In 1952 King George VI died unexpectedly, and his elder daughter became Queen Elizabeth II. Now, 50 years later, she is touring the nation, from Cornwall to the Western Isles, as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations. These 50 years have seen huge changes. In 1952 Britain was only recovering from the massive dislocation caused by the Second World War; now, whatever her economic problems, Britain as a whole is enjoying unprecedented prosperity.
Morally and spiritually also, Britain today is different. Yet what we have seen over that 50-year period is the continuation of trends which were already in place. For at least 100 years, there had been clear signs of an increasing disregard for the authority of the Scriptures. The popularisation of the theory of evolution by Charles Darwin – his Origin of Species was published in 1859 – had tremendous influence. Theologians who were promoting higher critical theories were undermining the confidence which ordinary people placed in the Bible. Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, evangelical religion continued strong but, on the whole, its quality was decreasing. By 1864 the Earl of Shaftesbury was lamenting that the Protestant feeling of the nation was not what it had been. And in 1881 C H Spurgeon was complaining to the Baptist Union about sermons which omitted any reference to the atonement. “If you leave out the atonement,” he asked, “what Christianity have you got to preach?”
The trends have continued. And we today have to live with the consequences. Why the disregard of religious observance by some 90% of the population? Why the near-universal assumption that one religion is as good as another? Why the continuing decline in moral standards? Because, over several generations, Britain has been giving up its acknowledgement of the Bible as a dependable revelation from God our Creator. And large parts of the professing Church have shared in the responsibility for pointing the people in the wrong direction. A Church unwilling to proclaim the atonement to its people cannot expect, certainly in the long-term, to be successful; it has nothing which can meet the deepest needs of those who fill its pews.
Already in 1952 most parts of the Christian Church in Britain and elsewhere were affected by unbelief in the authority and reliability of the Scriptures; they had cast off allegiance to the creeds which their forefathers had drawn up in a sounder age. And if a Church undervalues the supernatural, if it cannot speak with authority, if its message ignores the universal fact of sin and its consequences, it is no wonder that rates of church attendance plummet – as they have over the last 50 years. At the same time, it must be recognised that the spirit of the age has also affected the willingness of people to attend those Churches which do hold to the Scriptures. This is a generation when the words of the prophet have emphatically been fulfilled: “Darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people” (Is 60:2).
What hope can we then have? We may take encouragement from the fact that when the Saviour went about various districts of Galilee, it was said: “The people which sat in darkness saw great light” (Matt 4:16). To the same end Paul was sent out as an ambassador to the Gentiles. In part, his commission read: “I send thee to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light” (Acts 26:17f).
It is the same commission that preachers of the gospel have today. Clearly, they are but instruments in the Lord’s hand, as Paul also was. But when the Holy Spirit applies the truth that they proclaim, there are powerful effects: spiritually blind eyes are opened. The Lord may, of course, use the reading of the Scriptures to the same end, but the preaching of law and gospel is the means that He has specially appointed for opening the eyes of the blind. That work has continued during the last 50 years, albeit on a smaller scale than in many other generations. But what we very much need today is an outpouring of the Spirit so that multitudes of sinners might have their eyes opened and be delivered from going on blindly towards a lost eternity. Likewise there is the great need that the Lord would provide ambassadors who would follow in the footsteps of Paul and be used as instruments to open the eyes of the blind.
The need is undoubtedly great. The majority of people today need their eyes to be opened to recognise the existence of God, and His absolute authority over them as His creatures. And if their eyes are opened to recognise also that God has spoken authoritatively in the Scriptures, which are absolutely without error, they will understand something of the significance of life and they will believe that it is their chief end to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever. And how is God to be glorified? The first answer to that question is: By obedience to His revealed will – His law. When sinners have the eyes of their souls opened to understand something of the significance of that law, especially as it takes to do with their hearts, they will recognise the solemnity of their position as sinners before God.
It is because Britain has over the last 50 years, to such a great extent, ignored the authority of the law of God that, for example, millions of unborn infants have perished. The Sabbath has been forgotten, immorality is commonplace, and the crime rate has soared. If society as a whole will begin to recognise God’s authority as He speaks in the Ten Commandments, such sins will be very much restrained. But what is crucially needed is that the eyes of individuals everywhere would be opened to see their personal need of deliverance from the guilt and the power of sin – and to be further opened to see their need of salvation through Jesus Christ. Only those who by faith look to Christ, with eyes opened by the Holy Spirit, will truly live to the glory of God. Only they will enjoy Him for ever.
In 1952 the ecumenical movement was in full flow, with bright hopes of uniting all kinds of Christian Churches into one super-Church. Much less progress has been made than many expected, yet the ecumenically-minded quite unashamedly look forward to becoming part of a united Church under the Pope. But people need to have their eyes opened to see that Roman Catholicism is not just one more branch of the Christian Church; its head, the pope, is the one whom Paul describes as “that man of sin . . . the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2:3f). No doubt to identify the pope as the man of sin whom Paul refers to is all too easily described today as extreme. Yet the popes condemn themselves out of their own mouths; for instance, Leo XIII declared in an encyclical of 1885, entitled The Reunion of Christendom, that the pope holds “upon this earth the place of God Almighty”; (1) in other words, he is “showing . . . that he is God”.
Most recently, we have also been faced with attempts to draw together those who follow different religions under the banner of a claim to be all worshipping one God. But we are not. People need to have their eyes opened to recognise the profound emphasis with which God spoke at Mount Sinai: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” – and to realise that these words are as relevant today as they ever were. Peter’s words about Christ are equally relevant: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Christ is the only Saviour; to claim otherwise is tremendously dishonouring to the majesty of the great God of eternity.
As part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations, the Queen has begun a program of visits to various “non-Christian faith communities”. The Queen is herself calling on each of the four largest such groups – Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish – at separate locations across the United Kingdom. Other members of the Royal Family expect to make similar visits. The Duke of York is to attend a Baha’i reception in Central London in July, The Earl and Countess of Wessex are to visit a Jain temple in Leicester and a Zoroastrian thanksgiving service in North London, and a senior member of the Royal Family is to attend a Buddhist gathering later in the year. The purpose of each of these visits, we are told, is to indicate respect for the diversity of faiths and to support inter-faith dialogue.
In this postmodern age, the question of truth, particularly in religion, is studiously ignored. But no one whose eyes have been opened to see what has been revealed about God in the Scriptures will dare to ignore His claims to our exclusive allegiance. God has spoken. All His authority lies behind the words: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me”. What He has revealed is truth. Everything therefore which stands in opposition to the Bible is, quite simply, false. And it is altogether dishonouring to the living God that the monarch of Britain and her family should show respect to false religion. However, such dishonour to God is not new. Even in February 1952, the month when the Queen was to come to the throne, The Free Presbyterian Magazine reported that she and the Duke of Edinburgh were to make an offering of gold sovereigns in a Buddhist temple in Sri Lanka. What is new is the extent to which the Queen and her subjects are giving a similar status to both true religion and false – and the extent to which people are prepared to dispense with religion altogether.
Yet the Lord’s power is unchanged. It is still true that “the Lord openeth the eyes of the blind” (Ps 146:8). There can be no other hope for this generation. In no other way can sinners be brought to see their danger as individuals and turn from their own ways to serve their Creator. In no other way can nations and rulers be brought to acknowledge God as the one living and true God. Let us plead that God would so pour out His Spirit, as in Galilee of old, that those who walk in the darkness of unbelief would have their eyes opened to see “great light” – so that they would trust in Jesus Christ, the one and only Saviour.
But what about ourselves? A merciful God has given us the Scriptures. He has given many of us preachers of the gospel – instruments in God’s hands to open our eyes. We should ask ourselves if we are making good use of these means. And let us cry to the Lord: “Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law” (Ps 119:18). Apart from this – apart from seeing, by a living faith, Christ in these Scriptures – we can have no safe hope for eternity.
1. Quoted in Lorraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, 1966 ed, p 169.