Today the Prime Minister faces a vote of no confidence from her party, the Conservative Party, over her handling of the Brexit negotiations. I cannot say what the outcome will be or what the long-term solution will be to the Brexit question. The Brexit debate has been so charged in this country because it is about more than money; it is about competing visions for the nation, about the value we place on liberty, and about the state of the world in general. This post is not about economics or about laws, or even about freedom. It is about the spiritual health of our country and why many Christians feel that Brexit is part of that bigger question.
And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.
These words were originally spoken by Christ to Jerusalem at the beginning of Passion Week. The nation as a whole had failed to acknowledge Him as their God and Messiah. They were free to make this choice: He would not force them. But all choices have their consequences. Going her own way, Israel left herself open to folly and suffering. The ultimate consequence of her rejection of the Messiah was her disastrous rebellion against the Romans, culminating in the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. These events have scarred the Jewish nation ever since.
We are not Israel, but the UK is a nation that formally recognises the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – even if most of her citizens are not Christians. We have an established churches, whose Supreme Governor is our monarch, Her Majesty the Queen. The Queen was anointed in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Her annual address to the nation is at Christmas and usually contains overt references to Christianity.
This nation has a history of devotion to God – albeit mixed with wrong turns and vices. We have sent missionaries around the world. We were an important part of the Protestant Reformation. Regardless of the motives of those in power, there were good results that came from this movement. The Bible was translated into the vernacular so that the common man could hear the Lord speaking to him in his own language. In Oliver Cromwell, the nation faced a stark message that Christ, not man, is King. William Wilberforce proclaimed that slavery was an abomination, incompatible with the principle that all humans are made in the image of God. John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield reminded thousands that they must each repent and believe the Gospel, that every man will face his personal judgment before God. John Locke expounded the principle of tolerance, reviving the Pauline doctrine that Christians should respect each other’s consciences – creating the possibility of harmony between Protestant and Catholic.
These are not small matters; they are not insignificant. These people had an impact not only on our nation, but on the world. Seeds were planted for the American Great Awakenings, which in turn led the USA to take up the missionary mantle of the UK. Though much of that history seems dim to us now, and is largely unknown by the population of the UK, it is not lost. There are Christians in this country who keep the faith and who pray that God will look upon us with favour now and rekindle the embers left by those witnesses. They pray also that God will bring a greater revival than was seen in those days, a greater revelation of who He is: His glory, His holiness, His love, His power, His wisdom, His humility.
Amid all the chaos of Brexit, these intercessors are praying that God will use the apparent mess, that He will be in it, and will bring this nation back to Him. It matters; the Gospel matters. Christianity is not about economics and politics – although it speaks to those things. It is about the salvation of souls and the worship of the God of Heaven, who gives us our very breath. The spiritual death of a human being is not simply a tragedy. Tragedy is too small a word to describe the awfulness of such a happening. Whether one believes in annihilation or eternal torment, the result is heart-breaking – separation from the loving presence of almighty God.
The reader may think this prose rather poor, lacking in taste and refinement. This should be of no concern – the message is deadly serious. This nation needs God, needs the touch of her Creator, needs the Gospel of Christ. Our people have become distant from God. Consumed by secular ideologies, concerned more with this life than the next, we illustrate what Isaiah said centuries before the first coming of Christ: “we all, like sheep, have gone astray, every one to his own way”. We display the chaos described in the Book of Judges: “every man did what was right in his own eyes”.
While the Church strives for unity, unity remains elusive. The denominations are working to come together, but few hold out any real hope of formal, official reconciliation. Within many – perhaps all – denominations there are factions: liberal against conservative; high church against low church; predestination against free will; legalism against liberty. The picture is not all bad – there are great examples of Christlikeness. I have also seen great examples of the Church shamed by Gentiles who showed more charity, more virtue, more humanity than many Christians. God will use whoever will hear His voice, no matter how imperfectly. This itself is tragic, not that we should be shamed – terrible though that is – but that people should show virtue and yet perish at the Last Judgment because their virtue did not extend to putting faith in Christ.
This nation should seek God while yet He may be found. God is visiting this nation right now. These shakings we feel are not simply earthly. There is a spiritual dimension behind them. Perhaps we doubt that. Perhaps we think this is just normal political trouble. I encourage you to treat nothing as “normal” in this sense. We should believe that God cares deeply about everything that happens in the world and that He wants to use things that happen to bless His people and to bring more people into His family. God cares about every living soul in the UK. He wants more people to know Him and for this nation to live in a Christian manner, to practice virtue and shun vice. A nation that follows Christ, from the humblest citizen to the highest politician, would have godly laws and godly customs. This is the vision of the UK that so many Christians want to see realised.
We must come back to God. Like the Israelites, we need to be humbled. God permitted nations to trample Israel in the days of the Judges, knowing that Israel would repent and call on Him. He let the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem, knowing it was necessary to finally break the hold of idolatry over Israel, and He sent Ezra to make sure it stayed that way. He let the Romans disperse His people once again and sent Paul as Apostle to the Gentiles in order to provoke Israel to jealousy. This is one of the chief functions of the Church: to provoke Israel to jealousy so that she may be saved.
My prayer today is that these points would be driven home by the Spirit of God, who is our Guide, Teacher, and Comforter. Whatever side of the Brexit debate a Christian finds himself on, my prayer is that he will not miss this time of visitation. Grab God by the hem of His robe; wrestle with Him as Jacob did; do not let go until He blesses and restores us.
O LORD our God, who has known this nation in its past and who sees it now, struggling to give birth, to be delivered, to You we acknowledge our sins, our failings, but in You we place our trust. Do not, we pray, let us give birth to wind; but bring forth revival in this land by the Spirit of Holiness, with whom all things are possible. Please use this chaos to bring forth order, as You did in the day of creation, when Your Spirit hovered on the face of the waters. Humble us as You did Your servant Israel, that we may repent and be saved. Bring unity to Your Church and righteousness to the government of our nation. End the tyranny of darkness over this land, end the slaughter of innocents in the womb, heal those who are sick in mind and body, and bring the light of Your truth to the darkness that covers us. Help us to long for the coming of Your Son, Jesus the Messiah, the King of Israel. May we bless Your people Israel, Your firstborn, and may our nation enter the Messianic Kingdom with head held high. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.