the Bible and are found in the psalms of David: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will worship before Thee … He will rule from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth …” (Psalms 22:27, 66:4).
The ultimate triumph of good over evil, and of the kingdom of God over earthly forces, weaves like a silver thread through American literature. In James Russell Lowell’s “The Present Crisis,” the poet summarizes the meaning of history:
Careless seems the great Avenger;
history’s pages but record,
one death-grapple in the darkness
‘twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne, -
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.
Then to side with Truth is noble
when we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
and ‘tis prosperous to be just.
Then it is the brave man chooses,
while the coward stands aside,
Doubting in his abject spirit,
till his Lord is crucified,
And the multitude make virtue
of the faith they had denied.
Count me o’er the earth’s chosen heroes, – they were souls that stood alone,
While the men they agonized for
hurled the contumelious stone,
Stood serene and down the future
saw the golden beam incline
To the side of perfect justice,
mastered by their faith divine,
By one man’s plain truth to manhood
and to God’s supreme design.
Charles Coffin, 19th century historian, explains the meaning of history in the light of Christianity’s triumph in the nations:
“I have spoken of the meaning of history. Surely it has a meaning, else what are we living for? … There must be some ultimate end to be accomplished. You will see how Tyranny and Wrong have fought against Liberty and Justice … how Tyranny and Wrong have gone down before it … Men die, generations come and go, but ideas live on … Through all the narratives of wars, massacres, and bloodshed, you will see Right, Justice, and Liberty ever advancing … the human race is marching toward a state of society inexpressibly grand and glorious.“4
Arnold Guyot, a 19th century French geographer made the same observation; “And what is the vital principle we find at the very root of America? It is the gospel. Not the gospel disfigured and cramped by the iron fetters of a powerful hierarchical church … but the gospel restored by the Reformation, with its life-giving doctrines, and its regenerative power … The founders of social order in America are indeed the true offspring of the Reformation – true Protestants. The Bible is their code. Imbued with the principles of civil and religious liberty which they find written in the gospel, and for which they have given up their former country, they put them in practice in this land of their choice.
“America ought to receive entire the inheritance of those which have gone before; for nothing good or beautiful should perish. It ought to be rooted in that living faith which nourishes the nations and keeps up in them the freshness of life, its instruments should be the sciences and industry; its ornaments literature and the fine arts; its end, the happiness of all, by training them up to moral perfection, and by spreading the gospel throughout the world, to the glory of the Redeemer.
“This picture transports us into the future. There stands the goal, and we are only now at the starting point. But this lofty goal may serve as a guiding star for the present to preserve it from losing its way …“5
The Hope of Ultimate Victory
For the early Christians, the Protestant Reformers, and the Christians of America’s first two centuries, the goal was clear. Christianity meant dominion. It was not a victory that somehow would suddenly take place in “the last chapter” which they had “peeked” at and learned that the Christians won. It was not an optimistic “everything will work out somehow “ idea. It was a progressive war between darkness and light, truth and error, good and evil. And in every battle the truth came out victorious.
That Christianity would be successful in time and in history has been the traditional belief of the Church through the ages. St. Athanasius, the great church father of the 4th century wrote: “Since the Saviour came to dwell in our midst, not only does idolatry no longer increase, but it is getting less and gradually ceasing to be.“6
Martin Luther’s famous hymn of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” again proclaims this expectation of conquest: “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us. We will not fear, for God hath willed, His truth to triumph through us. The Prince of Darkness grim – We tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, one little word shall fell him.” These lines, of course, refer to the power of the Word of God to conquer and overthrow all evil.
In his battle for truth, Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of the Catholic Church in Wittenberg when he was at that time the parish priest. One of the paragraphs reads: “Those who truly repent of their sins have a full remission of guilt and penalty, and do not need an indulgence.”
Historian Charles Coffin records: “Doctor Luther goes back to his room in the convent, little knowing what will come of his nailing up that paper – that it is the beginning of a series of events … that thrones will be tumbled into the dust; that kings will go down, empires be rent asunder … that there will be massacres and horrible outrages against the lives and liberties of men …
“If he could but lift the veil that hides the future he would see the streets of Paris and Italy drenched in blood, he would see fires kindled all over England for the burning of men, women and children. He would see men hurled headlong from precipices, roasted over slow fires, starving in dungeons, subjected to every form of cruelty; but with all this he would see the beginning of the emancipation of men, the advance of justice, truth, and liberty – the beginning of a new era in human affairs. The monk does not know it; but that paper which he has nailed upon the oaken panels of the door is, as it were, the marching orders of the great Army of Freedom …
“Luther sends out more books and pamphlets in defense of what he believes to be truth. Peddlers carry them through the country. The people read them, pass them from hand to hand, discuss them by their firesides. It is the lighting of torches against the authority of the Pope. Germany is stirred as never before. They are translated into other languages; and so the wave of intellectual life and liberty rolls over the land.“7
The conquering power of truth is confirmed throughout the pages of the Bible and is figuratively pictured in the the book of Revelation. As the book opens, we see the crowned warrior seated on the white horse going forth to conquer. This marks the beginning of the early Church and the preaching of the gospel. At the end of Revelation we see the white horse again. This time the warrior who sits upon it is crowned not with one crown, but with many diadems signifying that He has conquered many nations.
This mighty warrior is identified as the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and all the armies that are in heaven are following Him. From His mouth there issues a sharp sword and with it He smites the nations. He is also given the name, “The King of kings and the Lord of lords.” Thus the message seems to be clear. The all powerful Word of God will inevitably, as history progresses, conquer every nation, and Jesus will be Lord and King.
The Hope of the Gospel in Early America
Great awakenings and outpourings of the Holy Spirit have been followed by great advances in the progress of civilization and the liberty and rights of the individual. Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty! That liberty seems to be extended not only to individuals but to nations and the world as well.
The colonization of America in the 1600s came on the heels of the Reformation, as men and women sought a land where they could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience without fear of reprisal.
The first Great Awakening in America in the 1700’s gave birth to the American Revolution. A people awakened by the Spirit of God, according to the exhortation of Paul to the Galatians, had to “stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free and refuse to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” Consequently, united through faith in Christ, they stood together to throw off the yoke that threatened to enslave them again. The rallying cry of the Revolution was, “No king but Jesus.” From the American Revolution a wave of freedom and liberty encircled the globe.8
The Second Great Awakening in America in the 1800s gave rise to the abolitionist movement and finally the Civil War. A country so dedicated to liberty and equality could not co-exist with slavery. A people so awakened by God could not tolerate cruelty and injustice. A death blow was delivered to slavery in America and this inhumane practice of buying and selling men, a practice that was as old as the human race, was conquered forever.
The rise of Western civilization owes its progress to the preaching of the gospel and the advancement of the truths of Christianity. Every step of human progress – from brutal savagery to the exalted state of civilization; from the rule of monarchy and dictatorship to constitutionalism and self-government; from slavery, abuse and degradation to freedom, advancement and equality for all – has been accompanied by the loosening of the chains of selfishness, and the redemption of society in general and the individual in particular.
There are a few important things we can observe from this quick overview of the progress of Christianity. One of the most obvious ones is that the Word of God not only has power to conquer evil and overthrow oppression politically – it has actually done so! Men and women, nations and the entire world have been affected by the progress of Christianity and the proclamation of the gospel. Monarchies, dictatorships, slavery, and human injustice of every kind have been overturned by the gospel.
Secondly, the historic belief of the Church is totally opposite of the ideas of the end-times that have been propagated throughout evangelical Christendom over the better part of the 20th century. The presence of evil in the world, and sin in our nation, has been viewed by modern Christians as an indication that civilization is crumbling, and that we on that “sinking ship” should spend as much time as possible trying to rescue as many of the passengers as we can.
This has resulted in an escape-oriented Christianity rather than dominion-oriented Christianity. It resulted in the revival of the late ’60s and early ’70s, when innumerable “Jesus people” became Christian rock concert attendees, living for the next concert; when Charismatic Christians floated from convention to convention hoping to receive, as the end of their faith, a Rolex watch or a Mercedes Benz. Both groups had no clear-cut goal for the future.
Regarding this worldview David Chilton writes: “Regardless of their numerous individual differences, the various defeatist schools of thought are solidly lined up together on one major point: The gospel of Jesus Christ will fail. Christianity will not be successful in its worldwide task. Christ’s Great Commission to disciple the nations will not be carried out. Satan and the forces of anti-Christ will prevail in history, overcoming the Church and virtually wiping it out – until Christ returns at the last moment, like the cavalry in B-grade westerns, to rescue the ragged little band of survivors.“9
As a result of almost a century of this type of teaching, the church has lost some major battles to the enemy. The gospel is just as powerful today as it was in the days of the Reformation and the two Great Awakenings in America. It is not the gospel that has changed; it is the orientation of the Christian that has made the difference.
A Lack of Faith
One thing is certain, no one will work for the transformation of society if they don’t believe society can be transformed. The Bible records that Jesus couldn’t do any great thing in Capernaum because of their unbelief. Belief is important. It was total faith in the absolute victory of Christianity that enabled the early Christian missionaries, the Reformers, the Pilgrims, and the early Americans to challenge the greatest powers on earth and be victorious.
It is the lack of faith in the power of the gospel that is responsible for the failure of Christians to attempt. We must realize that Jesus commissioned His followers to go and “make disciples of all nations” and to teach the nations “everything that He had taught them.” Of course nations are made up of individuals, but it is not the individual only. To disciple a nation would include affecting its laws, its form of government, its education, its prisons, and its health standards, and ridding it of its evil and sinister practices. It is a misunderstanding of the Great Commission that causes the Church to lose ground to the enemy.
Thirdly, having come to an understanding of this, each individual Christian must seek God on his own to find out what his part in that discipleship program should be. There is a socialistic tendency to think that “the group” or the “expert” or the “preachers” will do it. This results in an abdication of responsibility. Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility.
As David Chilton puts it, “The Bible teaches that the spiritual growth of society is no more ‘automatic’ than the Spiritual growth of the individual Christian … The Christian does not accept growth as ‘automatic’ in any sphere of life. All growth and development are the sovereign gifts of God’s Spirit. Yet the Christian does not say that he can ‘let go and let God,’ stop eating and exercising, and expect to grow. We do not assume that we can stop trusting God, stop praying and obeying, and still grow in grace.
“Nor should we say that some act of disobedience represents a ‘trend’ in our personal eschatology, showing that we are necessarily ‘destined’ to fail in the Christian life. And the same is true for cultural sanctification. We do not believe in some kind of ‘natural’ progress in civilization. Our civilization will rise or fall in terms of God’s blessing; and God’s blessing is His personal and covenantal (not automatic) response to our covenantal obedience.“10
This is the great lesson taught by the parable of the talents. The man who was given five talents employed that which God had given him and gained five more. The man who was given two talents employed them and was given two more. The man who was afraid and hid the one talent that was given him was cast into outer darkness. His talent was given to the man with ten.
The two men who used what the master had given them were greeted with the commendation, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things, enter into the joy of the Lord.”
This is a parable of not only multiplied talents, but multiplied responsibility. If you are a faithful steward of what God has given you, your responsibility will keep increasing. Increased responsibility carried out faithfully is the true source of the joy of the Lord. The inference is this – if your responsibilities are not increasing, but you are ever seeking to lessen your load and escape responsibility, neglecting to take initiative, then you could be the wicked and lazy slave who hid his talent and was cast out upon the master’s return. While everyone may not be called to be the leader of the church, everyone in the church is called to be a leader.
Gary North describes this escapist mentality: “They attempt to conserve their power by focusing their ethical concern on progressively narrower areas of personal responsibility. The ‘true believer’ thinks he will gain more control over himself and his narrow environment by restricting his self-imposed zones of responsibility. His concern is self, from start to finish; his attempt to escape from responsibilities beyond the narrow confines of self is a program for gaining power over self. It is a religion of works, of self-salvation. A man ‘humbles’ himself – admits that there are limits to his power, and therefore limits to the range of his responsibilities – only to elevate self to a position of hypothetically God-like spirituality …
“The escapist religion calls for flight from the world. Its advocates may hide their real concern – the systematic abandonment of a world supposedly so corrupt that nothing can be done to overcome widespread cultural evil – by appealing to their moral responsibility of ‘sharing Christ to the world’ or ‘building up the Church’ rather than rebuilding civilization, but their ultimate concern is personal flight from responsibility … a revolt against maturity.“11
We have been called not to a religion of “self” trying to take dominion over “self,” or “self” trying to take dominion over the world. Rather we have been called to Christianity, a religion in which Christ’s followers are endued with “resurrection power from on high.” Responsibilities to disciple nations should be taken up not because of belief in “self’s” effectiveness, nor refused because of “self’s” limitations, but should be pursued under direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit, knowing that whomever God sends, He gives the Spirit without measure to perform the task at hand.
When Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, and called fire down from heaven, he revealed the source of his success, his courage, and his power as he prayed, “O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that Thou art God in Israel, and that I am Thy servant and that I have done all these things at Thy word” (I Kings, 18:36).
Likewise, Jeremiah exhorts, “Who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? … If they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:18, 22).
As the church takes up the dominion mandate to disciple the nations, as each individual member seeks God to discern what the will of the Lord is, and what his or her part is to be in discipling the nations, and is obedient to that heavenly call, the people and the nations of the world will embrace Christianity. Let us join with the saints of the ages in this “great expectation” and see the increase of that government and of that peace which shall have no end.
1 David Chilton, Paradise Restored, Reconstruction Press, P.O. Box 79999, Tyler, TX, l985, p.11.
2 Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Light and The Glory, (New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1977), p. 31.
3 Ian H. Murray, Puritan Hope, Banner of Truth, P.O. Box 652, Carlisle, PA., P. 95.
4 Charles Coffin, Old Times in the Colonies, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1881), pp. 7-8.
5 Arnold Guyot, The Earth and Man, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), pp. 310, 315.
6 Chilton, p. 5.
7 Charles Coffin, The Story of Liberty, Maranatha Publications, P.O. Box l799, Gainesville, FL., l987, reprinted from 1879 original manuscript, p. 209.
8 Marshall and Manuel, pp. 254-269.
9 Chilton, p. 10. 10 Ibid., pp. 11-12.
11 Gary North, Liberating Planet Earth, (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), p. 44.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved