What happens when a nation crumbles morally? When substance abuse and corrupt politics rule the day? When the people turn from God and seek pleasure in violent sport, gambling and womanizing? When children have to fend for themselves on the streets? When the rich abuse the poor?
In some sense, both England and France were in this position in the 1700s. Then England saw peaceful, sweeping reforms, while France spiraled into a horrific revolution.
I know I'm simplifying history here. But what was the difference between these two nations? I just read a compelling argument that John Wesley likely initiated the stunning change in England's trajectory.
A statue of Wesley preaching
Once John Wesley experienced a true "heart conversion" to Christianity, he studied the Bible, preached it, and lived it. He preached in open-air settings to the working class poor, on their way from the factories to the drinking houses. He taught the Bible to illiterate women and children. He visited those in prison. He set up programs to teach job skills to the needy. He urged the rich to care for the poor. He worked to end the African slave trade. In short, his words and deeds proclaimed the Word of God.
And in His mercy, God brought revival. God used John Wesley, along with coworkers George Whitefield, Charles Wesley and others, to reintroduce the Bible to the common people of England. As Vishal Mangalwadi puts it in The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization:
[Wesley] believed that God's purpose for him was to open the Word of God for his nation, pointing men and women to God through Christ. This, in turn, would reclaim their homes, towns and country from paganism and corruption. Wesley's central understanding of Christianity was that individual redemption leads to social regeneration.
When ordinary people heard the Gospel preached and saw it lived out, they turned to Christ. When they turned to Christ, their whole lives changed. They gave up their drunkenness, cared for their children, cared for the poor, began to treat others as people made in the image of God.
And thus, "England after Wesley saw many of his century's evils eradicated, because hundreds of thousands became Christians. Their hearts were changed, as were their minds and attitudes, and so society—the public realm—was affected."
Wesley did not follow God half-heartedly. Nor was he a superhero. Instead, he simply sought God in earnest, preached in earnest, and served in earnest. He and his trainees adhered to a strict schedule: "eight hours a day sleeping and eating; eight for meditation, prayer and study; and eight for preaching, visiting, and social labors." And thus, he worked on behalf of the English people. And God worked wonders. Wesley even inspired the younger William Wilberforce to devote his life to the abolition of the slave trade.
Wesley's life reminds me that God uses ordinary people to change the world.
I am concerned about our own nation's direction. Out-of-control spending. Inefficient welfare systems that do limited good. Huge lobby groups profiting from their pet projects. A devaluing of marriage. Children bouncing around from one foster home to another. The murder of precious unborn children.
But God could use you, and me, our children and our grandchildren to change things. Even one person can change the direction of a society—one person committed to God, to hearing from Him and spending time in prayers, coupled with a vision to change society for God's glory.
May we be people who fear not, but focus on what brings God glory. May we choose discipline and a heart sold out for God over the comforts of stability and material accumulation.
And may we be an example for our children. So that when God is ready to use them, they are ready to serve.
May God's Kingdom come!