“When He first the work begun, small and feeble was His day:
Now the Word doth swiftly run, now it wins its widening way:
More and more it spreads and grows, ever mighty to prevail,
Sin’s strongholds it now o’erthrows, shakes the trembling gates of hell.”
- Charles Wesley
There was recovered at the time of the Protestant Reformation belief in what became known as Revival Christianity. It was believed by the Reformers that revivals of religion would be the means by which the church and the kingdom of God advanced in the world. This idea was later propagated by the leaders of the Puritan movement, which followed closely on the heels of the Reformation.
When the Teutonic barbarians overturned Rome and reduced a stable world to chaos in the fifth century A.D., many in the Church were thrown into despair and drew the wrong conclusion that the world could have no future. Even larger numbers did so as the millennium following Christ’s first Advent drew to a close and the year 1000 approached. Later, in the gloomy years of the fourteenth century, tracts appeared entitled The Last Age of the Church.1
Throughout the Church’s history there have been periods when the Church has picked up this same despair. One common reason for believing that as the world grows worse and worse it heralds only one response from God – judgement and most probably the end of the world – is the ever abounding evidence of moral decay. Confronted by this evidence it is often supposed that the only work left for God is judgment. Yet, the history of revivals teach us that often the precisely opposite has been true and that there have been many who even in the midst of prevailing evil have formed the opposite conviction.
John Wesley, one of the greatest revivalists of all time was one such man. Arriving in New Castle-upon-Tyne in England, in May, 1742, he wrote these memorable words: “I was surprised; so much drunkenness, cursing and swearing (even from the mouths of little children) do I never remember to have seen and heard before in so small a compass of time. Surely this place is ripe for Him who ‘came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’“2 The Great Awakening and the evangelical revival which was then dawning proved Wesley’s conviction to be correct.
David Livingstone, who dedicated his life to explore unknown parts of Africa in order to open it up for the gospel, was another great missionary who was of the same opinion as John Wesley. After preaching to a particular African tribe he made the following entry in his journal:
“A good and attentive audience, but immediately after the service I found the Chief had retired into a hut to drink beer … A minister who had not seen so much pioneer service as I have done would have been shocked to see so little effect produced by an earnest discourse concerning the future judgement, but time must be given to allow the truth to sink into the dark mind and produce its effect. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord – that is enough. We can afford to work in faith, for Omnipotence is pledged to fulfill the promise .”
Another journal entry records: “A quiet audience today. The seed being sown, the least of all seeds now, but it will grow a mighty tree. It is as it were a small stone cut out of a mountain, but it will fill the whole earth … Future missionaries will see conversions follow every sermon. We prepare the way for them. May they not forget the pioneers who worked in the thick gloom with few rays to cheer, except such as flow from faith in God’s promises! We work for a glorious future which we are not destined to see. We are only morning stars shining in the dark, but the glorious morn will break…“3
Livingstone was found by natives, dead upon his knees, no doubt praying for his poor downtrodden Africa. During his life-time, he traveled 29,000 miles, much of it on foot in his endeavors to explore the uncharted African terrain, to map it out so future missionaries could bring the gospel. He believed that one day the whole earth would be filled with converts to Christianity. When he died in the heart of Africa, darkness and ignorance of God were universal. Today millions of Africans are being swept into the kingdom of God as they are seeing unprecedented revival. Livingstone died in undiminishing confidence in the hope which was the anchor of his soul. He wrote: “Missionaries do not live before their time. Their great idea of converting the world to Christ is no chimera: it is divine. Christianity will triumph. It is equal to all it has to perform.“4
Charles Spurgeon, great revivalist and one of the last of the Puritans in England, wrote at the end of the 19th century, “I believe myself that King Jesus will reign, and the idols be utterly abolished: but I expect the same power which once turned the world upside down will still continue to do it. The Holy Ghost would never suffer the imputation to rest upon His holy name that he was not able to convert the world.“5
That The World Might Be Saved
Men not too many centuries ago, armed with such faith and consumed with such hope, transformed the world. The hope for the world-wide conquest of Christianity was, up until recently, the historic view of the Church. They really believed what Jesus told Nicodemus when he was explaining the reason why He came into the world: “For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)
Having emerged from an age of darkness and apostasy which lasted over a period of 1,000 years, the Reformers believed that the rule of the man of sin, whom they saw to be the head of the church of Rome was drawing to an end. Wycliffe, Huss, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Tyndale, and John Wesley are just a few of the Reformers and Protestants who held this view.
They saw that what lay ahead for the world was not an anticipation of the coming of Antichrist, but a day when the dwellers in every land would learn righteousness, when unto Jesus every knee would bow, when the nations would stream into the kingdom of God.
The history of revivals show that in various centuries, revivals of apostolic Christianity have broken out in the most unlikely circumstances and have powerfully, rapidly, and extensively affected whole communities. As Isaiah prophesied, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isa. 59:15)
The wonder of God’s saving works ought to make Christians slow to believe the gloom and doom predictions of catastrophe that await the vast population of this evil earth. It was Jesus who himself said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16)
“Why should it not be that in this era when the population of the world has reached its height, that God will show on a yet greater scale that truth is more powerful than error, grace is more powerful than sin, and that those given to Christ are indeed ‘as the sand which is upon the sea-shore’ for multitude.“6
Charles Wesley, song writer and brother of John Wesley and psalmist of the Great Awakening, captured this idea which was the hallmark of revivalist Christianity when he wrote:
Depth of mercy! can there be,
Mercy stillreserved for Me?
Can my God His wrath forbear -
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?
Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament;
I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to his calls,
Grieved him by a thousand falls.
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more.
There for me my Savior stands,
Holding forth his wounded hands;
God is love! I know, I feel,
Jesus weeps and loves me still.
The Reformers saw their age as a springtime of new life for the church. To them, it was a day as important as early Pentecost. Emerging from the Dark Ages, the Reformers saw great multitudes of men, women, princes and nations swept out of religious darkness into the light of God.
They observed, being eye-witnesses of this great awakening that when the Holy Spirit is poured out in a day of power, the results are bound to affect whole communities and nations. As Isaiah prophesied, “When the spirit is poured from on high, then the wilderness become a fruitful field.” As God spoke through the prophet Zechariah, “Not by might, nor power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” (Zech. 4:6)
The Transforming Power of Truth
What the early Reformers believed about the power of the truth to prevail and conquer, and what they believed about the future, marked them out in history as men and women of hope and as heroes who possessed conquering faith. In the face of brutal persecution and martyrdom, they arose with unswerving confidence. They stood up for truth, broke out of the chains that bound them to the papal system of the day, and saw the world reborn.
In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance swept Europe. Men who had been less than men, bound up in feudal systems and ecclesiastical darkness, began to experience new creative power. A rebirth of learning began. Great strides were made in art, music, science and in all fields of education, causing the world to be transformed and renewed.
During the Protestant Reformation, what could be called the hope of Christian dominion burst into flame – the belief that the kingdoms of this world are destined to become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ, the expectation that there would be the extensive triumph of Christianity in history.
Calvin, noted Reformer, wrote concerning the Lord’s prayer and the phrase, “Thy kingdom come” – “As the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.“7
In the preface to his Institutes of the Christian Religion, published in 1536, Calvin address his appeal to King Francis of France on what would be the prospect if Francis and all the kings of the earth continued their rage and persecution against the cause of Christ; Calvin, undaunted answers his own question:
“Our doctrine must stand sublime above all the glory of the world, and invincible by all its power, because it is not ours, but that of the living God and His Anointed, whom the Father has appointed King even to the ends of the earth; and so rule as to smite the whole earth and its strength of iron and brass, its splendor of gold and silver, with the mere rod of His mouth and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel according to the magnificent predictions of the prophets respecting His kingdom“8 (Dan 2:34, Isa 11:4, Ps 2:9)
Consideration of texts such as these quoted from John Calvin awoke zeal for the world-wide acknowledgement of the claims of Christ in the sixteenth century, and taught men and women to look with assurance for the progressive realization of His kingdom. This assurance also caused them to gladly seal their cause with their own blood.9
The Puritan Hope
The torch was passed on to the Puritans and the Pilgrims – some of whom where to become the founders of this nation. America was born out of this passion. Although America had been discovered numerous times by other cultures, those Pilgrims and Puritans who were successful at planting colonies here were expecting that the New World would be Christianized. Their goal was to conquer the world for the kingdom of God.
Writing about the Puritans, J.C. Ryle stated in 1870, “The Puritans as a body, have done more to elevate the national character than any class of Englishmen that ever live.”
Iain Murray in his work The Puritan Hope states, “The source of this influence was their theology, and within that theology there was an attitude … which distinguished them as men of hope.
“In their own day this hope came to expression in pulpits and in books, in Parliaments and upon battle fields. But it did not end there. It colored the spiritual thought of the “American colonies; it taught men to expect great outpourings of the Holy Spirit; it prepared the way to the new age of world missions; and it contributed largely to that sense of destiny which came to characterize the English speaking Protestant.
“When nineteenth century Christian leaders such as William Wilberforce viewed the world not so much as a wreck from which individual souls must escape, but rather as the property of Christ, to whose kingdom the earth and the fulness thereof must belong, their thinking bore the genuine hall-mark of the Puritan outlook.10
Puritan expositor, George Newton (1602-1681) wrote: “… Let our hearts be full of joy while we are looking forward to the accomplishment of this work … Oh let it cheer our spirits under all the sinking damps and deep discouragements that are upon them in relation to the church, to think in what blessed state and glorious posture she will be, when Christ shall have declared His Father’s name to all the nations under heaven, when the Jews shall be converted, and when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in.
“O my beloved, that will be a joyful time indeed! It is true, those times my brethren, shall be very comfortable and full of gladness in many ways. And this is not the least, that people shall be brought into the knowledge of the Lord out of all quarters of the world, and that by heaps and multitudes, there was never such a time since the foundation of the world, nor shall be till that blessed season come. Therefore let our souls rejoice in the foresight of it, though we never live to see it.“11
It is precisely this hope that caused the early founders of this nation to see themselves as stepping stones for generations yet unborn, and to see their work as a work for posterity’s sake.
Energized by this faith and hope, nations were shaken for the kingdom of God, great strides in learning took place, reforms of every kind were instituted , and liberty, justice, righteousness, education, science, and the arts advanced as never before in the history of the world.
By comparison, how small have been our efforts? Can we disregard the possibility that the reason for our smallness stands related to the smallness of our anticipations and to the weakness of our faith in the promises of God? Will the end of the world coincide with our own individual end: Isn’t that belief actually a selfish motive in disguise? If the end is not yet, what will be future be?
The Power of the Gospel
Arnold Guyot, a 19th century French geographer made this 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 …“12
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. Some men assert that the marvellous events of history are only a series of coincidences … as you study history you will notice that while the oppressors have carried out their plans, and had things their own way, there were other forces silently at work, which in time undermined their plans, as if a Divine hand were directing the counter-plan. Whoever studies history without recognizing this feature will fail of fully comprehending the meaning of history. Men act freely in laying and executing their plans; but behind the conflict of human wills there is an unseen power that shapes destiny – nations rise and fall generations come and go; yet through the ages there has been an advancement of Justice, Truth, Right, and Liberty…. Tyranny and Wrong have fought against Liberty and Justice Tyranny and Wrong have gone down before it…. Men die, but ideas live on … Right, Justice, and Liberty are ever advancing.“13
As we look at the Christian era, all the periods of this enthusiasm, have been the “only periods of creative energy, of prophetic originality and of magnificent and ecstatic self-sacrifice.“14 The leaders of the 18th century awakening – men such as John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards – were men inflamed by the hope of Christian dominion. These revivals changed the face of England and did much to prepare the early American colonists to assert themselves to gain their independence.
The great hymns of the 18th and 19th century Church echo this hope. Isaac Watts, a well know British hymnist in 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, ‘till moon shall wax and wane no more. 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 blessing 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 it 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 thee angels sing!”
These ideas are based on the Bible. One of the numerous references is 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) And we should not forget that Peter preaching after the day of Pentecost at Solomon’s portico, reminded the Jews, “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that he may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.”(Acts 3 19-21)
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 summaries 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
Count me o’er earth’s chosen heroes,— they were souls who stood alone,
While the men they agonized for hurled the
Stood serene and down the future saw the golden bean incline
To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith
By one man’s plain truth to manhood and to God’s
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.
Christ’s Ultimate Triumph
Saint Athanasius, the great church father of the 4th century expressed this belief when he 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.“15
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. The conquering power of truth is confirmed throughout the pages of the Bible and is figuratively pictured in 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 of all.
From a quick overview of the progress of Christianity in history, one of the most obvious things 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, 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.
Second, 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-orientated Christianity rather than dominion-oriented Christianity. “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. Jesus returns at the last moment, like the calvary in B-grade westerns, to rescue the ragged little band of survivor…“16
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.
Do we have an eschatology of defeat or an eschatology of victory? Is our gospel a gospel that sees Christianity before the second coming of Christ becoming victorious throughout the entire world? Or is our message: “Antichrist is coming, run to the wilderness”? Do we see the devil running the world and getting more and more powerful all the time? Do we see our ministry mainly as that of a rescue mission, with no other lasting affect in the world other than saving a few individuals from hell?
Make no mistake about it. What you believe about the future will affect the way you live today. If the hope of a conquering Christianity does not burn within you, you will not have the strength or the perseverance or the faith for the battle ahead. It was what the Reformers and the founders of our nation believed about the future that caused them to freely lay down their lives in the struggle for liberty and truth. They were certain that all their sacrifice would count in time, and in history and in eternity. They believed that as they were steadfast in every struggle, no matter what the cost, Satan’s domains were being shattered, his hold weakening and slipping with every Christian advance.
Jesus taught that Christians are to be as “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” The light is not made to be put under a bushel, but to give light for all the world to see. If the salt is no longer preserving society, then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out. Jesus instructed His followers that they were to affect and transform the society around them, to make disciples not just of a few individuals, but of entire nations.
This is a mandate for dominion of the entire world. Is there any reason not to expect total victory? Psalms chapter two exhorts, ‘Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance, and the very ends of the earth as Thy possession.” Have we asked in faith believing that we shall see the victory? The gates of Hell must and shall fall before the aggressive, militant church!
May this blessed hope of the Church be rekindled within our hearts. The devil is on the run. Paganism is doomed. Immorality and ungodliness will be purged from true believers. The true church will arise from the ashes of judgement holy and victorious. Christianity is destined to conquer. May the Church of the ending twentieth century pick up the dominion mandate once again and go forth conquering and to conquer.
1 Iain H. Murray, Puritan Hope, (Banner of Truth, P.O. Box 652, Carlisle, PA), p.xix.
2 Ibid., p.xx. 3 Ibid., pp.182-183. 4 Ibid.
5 David Chilton, Paradise Restored (Tyler, TX: Reconstruction Press, 1985), pp.217,218. 6 Murray, p.xx. 7 Murray, p.90.
8 Murray, Calvin’s Institutes of Religion, p.89. 9 Ibid.
10 Ibid, p.90. 11 Ibid., pp.91-92.
12 Arnold Guyot, The Earth and Man, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890), pp.310,315.
13 Charles Coffin, Old Time in the Colonies, (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1881), pp.7-8 and Charles Coffin, The Story of Liberty, (Maranatha Publications, Gainesville, FL, reprinted from 1879 original manuscript), p.8-9.
14 Stanton Coit, The Soul of America, (New York: Macmillian Co., 1914), p.252. 15 Chilton, p.11-12. 16 Ibid., p.11-12.
Copyright © Bob and Rose Weiner 2007, All Rights Reserved