Spiritual Health of the Nation
By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
The opening chapters of 1 Samuel depict a time when the spiritual health of the nation of Israel was desperately low. The priesthood was appallingly corrupt (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22). Furthermore, this corruption was well known (1 Samuel 2:22). We are told at the beginning of chapter 3 “and the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision”
(v1). Then the writer draws our attention to a detail that is laden with a deeper meaning and significance. “The lamp of God had not yet gone out…” (1 Samuel 3:3). We could also note the preceding verse about Eli, the priest ‘whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see’.
A time of spiritual darkness and corruption, the Word of God had all but been silenced BUT the lamp of God had not yet gone out. It is a hint to us from the writer that all is not lost; God is at work but He is at work behind the scenes, quietly and unnoticed. The corrupt priesthood will soon fall under his judgment. Not only that, but God is raising up Samuel. The ordinary Israelite would know nothing of this at this point – at the beginning of chapter 3, all he or she would observe was the scandalous corruption, abuse and immorality of the sons of Eli. However, by the end of the chapter, which covers a number of years:
“Samuel grew and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as prophet of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:19 -20)
A dark and dire situation was transformed. God’s Word came to God’s people again. Immorality, apostasy and corruption could not snuff out the lamp of God; the Sovereign God kindled it and set it ablaze once again. As we reflect upon church history, we see how this is borne out time and again – so often when others have abandoned a denomination because of its drift away from biblical faithfulness, God has revived it from within.
This is not to deny that there are times when a Church has become apostate, or that when Jesus threatens to remove his lampstand, he means what he says, it is no idle threat (Rev 2:5). The Church of England may indeed be heading in that dangerous direction, but the whole purpose of this book is that we might pray earnestly and work with renewed vigour for God to so reform and revive the Church that that might not happen.
The Evangelical Revival
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Church of England was in a parlous state and nationally the biblical gospel appeared to be increasingly marginalised110. The Bishop of Oxford, Thomas Secker wrote:
“In this we cannot be mistaken that an open and professed disregard of religion is become, through a variety of unhappy causes, the distinguishing character of the age. Such are the dissolutions and contempt of principle in the world and the profligacy, intemperance and fearlessness of committing crimes in the lower part, as must, if the torrent of impiety stop not, become absolutely fatal. Christianity is ridiculed and railed at with very little reserve and the teachers of it without any at all.”111
However the lamp of God had not yet gone out.
The eighteenth Century witnessed a great Revival that impacted the whole nation:
“….a religious revival burst forth…which changed in a few years the whole temper of English society. The Church was restored to life and activity. Religion carried to the hearts of the people a fresh spirit of moral zeal, while it purified our literature and our manners. A new philanthropy reformed our prisons, infused clemency and wisdom into our penal laws, abolished the slave trade and gave the first impulse to popular education.”112
The most prominent figures in the Revival were George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, all of whom were Anglicans.
Excerpted with permission from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles pages 122 – 123.