December 17, 2017

Are We in the Third Generation of Judges?

Don Johnson

Most of our readers probably are familiar with the some of the patterns found in the book of Judges. Judges 2.7 and 10-11, for example, is fairly well known:

Judges 2.7 And the people served the LORD all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the LORD, that he did for Israel. … 10 And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. 11 And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD.

Perhaps you have heard a sermon on this passage, noting the leadership of the ‘founding fathers’ of the nation, the faithfulness of the second generation, and the fecklessness of the grandchildren. And of course, in the context of the sermon, where do we find ourselves at the present day? In the third generation, where things are as bad as bad can be?

Lest I sound too cavalier, let me assure you that I am well aware of the wickedness that surrounds us on every side. There is the flaunting of sin by the broader culture and the seemingly increasing dalliance with sin by the church at large, even among some of those who profess a “faith-alone-salvation.” These are dark days, there is no doubt about it.

In the book of Judges, the nation experienced what is called “the Judges cycle,” that is, they repeatedly lurched from faithfulness to fecklessness to judgement to revival, only to repeat it all again and again. This lasted around four hundred years. One would think… but apparently they weren’t.

Judges 2.18-19 And when the LORD raised them up judges, then the LORD was with the judge, and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge: for it repented the LORD because of their groanings by reason of them that oppressed them and vexed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they returned, and corrupted themselves more than their fathers, in following other gods to serve them, and to bow down unto them; they ceased not from their own doings, nor from their stubborn way.

We have to remember that we are not Israel, that our experience does not exactly parallel theirs. But we also must realize that the pressure of the world is always downward, away from the heights of spirituality and the revival of religion. Those of us who are now in later middle age can look back and remember a time when church attendance was much higher on average and, so it seems to our memories, when the members of the churches seemed, on average, to be more spiritual and zealous than they are now. Those who are older than us can look further back and tell us of even better days before our time, experiencing real revival in churches and communities where the preaching of the gospel seemed to have much better results than we experience now. And of course, we can read our histories and read the tales of the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening and other revivals and we can yearn for a similar revival and return to the things of God in our day.

So here we are, in the 21st century, and Western culture seems at its lowest ebb. And the Christian church! What a sorry mess we seem to be in. What are we to do?

When we look at the book of Judges, we see that the periods of revival of Mosaic religion occurred in “the days of the judge,” that is, when a strong leader took charge and overthrew the oppressing regimes in the name of the Lord. Likewise, in relatively recent Christian history, we see that periods of religious revival occurred when strong leaders came to the fore, preaching the vital message forthrightly and without compromise. Names like John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, and others are notable examples who were used of God in this way. Do we have any leaders who could launch revival today?

Years ago, I recall hearing preachers I admired saying things like, “The age of revival is dead… don’t expect revival in our generation…” Presumably all that is left is to hang on as best we can until the Lord returns. Perhaps they were right. As we speak to the lost it seems impossible to win many of them to faith in Christ. Revival, in the sense of community-wide turnings, seems far removed from us and well-nigh impossible.

Charles Finney was known for his theory of means of revival. As we look back at his work, most of us see a man with deeply flawed theology (at best) using psychological manipulation to achieve dubious results. The places where his ‘ministry’ was concentrated are among the most secular in the nation today. It is doubtful that we can discover some kind of means in order to produce revival — revival comes when men respond in faith to the word of God. Revival is a spiritual response to the moving of God. It is nothing more than that, it is nothing that can be worked up by emotional appeals, psychological manipulation, or material methods. You can’t buy or bully your way into revival.

But surely revival is what we need. We need a church that is full of people who are living the sacrificial life of faithful disciples, living and proclaiming the word of God. We need men in leadership who “sound the clarion call” to repentance and faith, who will not compromise truth, who are willing to do battle for souls.

How do we get there? Well, we can’t manipulate our way to revival, perhaps we should try repenting our way to revival. Each one of us who claims the name of Christ – are we revived? Have we really presented our bodies a living sacrifice? Are we pursuing Christ, or trying to have Christ plus the good life? I think the Lord Jesus wants our exclusive attention.

And let me say one more thing… I used “we” a lot in the last paragraph. I wonder if “we” talk is another deflection of revival. Shouldn’t I use the pronouns, “I” and “me.” Am I revived? Have I really presented my body a living sacrifice? Am I pursuing Christ, or trying to have Christ plus the good life?

It is time for judgement to begin at the house of God. (1 Pt 4.17)

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

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