The greatest blessing we can have in this world is the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is nothing more important than the salvation of our souls and to escape punishment for our sins we need to trust in God’s only begotten Son who died at Calvary to redeem the guilty. That is the only way to heaven. But as Paul said, “how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14). The Lord gives ministers to His church to feed His flock and win lost souls. May He encourage all who proclaim the good news in these difficult days!
If it is a blessing to hear the gospel then it is a further blessing to live in a country which values it. That has been the case historically in the UK where we have a Protestant establishment. Many of our national institutions, such as the monarchy and parliament, have Christianity at their foundation and the Christian faith has influenced important aspects of our society, such as justice, education and welfare. Yet now our Christian civilisation and the Bible and gospel underpinning it are under attack from various quarters.
The spread of false religion is an obvious threat. A vast array of different religious beliefs and practices is now found in our land, chiefly as a result of immigration. Unsurprisingly Islam receives the most attention. It is a vigorous faith, determined that every aspect of society should come under its influence, with some of its followers willing to use violence to accomplish this aim. A more subtle menace exists in the form of Roman Catholicism: no-one imagines that Islam is the religion which Christ founded but many think that Romanism is. Neither can we ignore the peril of false doctrine within the visible church.
There is a new threat to the UK’s religious identity however – one we are hearing about more and more. It is not false religion but irreligion; not misbelief but disbelief. Increasingly people are either indifferent to religion or actively hostile to it. The latter include some influential individuals who are given plenty of space in the media to promote their ideas. What are they saying and why is it wrong? There are three strands to their thought:
One strand of thought is humanism. Originally the term referred to the renewed interest in Greek and Roman learning at the Renaissance (so Erasmus was a ‘humanist’), but now it is used to indicate a dependence on human reason rather than divine revelation. Only what we can apprehend with our natural senses is thought to be of any consequence. The result is that the supernatural is dismissed and the material becomes everything. We are encouraged to live for the present and to forget about eternity, to satisfy all our earthly ambitions and disregard our final destiny. David lamented, “no man cared for my soul” (Psa. 142:4) but humanists do not even care for their own souls!
Humanism is fast becoming our national religion. Yet it is entirely wrong to set reason and revelation at variance with each other. Divine revelation is truthful and perfectly rational. The written word of God derives from the personal Word or ‘Logos’ (John 1:1), Jesus Christ the Son of God. Being “in the bosom of the Father” Christ has declared the God we cannot see and cannot otherwise know (John 1:18). Through the Scriptures God speaks to our minds but our power of reason has been corrupted by the fall: we need special revelation and saving grace if we are to know God.
Another strand of thought is secularism. A thing is ‘secular’ if it is disconnected from what is ‘sacred’. It is possible for a person to have a secular view on certain matters and yet believe in God. For instance some Christians (wrongly) have a secular view of the state, believing that it should have nothing to do with religion. The USA is a secular nation in this sense, although in other senses it is a strongly religious one. Secularism however takes this principle and applies it to the whole of life – and alarmingly to death and what lies beyond it.
Sadly Britain is moving in this direction – not officially but by stealth. In the nineteenth century our faithful Free Church fathers stood against ‘voluntaryism’, the belief that the Church should be sustained by the voluntary contributions of the people with no help from the state. They resisted this idea because they understood its tendency and the harm it would do to the Christian character of Scotland. They were mindful of the scriptural obligation upon civil rulers to foster the cause of Christ (Isa. 49:23) and of the tragic consequences when that duty is forsaken (Isa. 60:12). Those who want an independent Scotland with a secular constitution would do well to ponder these truths.
A final strand of thought is atheism. Atheism is sometimes considered to be the absence of belief in God but it is more accurate to regard it as deliberate unbelief. Paul certainly viewed it that way when he wrote of those who “hold [or ‘suppress’] the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). The unbeliever refuses to follow his natural sense of God and wilfully suppresses it. He imprisons the truth and shuts it up, so that he might sin the more securely.
Looked at from a different angle, when people say, “I don’t believe in God” they are actually making a statement of faith. They are saying effectively, “I believe that there is no God.” The Bible is so accurate when it says, twice in fact, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psa. 14:1; 53:1). It is teaching us that a denial of the existence of God is not the outcome of an impartial consideration of the available evidence, the Scriptures in particular; it is not the conclusion a person reaches after thinking the subject through carefully. It stems rather from the sinful bias of our fallen nature. The ungodly prefer a scenario in which God does not exist and some will go to almost any lengths in an attempt to persuade themselves that what they desire is a reality.
Given the way God has made us it is impossible for us to be entirely devoid of faith. The saying is true: “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes in anything.” We are religious beings and so we are bound to put our trust in someone or something. If it is not God then it will invariably be ourselves and our fallible judgment.
These three strands of thinking, even twisted together, have not caused the decline of Christianity in our country; they are symptoms of it. Within them is the core of man’s native enmity against God. Unbelief in God, in all its forms, is not a ‘neutral’ position for people to take, still less an ‘honest’ one. It is a sin, indeed the greatest sin. Conscience, creation and providence all bear witness to the existence of God, such that the unbelieving man or woman is “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Our guilt only increases when we are under the gospel; Jesus said that the Spirit would reprove the world of sin, “because they believe not on me” (John 16:8,9).
The greatest calamity is when unbelief penetrates the church. Preaching sound doctrine and practising a godly discipline will help to keep it out. Our confidence can only be in the Word of God and in the God of the Word, that He would change things for the better in our nation. May He visit us again in His reviving power and turn the hearts of many to Himself!