By D. Martin Lloyd-Jones:
Why is the Christian Church as she is today? Why is it that only ten per cent of the people of this country claim even a nominal relationship to Christianity, and only half of those do so with any regularity, and any constancy? Why are the places of worship in this land as they are today, in contrast with what they were, say, a hundred years ago? Think of a hundred years ago. Think of the size of the new churches built then. They had to replace the earlier buildings because they were not big enough. And at the same time Mr Spurgeon was attracting thousands south of the Thames to the Tabernacle. All places of worship in London were crammed full, and it was the same throughout the country. God was blessing. There was that great revival in 1859 affecting parts of the country. But before that, and in addition to that, God had been blessing the people. The great blessings of the revival of the eighteenth century were still continuing. Religion was flourishing, and the Church was in a dominant position. Even the statesmen had to pay attention to her. They talked about the Non-Conformist conscience, and the Non-Conformist vote, and they had to pay attention to what the Church said. The Church was flourishing, rejoicing in the blessings of God.
Why are things so different today? That is exactly the question confronting us. Why are we down? Why are we being carried away to Babylon? What has gone wrong? How has it come to pass that these people who were so great and so blessed have come down to this? It is the same question in principle as that confronting that prophet. And, alas, the answer is still the same. When Israel, when the Church, is in trouble, and is desolate, and forsaken, it is always because of her own rebellion, her own grieving of the Holy Spirit of God. That is the only explanation. ‘But they rebelled, and vexed his Holy Spirit’. And as the Children of Israel did that, so the Church of God has done that in the last hundred years. This is the only explanation. You notice that the prophet does not say that the trouble with Israel was that enemies had come and attacked them. ‘No,’ he says, ‘that is not the explanation.’ That had happened, of course, but that was not the reason. Read the writings of this prophet. Go through all the other prophets, and the Psalms, and you will find that they always say this and this alone. Whenever Israel is down and defeated, it is never because of the strength and the power of the enemy. No, because if they are right with God, it does not matter what the enemy is, however powerful, God will always make them victorious. That is never the explanation. Whenever Israel is defeated and is down, it is invariably, because of her own rebellion, her own folly, her own vexing, and grieving of the Holy Spirit of God.
And alas, my friends, that is the diagnosis today. Whether we like it or not, that is the real explanation. It is not because of these new enemies that have arisen against the Church. They are always there. It is not Communism, it is not the two World Wars, it is not the competition of the radio and the television, and the cinema. No, there has always been opposition to the people of God. These things are not variable, they are constants. What has happened is that the Church herself, in her unutterable folly, has rebelled against God, and grieved, and vexed his Holy Spirit, in exactly the same way as Israel did, in belief and in practice. The Children of Israel turned from God and his revelation. They turned to other gods and to their own notions and ideas. They deliberately set God on one side and made their own god. And that is precisely what the Church has done in the last hundred years. The only true explanation of the state of Christendom and the state of the Church today is that in the last century the Church herself deliberately rejected God’s revelation, and put philosophy in its place.
It was the Church that did it, not the common people. The Church and her own leaders began to criticise this book, to set themselves up as authorities, to deny certain aspects of the teaching. They deny the God of the Old Testament, they do not believe in him, they say. They made a mere man out of the Lord of glory, they denied his virgin birth, they denied his miracles, they denied his atonement, they denied the person of the Holy Spirit, and they reduced this Bible to a book of ethics, and of morals. That is why the Church is as she is. The Church rebelled in her doctrine and in her belief. She set up the wisdom of men in the place of the wisdom of God. She became proud of her learning, and of her knowledge, and what she asked about her preachers and her servants was not any longer, ‘Is he filled with the Spirit? Has he a living experience of God?’ but, ‘Is he cultivated? Is he cultured? What are his degrees?’ Now, I am not romancing, am I? This is literal history. Man substituted his own notions and ideas for God’s revelation, and God’s teaching. It is an exact repetition of what the Children of Israel did.
Furthermore, of course, it was not only done in belief, and in teaching, it was done also in practice and in conduct, and in behaviour. People began to feel that the old evangelical way of living was too narrow. That was the word: ‘narrowness’. They wanted a broader kind of outlook and a broader kind of life, so in belief, and in practice, they turned their backs upon God, and lived according to their own devices. And, of course, the enemy came in. The Church as a mere organisation can never compete with the world. She is beaten at the very beginning. It was pathetic to see how the Church tried to do it, how she tried to bring in things from the world. She introduced dramatics, and this and that and the other, but it has not worked. Of course not. The Church cannot do things like that, it is the world that can do things like that and do them so much better. The Church has only one source of strength, and that is the power of God, the power of his Holy Spirit. And when she turns against that, and rebels against it, she invariably finds herself beaten and defeated. And this is what happens, of course. Because she did that, God punished her. They rebelled and vexed His Holy Spirit, therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and fought against them.
Now we must be perfectly clear about that. This is literally true. I said at the beginning that God’s character is unchangeable, yes, but absolutely true. And this is unchangeable, and also absolutely true. God warned the Children of Israel before he took them into the promised land. He said, ‘If you will obey me, I will bless you’ — on Mount Gerizim, the mount of blessing. ‘On the other hand, if you disobey me, cursing, I will curse you’ — on Mount Ebal, the mount of cursing. (See Deut. 11:26–28.) He told them He would do it and he did it. He said, ‘If you do not obey my laws, if you do not walk in unison with me, I will curse you.’ And he cursed them, though they were his own people. In other words, having rebelled against him, these people began to discover that they were fighting against God. And that God not only did not bless them but he fought against them. There are endless examples of that in the Old Testament history. Who was it that raised up the Chaldean army to destroy Jerusalem? The Bible says it was God who did it. He raised up an enemy. Why? To chastise his own people. He temporarily, metaphorically, became their enemy in order to reduce them, and in order to subdue them. He did it repeatedly in this long Old Testament story.
And I have no hesitation in asserting that he has done the same thing many and many a time in the long history of the Christian Church. If the Church, in her cleverness, rebels against him, and vexes his Spirit, and turns her back on him, she must not assume that she is just going to be left to herself. No, God will raise enemies, and he will attack her, he will become an enemy to her, he will scourge her, he will humble her.
And I have no hesitation in asserting that we are witnessing that very thing today. The Church is still not humble, she still does not realise that she is the cause of her own troubles. She does not realise that it is her rebellion that has led to God’s action. Is there any evidence of repentance for the devastating, higher critical movement of a century ago? Have they gone back on that? Have they admitted their error? No, they are still holding on to their results, though they see that it does not work, even by trying to add other things to it. There is no repentance. And so God raises enemies against the Church. He has always done it, and he will continue to do it. But, thank God, that is not the end of the story. What happened here? ‘Then …’ says the prophet, ‘Then he [the nation of Israel] remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, ‘Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? that led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm.…’ This means that when God had chastised his people, had thus raised up enemies against them, to humble them, and to subdue them, in their utter defeat and hopelessness and despair, they suddenly came to themselves, and remembered Moses and the days of old, and the origin of their being.