The power of the Gospel to change nations has been seen throughout the course of history. Beginning in an upper room in Jerusalem in 33 A.D., an infant Church began to move westward, spreading the Gospel throughout the whole world. When Jesus breathed on His disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” each one was sealed for redemption, but now at Pentecost they had been clothed with the power to be witnesses to all nations.
Bringing personal salvation to individuals through the message of the Cross, the early Church also saw the power of the Gospel to transform families, communities, cities, and even entire nations. By the year 300 A.D., the early Church saw the Roman Empire come under the rulership of Jesus Christ. All those called out by God were given the task of bringing spiritual freedom to those enslaved by sin. The Spirit moved them to preach to those who felt their great need of salvation; to heal broken hearts; to open the eyes of entire cities held captive by idolatry; to spread the message of Liberty to the nations. Once their obedience was complete, they were to punish all disobedience.
Some abused this commission, however, and compromised to escape the message of the Cross. The Church lost its anointing and power of life in the Holy Spirit. Those in positions of Church authority looked to the pleasures of riches and earthly power. The needs of the poor and downcast were no longer attended to – their only consolation was in the hope of life to come.
Yet even through the centuries of the Dark Ages, there were a few who carried the torch of liberty. The true Gospel continued to travel westward bringing Christian civilization to northern Europe, planting the seeds of democracy in England, then providing nurture and growth for many colonies in the New World.
A democratic nation was formed in America by colonists who believed that all human thought must be subservient to God’s word. They brought the accumulated philosophies of great Christian thinkers to the New World. Great men, such as John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin and John Locke, though they lived centuries before, all contributed something to the birth of a new nation. This new society was to be one in which all would have every kind of freedom and liberty.
New Colonists arrived by the hundreds of thousands from Europe. Among the new settlers were men and women of vision who desired to fulfill one divine purpose: to worship God in spirit and in truth. With one voice they echoed the prophetic cry of Moses to Pharaoh 3000 years before – “Let My people go that they may worship Me in the wilderness!”
In the early 1700s, America experienced a spiritual rebirth of such great magnitude that it became known as the Great Awakening. The Puritans had guided Massachusetts for over a hundred years, but now their dominion was waning. An eloquent and powerful preacher, Jonathan Edwards, rekindled spiritual vision in the Connecticut River Valley and the fervor spread throughout the colonies. Entire communities were transformed and the experience of the new birth became a common bond among thousands of people.
The result of this awakening was revolution and liberty. Jonathan Edwards, greatly influenced by the writings of John Locke, reiterated the purposes of the first colonists. Edwards heralded the rebirth of American philosophy – colonists had once imagined themselves as living in a redeemed land and the revivals resulting from the Great Awakening once again promoted the idea that the vision of “a city set upon a hill” was viable.
With the spiritual awakening came a revived democratic spirit. The Puritan Revival of over a hundred years earlier was a reaction against interference in the local church by Roman government structures. Each individual church now had the authority to govern itself. The dull, liturgical religion of the Church of England had always symbolized a source of oppression and a threat to true liberty. Now British authority became a symbol of tyrannical and intolerable acts against God’s chosen people.
The Great Awakening gave the colonists a common experience. They began to see themselves not as divided colonies but as the United States of America. This sentiment was expressed a generation later in the writing of the Declaration of Independence:
“WE, therefore, the representatives of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in GENERAL CONGRESS, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our Intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, Solemnly Publish and Declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES … “
The American Revolutionary War occurred during a period of deep moral decline. Responses to excessive taxation by the British crown, such as riots in Boston, were not movements of the Spirit of God. However, biblical principles were so ingrained into the national consciousness that the writers of the Declaration and the Constitution had founded a nation securely on the Word of God.
The Declaration of Independence was based on the premise that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights: among these being Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Constitution promised “to secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” It was an unquestionable fact that the rights of all men were blessings given by God, and that the best laws to govern a nation would be derived from scripture. The United States government was established to protect these rights and carry out these laws. Once liberty had been established, America was ready for a new awakening.
The Second Evangelical Awakening began in camp meetings in the sparsely populated frontier. The mandate of this new awakening was found in Leviticus 25:10, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land to all its inhabitants.” The initial outcome of this awakening was to soothe the wounds of the nation after the war and then to heighten the national conscience toward further reforms which were left undone by the founding fathers. Some of these reforms included the women’s suffrage movement, the temperance movement, advances in public education and care for the mentally ill. The final and greatest result of the Second Great Awakening, however, was the abolition of slavery.
Charles G, Finney, the great revival preacher, recorded in his Memoirs: “I had made up my mind on the question of slavery, and was exceedingly anxious to arouse public attention to the subject. In my prayers and preaching, I so often alluded to slavery, and denounced it, that a considerable excitement came to exist among the people.“1
The excitement that accompanied Finney’s revivals affected one young man named Theodore Weld. Weld was initially and vehemently opposed to Finney’s work, but was converted in Utica, New York during one of Finney’s meetings. Weld was a formidable enemy to Mr. Finney, but after his salvation he became an ardent supporter. Weld travelled with Finney, assisting the preacher in his meetings and later emerged as a student leader at Lane Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. 2
Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of the revolutionary novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, lived at Lane with her father, and was an acquaintance of Theodore Weld. Her father, Dr. Lyman Beecher, had been appointed president at Lane, and it was here that Harriet first encountered the radical abolitionist sentiments of Finney’s young disciple. 3
After 18 years of living across the Ohio River from slave holding communities, and partly inspired by the moral outrage that accompanied the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Stowe began to document cases of extreme cruelty of slave masters. The inspiration of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the result of a God-sent vision of a slave suffering, being beaten, yet forgiving his tormentors.4 Harriet Beecher Stowe was unprepared for the phenomenal sensation that her abolitionist novel created. Infused with the explosive spirit of the Second Great Awakening, this novel did more to increase America’s outrage to slavery than did any other previous influence.
After less than a century since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, America was embroiled in a bloody Civil War. Abraham Lincoln, who had previously met with Mrs. Stowe, stood in the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg and gave his famous address. Standing in the midst of one of the most tragic scenes in American history, Lincoln reaffirmed the intentions of God in birthing the principles of liberty in our nation:
“Fourscore and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
Lincoln reminded the American people that their history and philosophy were rooted in God’s Word as he alluded to the words of John Wycliffe:
“The nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the face of the earth.”
In the 20th century, the Gospel has progressed further westward, sparking the Pentecostal Revival in Los Angeles, California in 1906, and then appearing more recently in the South Pacific Islands, South Korea, and the Philippines. Revivals appearing on the rim of the Asian continent are poised to invade the Bamboo Curtain, penetrating the world’s greatest nations with the Gospel, bringing the fruits of freedom and liberty to the mass of humanity.
Currently, the world is in the midst of the greatest awakening in all history. Although evidence of this is scarce in England and America, two nations which have long since backslidden from God’s great calling, the current awakening is spreading in the nations of the Third World. Asia, South America and Africa are the greatest recipients of an unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
How can we know specifically what the result of this present awakening will be?
The Bible holds the answer to this question: “Surely the Lord does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
In 1958, Leonard Ravenhill published his classic book, Why Revival Tarries. This work described the backslidden condition of America and the hindrances to revival in our nation.
“At the operation of the Spirit, men at this moment ‘drawing iniquity with a cart rope,’ will bend as corn before the wind. The Kremlin will tremble at the news of a supernatural operation in China. May God precipitate revival in China, Russia, Germany etc. – lands scorched with the fire of militant Communism. For one reason, they need it so greatly; for another, our free nations need to be provoked, as Jonah was with Nineveh.” 5
Is the “supernatural operation” in China prophetic of the student demonstration in Tiananmen Square? Is Gorbachev the leader who is trembling in Moscow? Gorbachev has expressed concern over the prospect of a student rebellion in Moscow. In a Washington Post interview, he is quoted as saying, “We, too, have hotheads who want to renovate socialism overnight.”
Gorbachev appears to be a man overcome by his own creation. He was the author of glasnost; he created it and preached it around the world. The Chinese students received it and made the concept their own. The student revolt in Tiananmen Square was the fruit of Gorbachev’s efforts. Unforeseen to the Soviet leader, his presence in China sparked the onset of an idea whose time had come.
The result of the current world awakening will be the downfall of Communism. China, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe will be blessed with greater fruits of liberty than America has ever experienced. God has ordained this in order to provoke our backslidden nation to jealousy.
Wherever Liberty has appeared throughout the world, it has always been the Christian community that has been at the forefront of establishing it. The Gospel’s power to transform nations will continue to have its effect. What is happening in China and the Soviet Union today is the result of the faithful prayers of God’s people.
Whenever an awakening appears to be taking hold of a nation, surely the result will be increasing liberty and the establishment of justice according to biblical principles. Despite the efforts of evil men to curtail the operation of the Spirit, the Gospel will continue to move westward until one day it will encompass the globe, filling all creation with the glory of God.
1 Charles G. Finney, Memoirs (New York: A.S. Barnes, 1876), p. 324.
2 Ibid, p. 185-188.
3 Pat Robertson, America’s Dates With Destiny (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986), p. 135-140.
4 The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. 1 (W.W. Norton & Company, 1979), p. 1426.
5 Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries (Bethany Fellowship).