The Church at the start of the Age of Reason
The 18th century is widely regarded as the ‘Age of Reason’ – the age of scientific discovery. Science was discovering the natural laws that governed the earth. With the advent of the theory of evolution, the idea of a supernatural world was dispensed with. Quickly God had become merely at best an impersonal observer and the supernatural, spiritual worlds and the divine inspiration of Scriptures were being denied.
Within general society, the 'need for God' disappeared as science and philosophy felt they could explain everything without the need of a God or gods. For the church, this was a century of stagnation and decay. In the USA, the original evangelical fervour had faded into commerce and prosperity.
However, there were glimpses of the Church being empowered. Not all was lost! There were still glimmers of the church still being alive! In the mid-18th century there was a spiritual revival throughout the USA and Britain.
America – In America, there was the Great Awakening! Revival started in 1730 under the passionate and spiritual preaching of Jonathon Edwards. He was followed by George Whitfield, an Englishman who waited for 6 weeks in 1740 and preached to crowds of thousands. Many thousands turned to the church and became Christians during this time of revival.
Jonathon Edwards (1703 – 1758) – Edwards’ conversion took place when one day he was reading 1 Timothy 1:17 “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Later in life he looked back and wrote "As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before… I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that God, and be rapt up to him in heaven; and be as it were swallowed up in him for ever!" You can see the reference in it's context by clicking here
As regards to his approach to science, rather than scurrying away from it as many church leaders did, Edwards like some others, embraced it! As he went on in life, while many in the church found that science was pushing them to an impersonal view of God, Edwards went the other way. He embraced the natural world as evidence of God’s craftsmanship and design. He went on to become perhaps America’s finest philosopher and thinking as well as a mighty preacher and church leader.
Wales – In Wales, revival broke out in the Church of England in 1738-1742 under the divinely inspired preaching of Howell Harris and Griffith Jones. It was during this time that George Whitefield was converted before he went to the USA to preach the same gospel there!
England – Perhaps the greatest names in England were the Wesley brothers - John (1703 - 1791) and Charles (1707 - 1788)! Together they revitalised a church quickly stagnating! Open air preaching, vibrant songs and zealous sermons were their hallmarks. At the heart of their preaching and hymnody were these thoughts “Justifying faith implies, not only a divine evidence or conviction that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, but a sure trust and confidence that Christ died for my sins, that He loved me and gave Himself for me.” You can see the reference in it's context by clicking here.
Many came to faith because of them, and these people were discipled methodically. Together they founded the Methodist movement which gave birth to the Methodist denomination.
The church is almost 1800 years old now. The Holy Spirit is still at work, empowering the church despite the Age of Reasoning and the ignorance of the spiritual aspects of life.
That’s it for this time! That is the conclusion of our series HAHA! I hope you have enjoyed this speedy journey in the life of the Church! The story of the Church continues, and will continue until the object and source of the Church’s faith, Jesus Christ returns in glory just as He has promised to do!