There are similarities between the dark times we live in now and the dawn of the First Great Awakening. The choices we see now are the same inequalities facing the workers of France and England. France dissolved into chaos and violence…while England had a moral and spiritual revival.
A corrupt and even dead church darkened most aspects of English life. The Church of England leadership was corrupt. Archbishops and bishops lived luxuriously and unashamedly negotiated better positions for themselves and their families. Economically England by now dominated the slave trade with greed leading to brutality. The industrial revolution influenced owners into adopting the same attitudes of the slavers towards the children working in the mines and cotton mills. In London between 1730 – 1750 almost 3 out of 4 children born to all classes died before their 5th birthday. England was going through its Gin Age with 1 out 6 homes owning and operating a ‘gin still’ and almost 20% of all single girls in London working as prostitutes. The sports of the day was bull baiting and cock fighting, while bare fisted boxing matches attracted 12,000 to a fight.
The climate was as ripe as France for a breakdown of social order into chaos and revolution.
But there was no revolution……There was a Great Awakening instead. Two young men named Charles and John Wesley met George Whitefield in Bristol on April 2nd 1739. Together they started to preach to common folk in the outdoors as the churches were closed to the poor. Wesley wrote a pamphlet in which he declared that “It is the plain old Christianity that I teach.” He ended up preaching 45,000 sermons; traveled a quarter of a million miles on horseback, up and down and across England on roads that were often dangerous and sometimes impassable. He composed his commentary on the Bible verse by verse, wrote hundreds of letters, and a daily journal from 1735 to the year before his death in 1791; and he also wrote some of the 330 books that were published in his lifetime.
Thirteen years before the Abolition Committee was formed, Wesley wrote “Thoughts upon Slavery”, a graphic, tract denouncing this vicious horrid trade” as a national disgrace which greatly influenced Wilberforce. He kept up his attack on slavery until the end of his life, the last letter he wrote being to Wilberforce. He deplored the stupidity and futility of war, especially Britain’s war with the American colonies.
He publicly and repeatedly questioned why food was so expensive and he gave the answer: immense quantities of corn were consumed in distilling. He supported fair prices, a living wage, honest and healthy employment for all.
He never raised the dead, but he raised a dead nation. And when he died he left a preachers gown, a bible, and six silver spoons for his pall bearers and …………the Methodist Church that shaped all of England for hundreds of years after his death.
Wesley said, “Sloth, luxury and ungodliness are the characteristics of the English nation!” Is this not a word for our time?
If we as the church set our mind to Revival – to examine our lives and our communities. Rather than pray for another bailout our prayer should be for that last Great Awakening. Could a small outnumbered church – like Wesley awaken the conscience of a dead nation? It is only when the situation is so beyond repair that God can do what we cannot. My email for years has been – Ps85v6 – Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation! Perhaps things are bad enough now for us recognize our need.