The fact that we are not in the middle of an evangelical revival of 18th century dimensions is surely no excuse for us

Do you read this book between Sundays?

regular church-goers’ not knowing our Bibles.

The Bible is not yet illegal in 21st century Britain and it is available in English as it was in the 18th century.

Cranmer’s Curate has been re-reading after 25 years JC Ryle’s Christian Leaders of the 18th Century (a great spiritual tonic as one hits the middle laps of middle age). The thought struck cc: how many of us clergy today would be able to identify all the biblical references in the following quotation from the Address to a serious reader who enquires what he must do to be saved by John Fletcher of Madeley (1729-1785)? –


And now, what meanest thou, sleeper? Why tarriest thou? Arise, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord. Lose not time in conferring with flesh and blood; much less in parleying with Satan, or consulting thy unbelieving heart. These delays lead to ruin; the Philistines are upon thee, instantly shake thyself; if thou art not altogether blinded by the god of this world, and led captive by him at his will, this moment, in the powerful name of Jesus, burst the bonds of spiritual sloth – break, like a desperate soul, out of the prison of unbelief – escape for thy life – look not behind thee – stay not in the plain. This one thing do; leaving the things that are behind – Sodom and her ways – press forwards toward Zoar, and escape to the mount of God, lest thou be consumed (Banner of Truth, p420).

The astonising fact is that this was an evangelistic appeal based, as Ryle convincingly believes, on sermons Fletcher had preached in his parish. Its richness in biblical allusion reveals how much the evangelical revival had led to an increase in biblical knowledge in the 18th century. But still one wonders how many people regularly in churches of all types today would know whether the epistle of Jude was in the Old or the New Testament, let alone get the reference to Zoar.

Certainly, a revival of Christianity in 21st century Britain would happen on a very different spiritual, moral and cultural ballpark from the England of the 18th century. The similarities between the dire state of church and society now and then, or even the sense that the 18th century was worse, can be overstated.

But Fletcher gets the last word as an encouragement to those yearning for an outpouring of God’s gracious Word of life in our generation:

Through the veil, that is to say, his flesh, torn from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet – through this mysterious veil, rent from the top to the bottom, rush into the blood-besprinkled sanctuary; embrace the golden horns of the altar; lay all thy guilt on the head of the sin-atoning victim; read thy name on the breast of thy merciful high-priest. Claim the safety, demand the blessings, receive the consolations bestowed on all that fly to him for refuge, and begin a new, delightful life, under the healing and peaceful shadow of his wings

Rory Shiner’s article in June’s edition of the Australian evangelical monthly The Briefing – Union with Christ – is soul-refreshingly good. UK members of the youth group who are not regular Briefing subscribers can order the issue from the Good Book Company (0333 123 0880) for £3.25 including postage.

The youth group may also be interested in this lively blog by the Revd Hugo Charteris of Christ Church Newcastle. His blog is on the church’s website.

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