THE LORD of the NATIONS

The prophets of Israel whose writings we have in the Bible are not always easy to understand, but once we put them in their historical background they have immense lessons to teach us about God and the way he deals with nations. For that reason the prophets are especially important for us today as we view the increasingly chaotic scenes among the nations in our own current generation.  None of the prophets give a greater sweep of vision and understanding to these national affairs than Isaiah who, hearing God prophetically, scanned the nations that made up his own chaotic world of the Middle East and revealed the power and reality of the Living God directing the convulsive events of those times.  The over-riding lesson he conveys is that God is not absent but actually directing and controlling both those events and the earthly rulers behind them who blindly think they are in control. We learn that God is always working out his own purpose in the historical flow.

A prophesy in Isaiah 45 shows us this truth very plainly. The broad historical sweep underlying this prophecy is clear. Over a period of about 100 years first the northern part of the Jewish nation was destroyed and depopulated by the Assyrians and then the southern part (Judah) was later destroyed and exiled by the Babylonians who conquered the Assyrians. Some seven or eight decades later the Babylonians in turn were destroyed by the Persians who released the Jews to go back to Jerusalem. It is with this huge historical canvas that the prophets are concerned. The prophecy in Isaiah 45 concerns the destruction of the Babylonians by the Persians under their king, Cyrus. It takes the form of a message to Cyrus the future conquering king of Persia:

1“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 2 I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.3 I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.

4 For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honour, though you do not acknowledge me….

7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things.

The prophecy makes three things clear:

1 The success of Cyrus in his conquests is entirely due to the LORD (i.e. Jehovah, the God of Israel, the Living God). The Lord has “anointed” Cyrus (given him all the inner strength he needs) to defeat the other kings of his day. It is the Lord that will remove all the difficulties he may face, and it is the Lord who will give him the booty of conquest. All this will be given to Cyrus even though Cyrus in no way acknowledges the Lord or worships Him (v.4). Whatever motives Cyrus may have and however much he may think success is due to his own clever planning or his own power and strength as king, the campaigns he undertakes will be at God’s prompting and the outcome will be decided by the Lord. It is God who gives to him his “title of honour” among the nations. He is God’s instrument for God’s purposes.

2 In his use of Cyrus the purpose of God is made clear; it is to bring blessing to his own people, the Jews (Jacob my servant, Israel my chosen). God had promised through Jeremiah that Judah would be in captivity for 70 years and now those years were up. The Jews had been conquered and taken into captivity by Babylon as a chastening judgement by God. Now the time was coming for their release and a pagan king, Cyrus, was to have all the power needed to make that release happen. The ebb and flow of the fortunes of all nations are in the hands of God

3 The absolute authority and power of God among the nations and in the world is underlined by the stark prophetic reminder that God “forms the light and creates darkness, brings prosperity and creates disaster” and that “he does all these things”. Prosperity and favour come from God’s blessing; disaster, war and destructions come from his judgements.

A further prophecy of Isaiah’s runs along exactly the same lines:

5 “Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! 6 I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch and plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. 7 But this is not what he intends, this is not what in his mind; his purpose is to put an end to many nations.” Is. 10: 5-7

This refers to an earlier historical period when the Jewish northern kingdom and Samaria were ravaged and deported by the Assyrians. The Assyrians in this instance, however, were the “rod of God’s anger” and were being used for chastising the Jews, and not for deliverance. The Assyrians, of course, did not see it quite like that – they were simply bent on conquest and the riches that would bring.

But the message is the same; in the affairs of nations God rules supreme. In this way he rules with judgment, he rules with mercy and he rules with justice.

It is important for intercession that we grasp clearly this prophetic message that God does have complete sovereignty over all that happens to the nations in this world. The biblical revelation is uncompromising on this matter and we should have the same mind-set. This is the value of these Isaiah passages. Grasping this truth in faith breeds confidence in our praying and enables us to take a right direction in our prayer. The vast majority of the rulers of our present world are very much like the kings of Assyria, Babylon and Persia; they believe they are making history; they plan to extend their power and to gain the riches of the world by force of some sort or another. The very power they have corrupts and releases every kind of arrogance and pride. This is sadly all too evident. BUT God is supreme! We need to remember the fact that in prayer we have an audience with that Living God! Moreover we have a biblical injunction to make prayers and intercession “for kings and all in authority, that we might lead peaceable lives in all godliness”. (1 Tim 2:1-2).

Bob Dunnett

“HERE I STAND” – MARTIN LUTHER’S ANNIVERSARY

In 1517, exactly five hundred years ago the Protestant Reformation broke out in earnest and radically changed the shape of the Christian church in Europe. For some considerable time up to that point there had been rumblings of protest and numerous attempts at reforming the corruption in the Mediaeval church, but with Martin Luther the rumblings broke into a full scale fracture between the Roman Church and “Protestants”. He gave the Reformation a huge initial impetus and he gave it its watchwords, “Faith only” and “Scripture Only”. Those watchwords, wherever they were observed, were to release enormous blessing in the Christian church right to the present day.

One particular event has always stood out as marking the beginning of this Reformation; the nailing of Luther’s 95 theses for debate on the church door of the Castle Church in the small town of Wittenberg on Oct. 31st, The Feast of All Saints, 1517. (Hence this blog at this time) Many of these theses were fairly innocuous, but some were not. In particular Luther bitterly attacked the practice of selling Indulgences by which people were pressed into paying money to the Pope so that they could be released from the torments of Purgatory. Luther denied outright that the Pope had any power over the “treasury of merit” on which such indulgences were based. They were actually spiritually dangerous and contrary to the gospel. Even if he did have such power the Pope should give them away freely to set people free. These theses were not just academic in tone; they were written in anger at the injustice and venality of such a money racket, and the language was blunt and direct. This attack on the Pope was dangerous, but the affair might have died out but for the fact that, unknown to Luther, the theses were immediately and widely published and were soon the talk of Germany. The Pope had to make some response and in the ensuing debates and trials over the following years with the Pope’s agents Luther not only showed great acumen and ability but found himself  taking more radical positions against the Pope’s authority as he worked out the implications of what he found in scripture. His fearless and rock-like stance in contesting for the truth ensured that his protests could not be quashed. He stood by his words, “Here I stand”! He found widespread support for his position and soon the stream he unleashed became a flood.

The really fascinating aspect in this history lies in what had been happening in Luther’s heart and in his spiritual experience in the three or four years prior to 1517. It provides a remarkable testimony of the changing and motivating power of the truth of God’s word. Luther as a boy had a deep concern for religion and sought the favour of God. The Mediaeval church, however, presented a very fearsome side of God; he was a God who was ready to pick up on every fault and was devoid of any Fatherly love. This is what Luther lived with throughout his young years. He did everything the church told him to do to keep away the wrath of God and to keep his conscience clean, but unfortunately all his penances, all his confessions, all abstinences simply failed to bring him any sense of peace or of God’s acceptance. Getting caught in the midst of a thunderstorm one day he felt he was being pursued by the wrath of God and resolved to become a monk. That, he felt would bring him into favour with God and bring him peace, since he would give up everything for God and spend his whole time in godly exercises. He became an Augustinian novice in 1505 in Erfurt. A short period of relative peace, however, was soon superseded by a resurgence of his problem which was made worse by all his fasting, deprivations and constant daily services. Whatever way he tried to remove the “terror” of the righteousness of God and Christ he found no relief. This went on for some eight long years in the cloister and left him in a morose, depressed state and on the verge of a nervous collapse. Eventually he was placed in the hands of an astute and understanding senior monk, Staupitz. Staupitz, recognising Luther’s very obvious intellectual talents and prodigious energy, hit on a radical possibility as a solution to his problems; he offered Luther a post in the university at Wittenberg where he would teach bible subjects. This he hoped would get him out of his intense inward look.

Luther had not spent much time in his bible at Erfurt, but in Wittenberg he was set to lecture first on the Psalms and then on Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans. He read them with his usual diligence. This was a turning point, way beyond anything Staupitz could have imagined; God began to reveal himself directly to Luther from the scriptures. Reading through Ps.22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me ….” Luther was brought face to face with the sufferings of Christ in an entirely fresh way. He began to ask himself why Jesus, who terrified him so much, had to suffer so much himself. The Cross began to demand his attention and the sacrifice of Jesus began to take on a new light. When he approached Galatians and particularly when he studied Romans he saw with acid clarity the simple but all important truth that salvation and forgiveness were not obtained by works of the Law or the legalistic requirements of his own religiosity as a monk, but simply as a free gift from God to be accepted by faith. God was no longer a “Terror” but a God of love who had provided forgiveness of sin through the atoning sacrifice of his Son. This truth broke into his life as a great light and totally changed his spiritual understanding. Instead of fear there was now praise and thanksgiving. He was free in his spirit, he understood precisely what the death of Christ had achieved and he recognised clearly that the only “good works” that came from him were those which came through the Holy Spirit who had shed the love of God in his heart. This was not merely a change of doctrine! It was a profound revelation of God concerning His saving grace. It released a burning fire in Luther’s heart, and he held it with a passion and clarity of one who had been tormented in darkness for many years and was now released. This was the real root of the Reformation – a heart on fire with a totally life-changing biblical truth which had to be spoken out to a world in which it had been lost.

It was this that gave the bite, the righteous anger, the vigour to the 95 theses and which continued to inform the struggles which were to follow. Two things were now clear: salvation was by faith alone, and the only true guide to genuine Christian faith lay in the scriptures. Luther had regained common ground with Paul the Apostle and he was not going to let go. It was these two basic facts and their implications that were to lead to lead Luther to battle with the Roman church and its controlling Papal institutions which had completely obscured them. These two essentials were the bedrock of the Reformed churches that were to emerge and secured a profound spiritual advance in Christendom.

Interestingly enough, it was not a revelationary experience that was peculiar to Luther or his friends. It was something that happened to large numbers of serious and sincere Christians across Europe, and not least in Britain where many leading churchmen had exactly the same experience as, within the same 16th century, they read the new scholarly renderings of the Greek texts of the New Testament and were able to see clearly for themselves the truths that had been obscured for many generations.

The word of God brings light, and that light is the Grace of God in Jesus Christ for our forgiveness and the gift of the Holy Spirit for godly living.

Bob Dunnett

“HE GAVE THEM OVER ……”

In his letter to the Romans Paul makes some incisive and disturbing observations about the pagan and Gentile world in which he found himself preaching as an apostle of the gospel of Jesus. They are increasingly appropriate for today’s world in the West. He noted that “the wrath of God was being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who were supressing the truth by their wickedness” (Rom 1:18). Their “suppressing of the truth” lay in the rejection of the Creator God despite all the evidence of His power and nature in the creation around them. The pagan world had rejected God and made its own idols; it “served created things rather than the Creator”. Paul goes on to say that God’s response to this was “to give them over to their evil desires” and their destructive consequences. This was a first stage in his judgement, or his wrath.

Paul goes on to itemise some of those evil desires that were drawing down his wrath. It is noticeable that the first of these is impure sexual desire. It is a fact that sexual immorality is always very pronounced in every society that we have been accustomed to call decadent. It was certainly very evident in the “classical” Gentile world of Paul. Not that a decadent society necessarily sees itself as decadent! It always has some excuse or rationalisation of its sexual permissiveness. The modern excuse is “human freedom”! For Paul impure sexual desire is everything that is indulged in outside of a marriage bond and outside of a “natural” relationship. For him it was the first marker of a society going downhill, the first sign of God’s displeasure.

I do not think it would be out of place to say that Paul would have made the same observation about our own society. He would have seen ours as a society increasingly obsessed (“given over”) with impure sexual activity of almost every kind. In an interesting book entitled “Full Circle”, by a note classicist called Ferdinand Mount who has no particular Christian bias, the author finds an extraordinary similarity between the Graeco-Roman world (which was Paul’s Gentile world) and our own. Amongst many other aspects of life he finds a marked similarity of wide sexual licence. His general thesis is to demonstrate how remarkable a likeness our modern society has to that pagan world – we have come “full circle”. We would want to add to his thesis, however, that the reason for this is that the historic Christian structures have fallen badly to pieces in the last half century.

In the last two or three weeks alone there have been some gross examples of the symptoms of the sexual decadence which markedly underline our present predicament. The first of these was the media treatment of the death of the founder of Playboy Magazine, a man who had made a huge fortune out of his pornography and who had created a “castle” in which he played out his sexual fantasies surrounded by women who seemed only too happy to be demeaned by his behaviour. Not only was he was given a full obituary by normally “respectable” outlets but the obituaries all spoke in terms of a celebrity career of lively interest. His had been an OK life. Not one word or hint of reproach.

A second example followed quickly. A reputable T.V. channel showed a documentary on Amsterdam. As might be expected it started in the art galleries with an interesting, though short, focus on Rembrandt. It went on to depict the wealth of the merchants, architecture and an industrious sea-faring nation. It skipped along at no great depth, but it finally ended in the red-light district of Amsterdam. Most people are aware of this feature of that city but not with open approval. It was very much, however, an attraction to the programme makers and sponsors. It was given more than a fair share of time and its seamy side was hidden in what was almost a glamorisation of the business of “sex workers”. It ended with the presenter sitting in the shop window to advertise herself to the men passing by. This was obviously seen as good avant-garde TV and rather “amusing”. It followed the general bent that somewhere somehow sex has to appear in publications: it helps to sell.

A third example is more distressing. Recent press articles have indicated an alarming increase in the levels of pornography which are being watched young children as well as adolescents. They have also focussed on the sharp increase in sexual bullying and assault among the young. Children have always, and naturally, been inquisitive about sex – it is part of growing up. But clearly we have moved into a much more harmful and deeper phase. It does not bode well for the society in which they will eventually be adults, nor does it bode well for them individually. Add to all this the extraordinary confusion about sexual identity and the dubious sexual education for the very young being fostered in schools and we have a picture of a society that perhaps even the ancient world might look at with some dismay.

I venture to say that our society has been “given over” to its demands for “sexual freedom”. Ever since the “Swinging Years of the 1960s” the trend has been steadily downward. The “sexual freedom” has not had quite the results its proponents imagined. The truth is that it has broken many lives and in particular it has had very serious effects in the break-up of family life and consequent damaged children. In the process of “freedom” some 5 million children have been aborted. But the truth is hidden away and any mention of it is aggressively dismissed. However, if we sow to the wind we reap the wind!

We need to remember the starting point of all this. Paul is very clear about it; it is the rejection of God, the throwing off of restraints and the raising of our own idols. The rejection of God has grown apace alongside the demands of sex, and the judgement grows apace. The apple of sexual freedom looks good to eat, but it brings about destruction.

Our prayer for spiritual revival and the mercy of God are at a premium.

 

Bob Dunnett

NORTH KOREA – A WARNING BELL?

The last blog featured the apocalyptic horsemen of Revelation.  Apocalyptic though it may have been, it spoke clearly about the world we live in!  This week’s blog features a real life illustration of the warning behind one of those apocalyptic horsemen.  I have in mind the current North Korean threat which seems only too well to relate to the red horseman who took peace away from the world.

Why has such small country, exactly half the size of the UK and with less than half the population of the UK, suddenly become the source of much apprehension and alarm in the world?  It has become a powder keg big enough to blow apart the delicate balance between much greater super-powers who have atomic weapons and have learned, so far at any rate, to live without using them.

The first reason we can give is that North Korea is geographically in a prime strategic position between China and the USA. The USA has great influence in the Far East on account of its military presence and connection with South Korea and Japan.  This has always been an embarrassment to the rapidly developing China. North Korea (attached to the Chinese border) is something of a buffer against this USA presence and China watches North Korea’s independence of the USA very closely and jealously.  The Chinese are not prepared for North Korea to come under American influence. This has been the case ever since the Chinese unleashed their army to control North Korea in the early 1950s when the US army looked like taking the whole of Korea from the communists. The border between North and South remains an impregnable flash point nearly 70 years later. Thus, because of its communist affinities with China and because of its border with China, North Korea has been able to develop relatively undisturbed, and in particular able to develop its atomic weaponry.  Hidden and shielded it has grown into a monster.

Perhaps a more crucial explanation of its present threatening behaviour lies in the nature of the political structure and its philosophy which has developed since 1948 when the North was separated from the South by a U.N. resolution.  In the seventy years from that resolution there have been three generations of ruthless autocratic government centred on one family.  Their power is absolute and the veneration of them is constantly demanded of the people (and seemingly willingly given); two huge statues of the two “Kim”s that have died are placed in the area of the central government buildings and Koreans constantly kneel before these statues. Elsewhere there are 70 bronze statutes and tens of thousands of other monuments of the founding Kim further encouraging this pseudo-religious personality cult.  The founder is called the “Eternal President” and his son “The Eternal General Secretary”.  It is a type of idolatry that recalls the Pharaohs of Egypt and other god-like rulers of history. This is a communism with an extraordinary idolatrous twist.

Alongside this, the vulnerability of the nation has inevitably led to an autocracy which is very heavily militaristic.  For its size North Korea has an enormously powerful army, ready and fully equipped, presenting a massive threat to South Korea. The military is the one great boast of the regime to its people.  This is part of the ideology of “Juche” (self-determination or self-reliance and “action with reference to no other power”).  All this has been achieved through immense deprivation among the people of North Korea. The development of atomic weaponry which is a threat to the USA is a crucial part of this militarism.  It is seen to be a critical factor in undergirding the regime, and it will allow North Korea to put enormous pressure on South Korea and even to get it under the North’s control.  The unification of Korea has always been a prime aim of the Kim.

After so many years of such entrenchment and development the fact is that the world is in very real danger; a deluded autocrat with an iron grip on his country and with a deadly ambition of the most destructive type is a world threat.  The present Kim is more likely to die in the destruction his ambition brings than to give it up.  Talking to him is highly unlikely to bring about a change of mind;  and mockery of Kim by the USA at Presidential level is certainly not helpful; it can only harden the determination of the dictator.

However, there is one great weakness for the regime.  It is not in any way a self-sufficient economy; indeed it has been very heavily dependent on outside aid and support from its inception. Starving the economy of an already starving population would inevitably bring huge pressure on the regime. China, though reluctantly, is at last tightening its grip and making its sanctions bite (this week it has sent home all the N. Korean business men – or so it seems).  The question is whether the sanctions will achieve their aim and prevent Kim getting together his atomic warhead and long range missiles or whether they will be too late. The situation is critically poised.

What I have written so far is an analysis of the human factors in the situation; is there a “spiritual analysis?  We might make a start in that direction by asking how it is possible that men of the stamp of Kim, deluded and destructive, gain power and control?  Why do they appear? History has always been full of them.  The 20th century had a surfeit of such rulers, and the 21st century is following suit.  The answer lies fundamentally in the fact that “the whole world lies in the hand of the evil one”. “The Prince of this world” is active in the human principalities and powers (rulers and leaders) of this world by means of the principalities and powers of the unseen world.  The “unseen spiritual powers” impinge on the “visible human powers” and bring their evil character to them.  So this world’s rulers very frequently live through imposing fear and violence both on their own domain and on others.  Satan’s imprint is to be seen in many other ways.  We need to give full weight to the fact that Satan was able to offer all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus in an effort to thwart the coming of the Kingdom of God.  Sadly this kind of fundamental truth is all too often lost in much of our secularised Christian thinking.  But Satan is the Prince of this world, a world ruler, and he has placed many tyrants in power in that world. Thankfully it is also true that God is God and has the ultimate rule over the world and over the Prince of this world and what he can do.  When God allows Satan to raise up destructive leadership in nations (or even confusion in a nation) it is always in order that God’s purposes might be fulfilled.  In particular he allows such happenings as a form and measure of judgement on the world.  We have very clear examples of this in the rise of Assyria and Babylon in Old Testament history.  It is God who writes the essential narratives of history, and he is writing our current history! “His judgements are in all the world”!

Professional historians are given to debating whether events are caused by momentary human decisions or by long term trends or by some combination of both. For them God is not a factor. And for all their historical knowledge they can never be accurate in forecasting events. But for us God is the fundamental factor, the key to proper understanding of events.  Thus with regard to the present great danger, we cannot say for sure how the Korean threat will ultimately work out. Any number of contingencies are possible, some leading to peace, some to destructive war. But the essential fact is that God holds the reins . The decisions that matter are always made in the courts of heaven, not in the ruling bodies of humanity.  It is for this reason that we must address ourselves to having a clear spiritual analysis and, as a watchman for the world, to seeking God for his mercy.

The one thing we may be sure of is that the situation with Korea is a warning bell from God!

 

Bob Dunnett

HEAVEN’S THRONE-ROOM and EARTH’S PLIGHT

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of the Book of Revelation give us an unparalleled and clear vista of the glory of God’s heaven and the contrasting devastations of the earth on which we live. They give us immense hope for the future and a sober warning for the present. The prophetic symbolism (unlike much of Revelation) is very clear and does not require any “clever” interpretation; the implications are all too evident.

Chapter 4 shows us a throne in heaven.  The first thing we are told is that it was encircled by an emerald rainbow – a sign of mercy and goodwill.  The Person on the throne sparkled like jewels of contrasting reds (jasper and ruby), and the sight was threatening.  From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder; these were certainly threatening. In front of the throne were the blazing lights of the sevenfold Holy Spirit – an awesome sight.  Glory, power, judgement and mercy are all interlocked in this vivid sight.  All heaven and earth is seen giving praise, honour and worship to the One on the throne.  It is a vision of God in terms which we mortals can understand and to which we can relate.  This is the great eternal God who alone rules and is truly to be feared but who offers mercy.  The major impact of the vision was one in which the holiness and awesomeness of God was dominant.  It must have been a life changing moment for John to whom the vision was given.  It reminds us that we all need a vision of God that enters deep into our hearts, in whatever way it may come.

Chapter 5 moves the vision further on. Standing at the very centre of the throne was a “Lamb looking as if it had been slain” – unmistakably the crucified Jesus, but now very much alive and at the centre of power and glory.  He had seven horns (complete fullness of power) and seven eyes (symbolising his utter oneness with the Holy Spirit). The Lamb took a scroll from the hand of the Person on the throne and prepared to open it, for such was his unique privilege.  The scroll (as the succeeding chapters show) was what was determined for the future on the earth, and the Lamb alone could open the scroll and bring that future to pass.  As he took the scroll all heaven and earth ascribed to the Lamb and to the One on the throne “praise and honour and glory and power”.  Nowhere in the New Testament is there anything to surpass this majestic picture of Jesus, or to surpass the picture of his divinity, power and rule in this world.  For John, suffering persecution, it would have brought an immense depth of comfort and strength.  It may well be that we shall need for ourselves in the future this sort of clarity of vision of the reality of the power of Jesus; indeed for many in the world it is essential in their present sufferings.

Chapter 6 brings us to the scene where the Lamb starts to open the seals which fasten the scroll and in this chapter the lamb opens six of seven seals to reveal the essential features of the future of the world; the seventh seal (the final episode of what is planned for the earth) is kept over for much longer treatment.  The first of these seals is opened to reveal a white horse whose rider held a bow, was given a crown and who rode out to conquer.  There has been discussion over this but in context it seems clear that this represents the conquests of the gospel.  The white horse contrasts very sharply and favourably with the garish colours of the next three horses who are to follow, and in Revelation 19:11 the white horse appears again and its rider unmistakeably identified as Jesus, the Word of God. The message is clear; the gospel of the Kingdom will make conquests in this world.  It is most fitting that this good news with its certainty of the extension of the gospel in this world is announced first.  Jesus has come to conquer, to gain a crown befitting the King of Peace, and whatever else may happen in the world this gathering in of a kingdom of believers will take place.  We have now seen some two thousand years of this conquest of the gospel, and in our own generation there have been more conquests for the gospel than have ever been seen before.

The next three seals which the Lamb opens are a marked and unpleasant contrast.  On these three occasions we see first a fiery red horse whose rider makes people kill each other – a picture of the wars that are to come.  This is followed by a black horse whose rider holds a pair of scales; there is a shout indicating shortages and rising costs. It’s a picture of famine on the earth.  When the fourth seal is broken there is revealed a pale horse whose rider is called Death and who is given power over a quarter of the world’s population to kill by sword, famine, plague and wild beasts.  The overall picture given by the opening of these three seals has been precisely the story of world history ever since John’s Revelation was written.  Moreover it echoes precisely the prophetic statements made by Jesus during the week before his crucifixion.  This the reality of the world in which we live.  The vision of John should never leave us in a mind-set of unalterable “fate”, for the rainbow is always over the throne and the Lamb is always open to the cries of his people.  Those of us who love peace should never cease to work and pray for peace in the world, and there can be no doubt that such work and prayer will yield fruit.  There is always mercy in wrath.  But we should not be taken by surprise nor offended at what we see happening in the world around us.  God has forewarned us.

There is a fifth seal which the Lamb breaks open and which reveals a further feature of the pattern of history. This takes the shape of a vision of the souls of those who have been conquered by the gospel and followed the Lamb but who have been killed for their testimony.  Persecution of the people of God has always been part of the spread of the gospel. Jesus himself was the prime example, though even throughout Old Testament times it was feature among those who kept close to God and announced his word.  Jesus himself during his earthly ministry underlined the fact of persecution in his teaching.  Again this awful truth should in no wise prevent us from praying earnestly for those who are being persecuted, or those in danger of such persecution.  On the contrary it should instil in us a deep sense of commitment to pray for them and to seek God for their strengthening and their release.

The Book of Revelation may be difficult in parts, but it is a book very much for the uncertain times in which we live. It’s prophetic clarity and accuracy is quite breath-taking.  It sets out the world scene with a very great deal more of reality than the normal secular historical survey.  Its real grandeur lies, however, in the great statements of the new creation that is to come and the glory that surrounds it.  It offers the hope of becoming part of that new creation and its inexpressible joy.  The note of hope is so much bigger than the note of the judgements, but that latter note is needed, nonetheless.  More of that anon!

 

Bob Dunnett

THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD and A RADICAL SOLUTION

Surveying the nations of his day David gave voice to what he saw with the words, ““Do you rulers indeed speak justice? Do you judge uprightly among men? No, in your heart you devise injustice and your hands meet out violence on the earth” Ps 58: 1-2.  David’s own heart was set on doing what was right, constantly giving thanks to His God whom he knew to be righteous, faithful and just.  He hated wickedness, as his psalms constantly show. He was a man of deep integrity, a “man after God’s own heart”.  It was this integrity that makes clear that his stricture of other rulers of his day was not a foolish generalisation but was an accurate, and to him a distressing assessment.

If he had looked around the world in our own generation I have not the slightest doubt that he would have come to precisely the same general conclusion:  rulers who “devise injustice” and “meet out violence” are to be seen everywhere across the world.  There has been a disturbing collapse of many so-called “democratic” states into autocratic and despotic rule over the last two decades or so.  This has been particularly the case in Africa among the old colonial states where there has been widespread violence; and recent developments in South Africa are most disturbing. But it has also been the case in South Asia and South America.  “Strong men” everywhere, have exploited (or devised) revolutionary situations and have seized personal and arbitrary control through “necessary safety” measures, locking out any form of opposition, legitimate or otherwise.  Two of the most influential nations of the world, Russia and China, are despotic in essence, despite a “democratic dress”; here, as elsewhere, the strength and security of the “strong men” are always preferred to justice. After a brief flurry the Arab Spring has quickly reverted to despotic rule and its usual oppressive measures. The Middle East indeed has seen appalling violence and utterly unscrupulous actions from “rulers”. The gains for all these rulers are always great wealth (rarely, if ever, acquired justly) and power.

If we look at the “democratic” nations the picture is still very much as David painted it. Corruption is running at an increasingly high level, intrigue is universal and vicious, libel and misrepresentation is increasingly blatant, not least in the U.S. which considers itself the heart of the free world! Europe, caught up at the present in the throes of a vicious and unforgiving divorce with the UK  is no better, and its history in the last century has been one in which it launched two devastating world wars!. This, of course, is not to belittle the fact that there are many individuals who have a heart like David’s and seek justice and righteousness but the overall pattern is clear. The democratic instruments of government which men have produced are in themselves to be much admired and have brought high levels of justice and freedom. But they all suffer from one inescapable fault; the violence, ambition and greed of fallen human nature. They all tend to flounder on those flaws.

None of this should really surprise us. Satan offered Jesus all the wealth and rule of the kingdoms of the world, and so indicated that he had a level of control over the world’s rulers. His kingdom is one of oppression, violence and deceit and he finds faulty humanity a convenient partner for his rule over human kingdoms. He did not mention, however, God’s supreme Kingship over all things and Jesus was not interested in the vain glory of a ruler-ship which would always involve fear and violence. Jesus in any case already had a very similar promise from his Father, a promise enshrined prophetically in the Psalms; “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps 2:8). This was a promise, not of receiving the rule of corrupt and sinful nations, but of receiving nations whom he would both judge and also redeem from sin. And it was an utterly certain promise.

We have seen two thousand years of human history since Jesus died, rose and ascended. In our generation it is well documented. The lessons of history are not always easy to read and in any case are largely ignored, but in the case of humanity in general history’s verdict is totally unmistakeable. All the evidence points to the fact that it is the deep flaws in human nature of greed, pride, arrogance, violence and envy that are fundamentally responsible for the story of self-destruction which makes up human history over the ages. These flaws are characteristic of all human hearts, but they seem particularly manifest among kings and those in positions of power. As we have been very perceptively told by a foremost British historian, “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. His comment has now become a well-known axiom, but little heeded! It means that holding on to power at the point when it threatens to be lost is the point at which violence and injustice is most certain to appear. (We have so many examples in the modern world of this fact). It means that being able to use power without any accountability (despotic power) is always a temptation too far. It means that to gain power is actually to arrive at a moral slippery slope where very few indeed keep their balance!

This is a lesson from history which very few thinkers are prepared to engage with. And yet it is the central problem of our world and the whole human race. “We’re not that bad!” would be a common retort – this denies the depth of the problem. “Evolution will sort it out at some aeon of time” – this very conveniently parks the problem. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it; and we are trying to teach “values””. The problem has never been, however, about “knowing values” but about living them! It’s moral dynamic we need, not “education”.

Thankfully it is precisely this problem that the biblical narrative engages with. That is why the biblical narrative can never be accused of irrelevance. From Genesis to Revelation the focus is on the human “fall” from grace. The first thing that it seeks to establish is that it exists and is not to be denied. No excuses are offered. Human nature is pictured in the raw, just as it is. The second thing it establishes is that the solution of the problem is beyond humanity’s own competence. In particular a code of moral behaviour is shown to be not a solution to humanity’s failure, but is shown to be something that makes human inability to shake off its flaws all the more evident. So the Ten Commandments, though impeccable as a code given by God, could not provide the moral dynamic humanity needed to live uprightly and without violence. That is the lesson of the Old Testament.

What humanity really needs, and this is the radical solution, is a thorough transformation from within; the old propensities in human nature toward evil need to be replaced by equally strong propensities to do what is good, just and peaceful. New motivations of love are what are required. Nothing less than a “new creation” will suffice. This is the point grasped by the New Testament gospel, and re-iterated throughout its books.  To use its most graphic expression humanity needs to be “born anew”. It needs a new “injection” which nullifies the old nature and release a new nature. And this is precisely what the gospel offers. It offers a new nature from the Creator God through the power of His own Spirit.  No source other than God would be possible or sufficient for such a change. Self-change by meditation and such like exercises simply would not avail. There is a majestic simplicity about this solution to humanity’s inner need, as well as a profound logic. And it is a measure of God’s concern for his creation that He is ready to do this. The way has been opened by the sacrifice of Jesus, and by his consequent release of the Holy Spirit into those who seek such a change. Innumerable people across the world have experienced something of such an inner change in following Jesus.

The “radical solution” is not simply a matter for the present world, however. The purpose of God is to complete his work by taking us through death into a new resurrection experience with a new body, equally radically changed. This will be part and parcel of a process in which this world will be brought to its end and a new world created. We shall be new creations in new bodies with a new divine likeness in holiness, and in a new world which knows no death but of which eternal life is the key feature.

Too good to be true? Or too wonderful to be missed!

 

Bob Dunnett

AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO PRAYER

Probably one of the most important things in our spiritual walk for which we need encouragement is our prayer life. This is true whether we think in terms of our own personal prayer or of united prayer with others. We live in a world where everything seems to conspire against it. Satan is very active against prayer and finds, amongst other things, good ground to resist it through our own natural predisposition to take an easy route in life whenever possible. Desperation and pain are frequently an unpleasant stimulus to prayer and we would probably admit it is in such times that we really pray. But there are much more positive stimuli, and some are offered below.

1 The Privilege of Prayer

Let us the approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” Heb. 4:16

It is so important to recognise what a privilege prayer is. Such a privilege is something for constant meditation. Prayer is the practical expression of the two most important things that any human being can have in this life; access to God and relationship with God. This means we can come into his presence and find that he is pleased to receive us, and ready to listen to us. It is important to recognise that the access we have is to a place where God rules – the “throne”. Our access is to the all-powerful, ruling Lord of Creation, the one who has power over everything and knows everything. Our access is to an audience with God who is King over all. Without such access prayer would be of no avail, just mere words, and we would have no confidence in making requests. But with such access we have come to the centre of divine power. All is available to us through One who is all-wise.Such access means we have a relationship with God. Talking to someone and listening to them, and especially talking at the deepest level is the essential mark of relationship. And our relationship in prayer is with an Almighty God who is also our Father. At a human level if we fail to talk and listen to our friends or family our relationship founders and we lose all the value and help it can provide. It is so important to communicate. God, as Father, is, in the nature of things, always ready with a listening ear, ready to “help in time of need”, ready to provide, ready to guide. It is very short-sighted on our part to fail to talk and listen to Him, so letting the relationship weaken. Relationships in life which are helpful and strengthening are one of the most important things to successful living and much to be pursued; how much more so our relationship to God. We are always glad to talk to helpful friends and we should certainly have the same frame of mind with God. We should feel able to be utterly free to really speak our mind and our heart, and in simple language. We should feel able to simply sit with Him and just enjoy his presence, even when we are not quite sure what to say; relationships are sometimes secured as much by being quiet in the presence of a loved one as by talking. And what a privilege it is to have access through our relationship at any time and in any place!

2 The “Price” of Prayer

“We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb. 10:19

Access and relationship with God was bought at a great cost. It did not simply “just happen”. To establish the “privilege” of coming into the “throne room” of God our sin had to be dealt with, and a sacrifice was essential. Prayer is no cheap privilege, to be taken for granted. God’s own Son paid the price with his own blood, something that we can scarcely really conceive. Calvary, and the forgiveness of our sin makes prayer possible. The only cost we are called to make is to allow sin to die in our lives, and leave godlessness behind us. If, at a human level, a family member’s death proved to be the means of restoring a warm and enduring family relationship we would be eternally thankful, and would honour that death immensely. The death of Jesus as done precisely that as far as our relationship with our Heavenly Father is concerned. How tragic that we are all too inclined to neglect such a privilege that was paid for at such a price! Thinking on the cost, however, will bring us more readily to the throne of grace, release a deep sense of thankfulness into our prayer and see it release the Father’s power.

3 The Power of Prayer

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be opened in order that you may know …….. his incomparably great power for us who believe” Eph. 1: 18,19

Prayer in itself is not power, but it is the switch that releases power, or more precisely, God’s power. That is why it is so powerful. If the switch is rarely pulled, the power is rarely seen! Two things are required in order to operate that switch. First, there must be faith in the Living God and in his readiness to listen to prayer. Second there must be godly living in the one who prays. Prayer is no mere slot machine operated by “correct” words or much repeated words. It is the function of a living relationship in which a genuine heart faith in God is allied to godly requests and a life which is pleasing to Him.

4 The Priority of Prayer

“You have not because you ask not”. James 4:2 “Ask and you will receive”. Matt.7:7

There is no clearer lesson in Scripture than the truth that all powerful works of God have their beginnings in prayer. In fact it becomes very clear that when God wants to move and do something He seems always to get someone or a number of people to pray for what he is wanting to do. It is part of the way he works. In prayer we are co-workers with him in his purposes. The genuine works and power of God have always come out earnest prayer.

Sometimes indeed that prayer comes in the shape of a heart-rending cry out of sheer distress, as with the Israelites suffering and crying out for deliverance under brutal Egyptian oppression. In answer to their cry God raised up Moses and delivered the Israelites, a deliverance that was, however, in his purpose before ever they cried out. Following the ascension of Jesus, the apostles and others gave themselves to ten days of prayer, pursuing in their prayer Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit. God met with them on the Day of Pentecost and the promise was mightily fulfilled. The switch had been pulled – here was the power. Paul, blind and broken in spirit cried out to God for three days for God to speak to him, and he was answered by Ananias telling him of his commission to the Gentiles and praying for him to receive the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes prayer comes out of a promise or a vision of a work which is strongly impressed on the heart of someone who has learned to “wait on God”. The annals of those sent on missionary work over the last two centuries are full of examples of this; Brother Andrew of Open Doors, seeking to support persecuted Christians is one such remarkable story of an entirely new twentieth century work begun in vision and secured by uninterrupted intercession to the benefit of untold Christians. There are many other similar stories

In whatever way such a burden of prayer is released it is always prior to and fundamental to the work which is accomplished through it.

Bob Dunnett

NATIONAL INTERCESSION – Further Thoughts

Last week’s blog looked at the intercession which was made during the crisis of World War 2 by those who had prophetic insight and faith to grasp that God could and would act in answer to prayer.  We considered such intercession on both a national scale and among individuals.  It clearly undergirded military victories and the final success against an evil regime.  This week we continue to look at some of the lessons we can learn from that intercession.

One very important fact to keep in mind as we do this is that in the bible experiencing war is always seen as an act of judgement on God’s part.  This is not an easy principle to grasp especially when what is seen as a seemingly “innocent” nation is attacked by a ruthless, unprincipled antagonist.  The idea that an “innocent” nation in such a situation is under judgement goes against deep emotions of loyalty, against a sense of justice, and, of course, in a godless world, against rationality!   If the nation happens to be our own nation then the idea of judgement is all the more strongly rejected!  But the bible is quite clear on the issue. God, speaking to his prophet Ezekiel spoke of “My four dreadful judgements, ’Sword and famine and wild beasts and plague” (See Ez. 14:12-21).  To be caught up in a war (the “sword”) is to be under judgement, whether the country which is attacked thinks itself innocent or not.  The twentieth century European (and world) wars are rarely, if ever, seen as judgements, but to the prophet’s eyes it is all too clear.  The twentieth century was labelled by one well-known historian as “the century of slaughter” – world-wide slaughter; and not without reason!  Biblically it was a century of judgement. Germany, Russia and, yes, Britain and America, along with many other countries, came under the judgement of war.  Wisdom lies not in claiming innocence but in trying to understand why it came to us.  “Where were we at fault?” is the proper question to ask.

This was a concept that initially stumbled the prophet Habakkuk.  When God told him that Judah was going to be ravaged by the merciless Babylonian army, he expressed great indignation at the idea of such a godless power being let loose on his country which, though not perfect on any count, was far less deserving of judgement than the attacker.  This was his viewpoint despite the fact that he knew perfectly well that Judah’s sister nation, Israel, had a century or so before been ravaged by the equally murderous Assyrians and that the event had been clearly recognised by the prophets of the time as a judgement .  Indignant, he in fact challenged God on the question of judgement through an evil power.  He was partially helped when he learned from God that evil Babylon would itself be judged in due course, but he nonetheless had to accept the fact that Judah was going to come under judgement for turning its back on God and was going to suffer grievously from the Babylonian war machine before Babylon in its turn suffered.

Two weeks ago in our blog we quoted the text of Abraham’ Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War.  In an astonishing way he recognised very clearly the nature of war as a judgement of God.  He wrote, “And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People?”  He did not condemn the Southern States for their slavery or seek in any other way to justify the Northern States for their actions but recognised that the whole of the nation, North and South, was under judgement.  He was not offended as was Habakkuk.  More astonishing still, he clearly recognised that the judgement could bring about a national reformation and had a profitable purpose.  That “reformation” would lead to a turning away from the arrogance and pride which had rejected God in the midst of the success and prosperity of the growing nation. Lincoln was remarkably biblically literate and had a clear understanding of the nature and purpose of the judgements of God and that war was one of those judgements.

Thus when the likes of Rees Howell and Derick Prince, whom we mentioned last week (and the many others whom we shall never know of), took on a burden of prayer for the nation as the Nazi threat was carrying everything before it, they were in fact praying for a nation that was under judgement.  Much prayer had been made in 1939 for peace to prevail, but that had not been answered in the way that was hoped.  War came; judgement fell.  What in effect was happening with those who went on interceding was that they were praying essentially on the theme of “Lord, in wrath remember mercy”.  They could not turn the judgement (wrath) away but their prayer was effective for mitigating the judgement of war.  This had become Habakkuk’s position with God when he learned that his prayer would not prevent judgement; he pleaded for mercy in the midst of judgement.  He could not prevent Judah from being overrun and exiled to Babylon, for that was a decreed judgement of God, but he could plead for acts of mercy from God in the midst of it and he could plead for an ultimate restoration of Judah.  Thus when “wrath” comes, God remains open to a cry for mercy.  That should not in any way deaden our recognition or de-sensitise us to the appalling horrors of war as a judgement, but it does mean we are not left utterly helpless.

At the moment we are, as a nation, already under the judgement of God, though not at present under the judgement of war.  The present judgement is witnessed in the growing confusion and incompetence of government, in the way the nation has been “given over” by God to its own increasing moral and social collapse, and to its worship of pleasure and treasure.  This judgement is not, of course, peculiar to our own nation; it is in fact happening world-wide.  In such a wide scenario strong, evil men are likely to gain power and look for conquests, if need be by force of arms.  They in turn become the human agents of war (or terror), and become the instruments of judgment.  This process of development is one that we are becoming more and more familiar with in our world and is by no means unk nown at this time in our history.  It is very sobering and should lead (in Lincoln’s term) to a spirit of humiliation.

With a world bent on ignoring its Maker and pursuing its own libertine agenda, the call to God that he might none the less release acts of mercy is very urgent for our world. Looking for him, however, to hold back judgement itself is much less secure. But, judgement or not, the intercessory call for God to fulfil the mission to the Gentile world, to gather his own and to bring in His Kingdom remains paramount and will certainly be answered.

Bob Dunnett

NATIONAL INTERCESSION

Last week’s blog contained the Proclamation that Abraham Lincoln made to the United States in 1863 calling for a Day of Humiliation and Prayer in the midst of the American Civil War. This was actually one of three such proclamations; the first preceding it by two years at the beginning of the war and the third toward the end. Is it possible to say what they achieved?  The two aims of the Prayer were clear: “…the pardon of our national sins and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country to its former happy condition of unity and peace”. The second of those two requests was fully answered. The secession of the South with its endemic social structure of slavery was always a very real danger; its armies initially were not inferior to the North’s. But the “divided and suffering Country” was in fact restored and united. At the same time the end of slavery in the South was secured. The united nation went on to prosper greatly. In the blessing of that very restoration and ensuing prosperity we can also see the first aim, the pardon of God of national sins, was also achieved. God gave the nation a new start with its most marked sin of slavery being removed. So prayer was answered. Such is the power released when a whole nation responds to God in time of need.

Abraham Lincoln’s Presidential Proclamation and its outcome were not, however, unique. The same sort of thing has happened in our own national history. Few people will be unaware of the new and graphic film “Dunkirk” with its great concentration on the horrific reality of the event. No portrayal of Dunkirk and the deliverance of the British army at that time of complete national crisis will ever be complete, however, without recognition of the request of King George VI for a National Day of Prayer throughout the whole Commonwealth on May 26th 1940. Only two weeks earlier, On May 10th, the Germans had launched their offensive on France and by May 24th they had broken through all the allied defences. The whole British army, over 300,000 men, having lost most of its equipment, was hemmed in at Dunkirk, its only escape port.  King George VI, a man of clear Christian faith, called the people of Britain and the Empire to commit their cause to God: the loss of that army would have meant the end for Britain. The Day of Prayer was for the salvation of an army and of a nation. The King led the way on that day, along with members of the Cabinet, to Westminster Abbey, where hundreds queued to get in. All over the Commonwealth this happened. The sequel is well known. Hitler hesitated, a great storm over Flanders slowed the Germans, a great persistent calm over the Channel enabled the smallest of boats to reach Dunkirk, a huge response came from hundreds of seafaring people to face the dangers of the beach at Dunkirk and the result was that a whole army was evacuated and saved. Churchill had estimated that possibly 30,000 might have got away. In fact ten times that number were brought home. A further call to National Prayer was made for September 8th 1940 in the midst of the Battle of Britain which was reaching its climax. Immediately afterwards an all-out attack was made by the Germans but just when they had achieved a major victory the German air force gave up the battle and the long onslaught of several intense weeks petered out. Another answer to prayer, and recognised as such by senior leaders.

The story of God acting in answer to prayer during those appalling years of World War 2 does not stop, however, with National Days of Prayer called by a godly King, crucial though they were. There is a great deal of evidence available of groups of Christians and individual Christians on their own, giving themselves to prayer and intercession and seeing God move in the most remarkable ways at times of grave national danger. Rees Howells, the Director of a Welsh Bible College was an outstanding example of this continual prayer being offered up by Christians during the war. He turned his college into a remarkable intercessory force and followed through on every major military campaign from Dunkirk to the landings in Normandy and beyond, seeing remarkable answers to prayer throughout the war until Hitler was finally defeated. Derek Prince, known to many as an outstanding Bible Teacher, records his own personal individual intercession when as a medical orderly he served with the British Eighth Army in North Africa at the time when Rommel was on the very point of breaking through into Egypt and then Palestine. He simply gave himself boldly to prayer and fasting that Rommel would be stopped. I suspect there were many others doing the same but unknown to each other! He records the powerful intervention of God which he witnessed as Rommel was stopped within a few miles of Alexandria. Both Rees and Prince were deeply aware of the fact that though the war was in a sense a judgement on Britain, Hitler was an also instrument of Satan against the world-wide spread of the gospel and the survival of the Jews. It was on that account that they felt able to intercede for victory in the war.

Intercessors who hear God are, therefore, people of great importance in the flow of national history, whether operating singly or in groups. They are much to be encouraged, and the need for them is always of the highest. They are still important for a number of reasons:

1 I think it fair to say that in the general flow of prayer in the church generally there is not very much persistent and earnest prayer on national issues, despite Paul’s injunction, “I urge, then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving,  be made for ….. kings and all those in authority that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:1). The Sunday services in churches frequently lack any such concerted national intercessory prayer, and this is true of many evangelical churches. It is also frequently neglected in prayer gatherings.

National prayer for rulers and governments is not very high on the agenda. But some need to stand in the gap! Praise and worship is utterly essential, but perhaps we need to reflect on the fact that earnest intercession can have just as much effect in stimulating believers, and convicting and impressing unbelievers.

2 The fact is that we are facing an appallingly threatening time in our history when we need to be alert to the dangers before us. Very few Christians are aware of the judgements that overhang our nation in view of our blatant and arrogant rejection of God.

3 Intercessors still have a critical role even when the nation goes has to through judgement. As in the case even of such majestic prophetic intercessors like Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they are not always able to stop God’s decreed judgements (as is, I believe, currently the case with our own nation), but their prayers through the trials of judgement are crucial for ultimate survival and restoration. This was precisely what happened through the intercessors who were praying for our nation during the war

4 Such intercessors are in fact the instruments by which God is able to “in wrath remember mercy” (Habakkuk) even in the most dire of national straits. Their ministry, mostly hidden remains of primary importance

Bob Dunnett

WISDOM FROM HISTORY

I was much impressed this week as once again I came across the proclamation by Abraham Lincoln when faced with national chaos in the midst of the American civil war. I was struck by the sheer spiritual stature of the man and equally struck by the spiritual stature of the members of the American Senate. It was a remarkable outburst of the spiritual DNA of so many of the first settlers on that Atlantic sea board: that DNA was a simple but real faith in the God who brought them to, and watched over them in their new land. It is printed in full for your consideration, some parts are highlighted in bold print, and at the end I have made a few concluding comments. I hope it speaks to you and challenges you afresh in the same way I found it challenging me. It is much more than just a bit of history!

 A Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America

For a Day of Prayer and National Humiliation

Fasting and Prayer *

(* This was made in 1863 in the middle of the very bitter American Civil War)

 

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behoves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

In witness whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this thirtieth day of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the eighty seventh.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

Comment

As the President stated, blessing on any nation is tied to its acknowledgment that God is its Lord. This is the same for individuals. Faith and trust in God accompanied by obedience to the standards he has set before humanity is the royal road and only road to blessing, national or personal. When we jettison God we jettison our blessing, for God rules the world and its nations on his own principles. This is as true for “Christian” nations as for others. Indeed for those who have known and walked in God’s ways and then deliberately turn from them and forget God, the inevitable outcome of judgement is even greater.

This is precisely the matter that the Proclamation faces up to; “We have been preserved, these many years in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God”. Lincoln is speaking for the nation as a whole, the nation as it had become before the outbreak of hostilities. He clarifies the situation with the words, “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!”

 There could not be a more prescient and accurate statement to describe our own present situation in our own nation at this time in its history. We are not in the midst of a civil war, but we are certainly in the midst of something akin to political civil war with turmoil, confusion “drawn daggers” and treachery. The hope of strong leadership that did seem to be present at one point has now been broken. The outlook is very bleak and threatening. The real tragedy, however, is that there is at this time no one of the spiritual ilk of Lincoln in national leadership, no phalanx of spiritual thinking such as was present in the U.S. Senate when it formulated the Proclamation and laid bare the real heart of the national problem. With us there has been not only a forgetting of God and his ways, but a deliberate embracing of a secular anti-God position along with a dilution and discarding of his moral commands. Indeed the marginalisation of our Christian heritage has begun and is fast increasing. Judgement stares us in the face, judgement that could cost Christians dearly.

This presents the church of God with a massive challenge, for there is nothing left but the church. There is no room for a “National Day of Prayer” of the kind Lincoln proclaimed; we simply do not have the required spiritual capital left at the national level. The church has to step in. It requires two things of the church: a prophetic voice in the nation that refuses to be silenced and a recourse to prayer of a kind we have not been generally used to. The real danger, however, is that we have not yet fully woken up to a full grasp of what the current chaos will lead to. Until we do wake up to the position the motivation to such prayer will simply not be there.

 

Bob Dunnett

 

To be continued