It isn’t just important that we look back at history. We must look back at history and ask the right questions. The church today is flooded with teachers who are promoting a view which causes Christians to look to the days ahead with little more than doom and gloom. The future, it is proclaimed, will be unbelievably horrible. The greatest hope for the church is to be “evacuated” before this “hell on earth begins.” Each and every negative turn of events is promoted as proof-positive that we are sinking. Fast. The common thinking is that things have never been this bad and that things have never been able to get better after being this bad.
I don’t hide it: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool postmillennialist. But what saddens me even more than others not sharing my view of the future is Christians forgetting what God has done in the past. God has taken dire circumstances and brought light out of darkness. Forget about the “millennial views” of the Reformers. I want to ask you this: Did they give up on changing society because things were bad? In 1960, D.M. Lloyd-Jones delivered an address on Remembering the Reformation. In one segment he shared the following:
The times are cruel; the world is in a desperate plight; there is an appalling moral breakdown before our eyes. Marriage is breaking down, home life disappearing, little children not knowing home and loving parents. It is a tragedy! Can nothing be done? Is there no hope? To me the main message of the Protestant Reformation of four hundred years ago is to point us to the one and only hope. Things were bad in Scotland when God called John Knox and sent him out as a burning flame and the others with him. Our position is not hopeless, for God remains, and with God nothing shall be impossible! The conditions could not have been worse than they were immediately before the Reformation; yet in spite of that the change came. Why? Because God was there and God sent it.
The best motto of the Reformation (in my view) is Post Tenebras Lux. “After Darkness, Light.” We can quibble over whether state-sanctioned homosexual “marriage” is worse than Christians being burned alive (I wonder what John Huss would say), but, if we are honest, we will admit that before the Reformation, things were bad. Really bad. When we look at church history, we cannot ignore the darkness from which God has brought His church.
For just one case-in-point, consider pre-reformation England.
England of 1557 was a society beset by contradictions, oppression, even barbarity. More than 300 men had been burned at the stake by the Catholic tyrant, “Bloody Mary” Tudor, merely for promoting the English Reformation. Many clergymen, Catholic and Protestant both, exacerbated rather than soothed the distress; semi-literate as a class, most received their parish jobs as payoffs and often were unwilling to preach, or incapable of composing sermons. The impoverished and spiritually bereft masses found solace elsewhere—sloth, dissipation, or drink—while the gentry sought after wealth, social position, and favors of royal courts.
Into this seemingly hopeless culture of corruption and error, the light of God’s written Word—in the newly translated, published, and distributed Geneva Bible—inexorably began to liberate the English-speaking people, penetrating hearts and transforming minds. It is no exaggeration to say that the Geneva Bible was the most significant catalyst of the transformation of England, Scotland, and America from slavish feudalism to the heights of Christian civilization. (Marshall Foster)
The Reformation was birthed out of darkness. Likewise, the greatest event in the history of the world—the resurrection of Jesus Christ—came after what was the darkest moment in human history. After Darkness, Light.
Christians should never look at the bad things going on around them and conclude that God will not act for the good of the world. On the contrary, if I look at the Bible and history, I must conclude that it is precisely during these moments that God delights to act.
We must be careful that, in the midst of praising and extolling the Reformers for their courage and uncompromising passion, we do not frown upon the modern day equivalent of a Post Tenebras Lux mindset. Sadly, I’ve heard leaders look down upon those Christians that would labor and fight for a modern-day Reformation—for a return to having the Bible impact all of society—from the family to the government. After all, if God has consigned this world to hell, why bother? Perhaps the motto could be After Darkness, More Darkness.
Lloyd-Jones addressed this danger as well.
Ah, says our Lord, it is one thing to look back and to praise famous men, but that can be sheer hypocrisy. The test of our sincerity this evening is this: What do we feel about, and how are we treating, the men who, today, are preaching the same message as was preached by John Knox and his fellow reformers?
Doug Wilson put it similarly: “Desperate times call for faithful men, and not for careful men. The careful men come later, and write the biographies of the faithful men, lauding them for their courage.”
The Reformers were not concerned about being politically correct. They were not concerned with barely getting by. They were not satisfied with a church in exile, a church in hiding. They were not satisfied with a religion which did not touch every area of life. They did not slow down because things were “getting worse.” The Reformers were not satisfied with having ungodly men dictate the future of their nations. We shouldn’t be either.
Let us embrace the motto of the Reformation. Let us not simply applaud the Reformers from a distance with a pietistic reverence. Let us heed the Word of God and “imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
It’s possible that the conditions could not be worse than they are right now; yet in spite of that, change will come. Why? Because God is still here. And God will send it. It is after the darkness that the Light comes.