I have recently been researching the nineteenth century British Evangelicals, an imperfect yet inspiring movement that went on to shape a generation. They were an eclectic group of Christians, appalled by the indifference and licentiousness of the society that they saw all around them. Furthermore, they were shocked and disappointed at the complacency and spiritual malaise that rendered the church lifeless.
Initially the Evangelicals were ridiculed, ostracized, slandered, physically attacked, and even stoned, in many cases instigated by clergy men; yet this did not thwart their enthusiasm.
They preached sermons which inspired listeners to enter prisons seeking prison reform, to end the transatlantic slave trade, to address illiteracy through Sunday Schools, to care for the poor by opening orphanages and poor houses and to protect child and women workers. They sought to reach out to all of society from the greatest to the least and teach them the greatest gift they had been given was the saving Word of God.
From small beginnings, they provided quality education for over 5.7 million children, which equated to nineteen percent of the population. Their orphanages housed, fed, and trained over 100,000 destitute children. So good was the quality of education and care provided that the evangelicals were accused of “raising the poor above their natural station”!!
Although not immediately or conclusively, the cultural acceptance of moral dissolution and corruption were replaced by a desire for sobriety, discipline, moral earnestness, and decency. Many coal miners in South Wales turned away from heavy drinking causing a number of taverns (bars) to close down. Tools stolen from shipyards in England were returned and churches were packed for prayer meetings.
Through the Holy Spirit, they not only sought to teach God’s Word, they sought to live it. They strove tirelessly to bring God’s good news – His life-saving and transforming Gospel – to the masses. And we are called to go and do likewise. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, our spiritual fore parents, and they have now passed the baton on to us. Let us grasp it and run, so that in turn we may pass it on to our children and grandchildren and all those who come after us.
We are called to run the good race, the question is, will we respond? If you need a spiritual running partner, I’d be honored to race with you.