How Dark the Gold Has Become
How lonely sits the city. (Lamentations 1:1)
The Apostle John’s vision of the glorified Christ reveals the Son of Man’s zeal for his glory and the work of his church. He is clothed with a robe, reaching to his feet, girded across his breast with a golden girdle. His head and his hair are white, like wool, like snow – thus proclaiming his righteousness and holiness. His voice is like the sound of many waters, portraying the mighty power of his gospel to be preached to all the nations. The sharp two-edged sword is the Word of God that defends against ungodly accusation and destroys his enemies with gospel power. The seven stars in his right hand are the messengers of the seven churches, sent by Christ to make disciples, a multitude which no one can number, from every tongue, tribe, and nation. The Shekinah glory is on his face, the glory of the Spirit that fell at Pentecost.1
Following this revelation of King Jesus, we find that Jesus gives letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Only two received a clean bill of health in his examination. Ephesus was charged with leaving their first love and threatened with losing the lamp stand (the church); and Laodicea was accused of being lukewarm and in danger of being violently rejected by Jesus. Bottom line – any church’s failure to carry out Christ’s two-fold mission – to save the lost and to sanctify or make holy the believer – will lose Jesus’ presence and power. Oh sure, the people can go through the motions and continue their programmes and perhaps even draw large crowds with much activity, but the real party in over. We repeatedly see God’s rejection of his covenant people in the history of redemption. In Moses’ day, God gave his people over to the wilderness because of their unbelief (Num. 14:22-23). In the day of the Judges, he raised up wicked kings because his people forgot him (Judg. 2:11-15). He brought the Assyrians and Babylonians due to Israel’s idolatry (2 Kings 17:6, 25:1ff). God brings judgment on his covenant people’s rebellion and unbelief. We see the same thing throughout church history. The strong vibrant church in North Africa in the pre- and post-Nicene period2 was over-run by Muslims by the end of the first millennium. The same happened in Palestine and Jerusalem. Western Europe is becoming Muslim, and the United States may not be far behind either. Churches that fail to evangelize and grow in holiness are good for nothing except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men (Matt. 5:13).
Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, a series of five Hebrew poems, to express his profound sorrow at the invasion of the Babylonians, the promised judgment of God upon their failure to carry out his marching orders (1 Kings 9:6-9). One cannot miss the profound grief and sorrow in his poetry. In Lamentations 1:1-5 we find Jeremiah lamenting the loss of Judah’s privilege (verse one) . . . He cries out at their loss of peace (verse two) . . . He grieves their loss of freedom (verse three) . . . He weeps over the loss of worshippers (verse four) . . . And he woefully acknowledges their loss of God’s glory (verse five). Indeed, how dark the gold has become (Lam. 4:1)! The former glory has been tarnished by the idols of pleasure, materialism, and selfish preoccupation. The beautiful city of Zion lay in ruins at the hands of godless and impetuous people (Hab. 1:1-11).
Surely we can see the parallel in our day with the western church! Our inner cities are consumed with corruption, violence, and poverty. The mayor of Hartford was recently convicted of corruption and the vast majority of Hartford’s children are malnourished. We throw millions of dollars annually at the problems there, but nothing seems to change. Our churches are losing members and influence in the world. We have some wonderful exceptions, but generally the God-centred preaching that exalts Christ and debases man is losing ground. Christians are regularly excluded from the convocation of ideas. We are chastised for entering the public arena and we are so wimpy that being faithful until death (Rev. 2:10) rings hollow. I doubt that most of us can be faithful even until ridicule. We are moving from freedom to servitude at the hands of our federal government. Those of you over the age of sixty – did you ever believe you would live to see such vast government encroachment? The enemies of Christ and his cross are overtaking us. If Christ has such power, then why are militant atheists like Hitchens and Dawkins winning a hearing? Why do Americans seem to have this strange death wish to get in bed with Islam, seeking appeasement like Europe with Hitler in the 1930’s? It is insanity, madness! The church has become largely irrelevant to our society. As long as we ‘stay on the reservation’ and sing our praise songs and preach our nice, little sermons the world does not mind. The moment however that we speak out against diminishing freedom, gay marriage, or abortion we are told to get back where we belong, the reservation.
The church of Jesus in the western world must wake up before it is too late. What must we do? Briefly, I mention three things. First, we must see our own guilt. John Murray said that while Pentecost is never repeated, it is also never retracted.3 The book of Acts is normative for the church. What goes on there ought to go on today in our churches – things like mighty prayer, mighty preaching, mighty conversions, mighty assemblies, mighty holiness, mighty grass-roots evangelism, mighty compassion, mighty societal impact, mighty leadership, and mighty combat. When I first became a Christian I witnessed to everything that moved. Then I embraced the Five Points of Calvinism and my evangelistic zeal waned. I am not saying that Calvinism thwarts evangelistic zeal. It should not do so, but in my case I allowed a wrong understanding of it to work negatively on my mind and will. Only within the last several years has it come back through the example of Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship4 men like Mark Grasso, Bill Iverson, Henry Krabbendam, and Dick Fisher. If we see a mighty work of God in our day then he is the author of it. If we see nothing happen in our day, then we are to blame. The first, fundamental issue is our guilty silence and unbelief.
Second, we must gain an intolerable burden for the glory of God. Isaiah had it (Isa. 64:1ff). So did Moses (Exod. 34:29ff), David (Psa. 2), and Paul (2 Cor. 4:6). When John Hyde came to India in 1892 he saw very little happening with the Hindu populace. His sense of desperation for the glory of God to be made known to the people was so overwhelming that he began to pray all night several times a year. Finally others joined him and mighty conversions followed, as many as twelve hundred per year – converted, baptized, and admitted to local churches.
And third, we must acquire an indomitable hunger for the salvation of souls. Jeremiah had it (Jer. 15:16) and Jesus expected it of his disciples (Matt. 28:18-20, John 10:14-18). Howell Harris was converted in 1735 at the age of twenty-one and began immediately to preach the gospel in one-on-one venues, as well as in the open air, first before hundreds and then before thousands. His life was marked by a profound zeal for the salvation of sinners.5
Are you guilty of not engaging in regular personal evangelism? Are you ambivalent about the glory of God coming upon whole communities or nations? Are you truly burdened for the lost to be saved? If not, then you must repent by running from your sin and running to Jesus for his grace of forgiveness and holiness leading to boldness and efficacy in gospel ministry. Without it the western church is dead, even as she lives. Will you repent of your guilty silence, your mitigated zeal, your diminished passion?
- See Revelation 1:12-16.
- The Council of Nicea met in A.D. 325 and formulated the Nicene Creed, a document that helps us understand the two natures of Christ, being God and man.
- Collected Writings of John Murray, Volume 3 (Banner of Truth), page 211.
- Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship www.pefministry.org
- For a fascinating and edifying look at powerful gospel ministry, I commend The Banner of Truth’s two-volume work entitled The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales.
Rev. Allen M Baker is Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, Connecticut.
Al Baker’s sermons are now available on www.sermonaudio.com.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com
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