(An excerpt from Free Presbyterian Magazine, Nov 2017) by Kenneth Macleod entitled “After 500”)
We live in an age when our Reformation heritage is valued by very few. Accordingly God is largely ignored, the Bible and its teachings are despised, sin is not taken seriously and eternity is disregarded. Of course, there are exceptions; there is still a remnant according to the election of grace; but God is very much leaving people to themselves. And we have reason to mourn how little we see of the work of the Holy Spirit in applying the Word powerfully to the hearts of sinners. Not even the most terrible military conflicts in history – the two world wars of the twentieth century – had any effect in restraining the declension from scriptural standards and teachings. Most people are giving themselves up to the twin secular idols of pleasure and possessions. The Psalmist says of the wicked: he ‘will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts’ (Ps 10:4); and how accurately these words describe the vast majority of people today! There is a refusal to see that God is ruling over everything, that He is to be worshipped and obeyed. But God cannot be mocked, certainly not without serious consequences following.
The situation is serious. What hope is there that nations such as Britain and Germany can recover their Reformation heritage? We must be clear that, humanly, it is impossible. But, as the Saviour made clear, ‘The things which are impossible with men are possible with God’ (Lk 18:27). It was by divine power that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was brought about, and it is only by the same divine power that there can be deliverance from the prevailing unbelief within the professing Church and the secularism and false religion outside it.
But God uses means. We see this when we look back to the various influences on Luther’s spiritual life, as he was delivered from a state of ignorance and brought to a saving knowledge of Christ by faith alone. We must also look back to the whole web of providences in Luther’s later life which resulted in true religion making a great advance. Besides Luther, various other men were raised up in many European countries, through whom further advances – some more permanent than others – were made. We lose much if we lose sight of the great works of God in the past, for ‘He hath made His wonderful works to be remembered’ (Ps 111:4). We do well to remember the human instruments, but particularly we are to remember that ultimately the effects were the wonderful work of God.
As we look forward with the hope that further wonderful works of God will yet take place on a large scale, we may ask, as Paul did: ‘How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?’ (Rom 10:14,15). The means of spreading the gospel, preachers in particular, are necessary, and it is God who must send them, or else these preachers cannot go out with divine authority, and therefore no blessing can be expected from their work. We noted that Luther was suited to the work he was to carry out; that was part of God’s providence in raising him up at that particular point in time, in his particular circumstances, and to carry out the very work that God intended him to do. So in asking the Lord to send out labourers into His harvest, we must pray that some of them would have particular gifts which would make them specially suitable to be leaders in the Church in these days of unbelief and rejection of God.
Clearly all God’s children have a duty to pray, ‘Revive Thy work . . . in wrath remember mercy’ (Hab 3:2). Wrath is what we deserve as a generation – though the withdrawing of the Holy Spirit and leaving people to go on their way unhindered towards a lost eternity is the severest judgement possible. So we must pray for an outpouring of the Spirit. At the same time, we must ask God to send out ministers and to bring about whatever other circumstances God sees to be appropriate in order to turn multitudes of sinners to Himself and change the whole face of society throughout the world, until true godliness appears perfectly normal everywhere.
Yet, while it is our duty to pray for a new reformation, we must also seek grace to obey the call, ‘Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die’ (Rev 3:2). Our heritage is precious; may we truly value what God has done in the past and what He continues to do now! And may each one of us personally make a profitable use of our heritage!