The 350th anniversary of the publication of the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible is an opportune moment for taking stock of the spiritual situation in Great Britain. The greatness of Britain has been closely connected with the influence of the English Bible on her national life. Of this the British people and the British Commonwealth of nations is reminded at the coronation of each successive sovereign, when the Bible is presented to the new king (or queen) as “the most valuable thing that this world affords” and “the lively oracles of God.”
In a famous dictum, the historian John Richard Green described the English people as “the people of a book, and that book the Bible.” Referring to this description, Bishop Stephen Neill, in an article on “The Bible in English History” published in The Churchman (London), June, 1961, writes as follows: “It is hardly too much to say that in the sixteenth century the English language became the language of one book, and that book the Bible; and, since the language that men speak penetrates to the very recesses of their being, and influences thought and attitude and judgment in ways that are past reckoning, it is no exaggeration to maintain that the English Bible was, up till the end of the nineteenth century, one of the strongest creative forces that made and moulded the English way of life and the history of the English people.”
But having the Bible is not enough in itself. As a great evangelical bishop of last century, John Charles Ryle, wrote: “Just as man makes a bad use of his other mercies, so he does of the written Word. One sweeping charge may be brought against the whole of Christendom, and that charge is neglect and abuse of the Bible.… I have no doubt that there are more Bibles in great Britain at this moment than there were since the world began. We see Bibles in every bookseller’s shop, there are Bibles in almost every house in the land. But all this time I fear we are in danger of forgetting that to have the Bible is one thing, and to read it quite another.… Surely it is no light thing what you are doing with the Bible.” These words may be said to be even truer of Britain today than they were in Bishop Ryle’s time.
Nonetheless, the immediate availability of the Bible in one’s own language is an advantage not to be underrated. It constitutes, assuredly, a potential for judgment accumulating against those who through unconeern ignore its message. But it also constitutes a potential for salvation, ready through God’s grace to burst into a purifying blaze in the life of a nation. The situation in Britain today calls for purgation by the fire of God. It is a solemn and closely connected fact that, as Bishop Neill observes (in the same article), “for the first time since the Reformation the Bible is an unknown book to the majority of the people of England.”
The lesson of history is plain to see. The great spiritual revival of the sixteenth century, which is known as the Reformation, resulted from the rediscovery of the Bible as the Word of God—a rediscovery which led directly to the translation of the Bible into English and to the British nation becoming the people of the Book. And the Evangelical Revival of the eighteenth century, so far-reaching in its impact on the life of the nation, was a consequence of the nation-wide preaching by men like George Whitefield and John Wesley of the evangelical message of Holy Scripture which had fallen into disastrous neglect. That the present situation, alarming though it is (as the evidence set forth in this issue shows), is not beyond the point of reprieve is suggested by a consideration of the historical records, which lead one to conclude that Britain was in an even worse state of spiritual atrophy before both the Reformation and the Evangelical Revival than she is today.
All revival is, of course, the gracious work of the Holy Spirit; but that in no way absolves man from answerability to him who is his Creator, Redeemer, and Judge. In our Western world nothing is more desperately urgent than that we should learn the old lesson over again, that the recovery of spiritual and moral stature lies in getting back to the Bible as the Word of God, back to the only Saviour of mankind whom that Book proclaims, and back to the faith and worship enjoined by Christ through his Apostles.
But, it may be asked, can we really believe that God has a plan for nations? Again, the response of both Scripture and history is unanimous. The outstanding example is the divine choice of the nation of Israel and God’s integration of it into his redemptive purposes—purposes which were not frustrated by the sad fact that, despite all its privileges, only a fraction, a remnant, of the nation of Israel showed itself to be faithful to the requirements of the covenant which bound them to God. Although there is a certain unique aspect of the calling of Israel, their history nonetheless is a warning to every nation of the dire consequences of the abuse or contempt of blessings and privileges. In modern times Germany, the land of Martin Luther, supplied a dreadful example of this nemesis during the Nazi era, and a warning not least to Britain and the U.S.A. Ungodliness is the next step before inhumanity. “Them that honor me I will honor,” is a promise of God that still holds good. And God pleads not only with Israel but with any people that has departed from the old paths, “Return unto me, and I will return unto you.”
A nation is indeed a real entity, possessing a solidarity which God recognizes. There is such a thing as national life, national honor, national responsibility. But a nation is not a simple conglomerate. It is a complex organism compounded of a multiplicity of spheres and units of life. In the briefest analysis it may be broken down progressively into geographical communities, families, and individuals. Each individual is a member of a family and of a community as well as of the nation, and he cannot contract out of these widening spheres of involvement.
The Christian Church, too, is a nation—the nation of God’s people, redeemed, reborn, made members of the kingdom of Christ. It too comprises geographical communities, families, and individuals. As in the life of the nation, so in the life of the Church, individuals are the units of structure, though at the same time indissolubly linked with the wider solidarities. Individual believers, says the Apostle Peter, are the “living stones” of the edifice of Christ’s Church which, as Paul teaches, is “built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets.” And Christ himself is the chief cornerstone—that is, the measure of the Church’s stature, giving due position and alignment to every single believer built into the Ecclesia.
The redemption procured by Christ is appropriated, it is true, by individuals; but it embraces the widest solidarity of all, namely, the whole creation. The Gospel is addressed to the individual heart and conscience, but its effect is the building of the Church through God’s “adding to the church daily such as are to be saved.” The Christian receives the light of Christ in order that he, in the Church, may be the light of the world. He is placed within the Church, which means that he is no longer of the world. But he is still in the world, and the commission received from his Master is to go into all the world and to preach the Gospel to every creature.
The need for Great Britain today, and for every so-called Christian nation, is for the Church to recapture a sense of the imperative urgency of this dominical commission. There are indeed distinctions between ministry and laity, but there is no distinction where this commission is concerned. The distinction which assigns to the laity a role of passivity is a false distinction and a betrayal. Christ’s command is that every one of his followers should be an evangelist. What impact could we not expect on any nation where that command is obeyed by the members of his Church.
ANOTHER AMERICAN ASTRONAUT RIDES THE RIM OF OUTER SPACE
While millions watched by television, Virgil “Gus” Grissom became America’s second astronaut to probe suborbital space. Next on the agenda is a U.S. astronaut in outer space.
“Everything science does is productive,” remarked an impressed television commentator, without troubling to spell out what it produces. And indeed, nobody was prone to question the spectacular achievements of space science. But what “the space age” will produce is yet to be seen. In the first decades of our century even “progressive” clergymen looked to science to transform the world. But they had overlooked the frustrating detail that fallen man inhabits the earth. Things may go rather well in outer space too unless it becomes populated by sinful men. In that event, science may merely exchange one problem for another.
NO ACADEMIC LICENSE TO PERVERT MORAL STANDARDS
In March, 1960, the University of Illinois relieved Assistant Professor Leo Koch of his duties and terminated his contract at the end of the academic year. The Daily Illini had published his letter stating that for college students “there is no valid reason why sexual intercourse should not be condoned among those sufficiently mature to engage in it without social consequences and without violating their own codes of morality and ethics.”
The case has been carried to the courts by the American Civil Liberties Union and The Committee for Leo Koch. They contend that “no teacher should be dismissed on the ground that his views are ‘repugnant’ to a university administration.” They do not indicate on what grounds a professor is dismissable. Reduced to simple terms, it would seem that any professor, anywhere and anytime, can publicly advocate homosexuality, fornication, adultery, sodomy, and rape (if not mayhem and murder) with impugnity. Academic liberty, assuredly, is a necessary requisite for any campus immune to thought control. But liberty is hardly a license for academic perversion. Too many parents already are paying steep tuition charges for a diploma which depletes moral standards along the way. The administration of the University is to be commended for its courageous commitment to moral principle.
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