TODAY churches around the world celebrate the event in Jerusalem in around AD 33 when God’s Holy Spirit came down on the first followers of Jesus Christ as they gathered to celebrate the Jewish festival of Pentecost, the first fruits of the harvest, in the springtime.
The gift of the Holy Spirit was in the Lord’s sovereign control. The crucified and risen Jesus told his disciples before his Ascension into heaven: ‘Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth’ (Acts 1v8 – Authorised Version).
The New Testament records how the Holy Spirit empowered a group of around 120 men and women to proclaim the saving message of Jesus Christ such that within a decade the number of Christian disciples in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas ran into many thousands. Both the New Testament and secular history record how the message of the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ then spread through the Roman Empire, reaching a barbaric island called Britain probably in the 2nd Century AD.
A Christian revival in a particular nation is not a repeat of Pentecost. That was a one-off event when God released his Holy Spirit on his Church. But since that special day the Holy Spirit has been active in the world empowering Christian preachers to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ in many nations.
God’s gift of the Holy Spirit means that in the mystery of divine providence, as happened in this country during the 18th Century evangelical revival, an outpouring of the Holy Spirit over a particular period can lead to large numbers of people in a nation turning to Christ as their Lord and Saviour. Such people see themselves not as victims who deserve to be pampered but as forgiven sinners who need to repent.
Nations experiencing revivals thus change morally, socially and politically. In this country, as the revival transformed society in the 19th Century, the engine of change was the Christian family.
Under God remarkable Christian individuals such as William Wilberforce (1759-1833), Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1801-1885), Josephine Butler (1828-1906), and Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) spearheaded profound moral and social change in this nation. Politicians eventually co-operated with them because among the expanding electorate Christian families were hugely influential.
The emphasis here must be on the Christian family. In our fallen world, human families can all too often be inward-looking, self-serving, and even downright evil, hence the Mafia. The Corleones in the Godfather films were a family!
But truly Christian families, whilst caring for their own members, are outward-looking. They love their own but they also love their neighbours, their wider communities, and their countries. Christian revivals transform individuals certainly but they yield an abundant social harvest by becoming incarnated in loving Christian families.
The fundamental reason this country is in its present social and political mess is because the traditional heterosexually-married family has become so tragically weakened. The secular, Left-wing elite that has shaped British society since the 1960s has made divorce increasingly easy; it has taken control over children’s spiritual and moral education from their parents in state schools; and now it is brainwashing children with neo-Marxist identity politics and actively promoting pan-sexualism and transgenderism in schools. Wokery seems to be walking all over Britain.
But a Christian revival could change that. Individuals transformed by the Holy Spirit could begin to work collectively for Christian ends and thus the nation would change politically. A renewed Christian democracy led by people who understand the limitations of politics because they have read their Bibles and know that sinful humanity in this fleeting, mortal life is not perfectible could become a reality.
The Book of Common Prayer Collect for Whitsunday rightly focuses on the personal transformation that God’s Holy Spirit brings about in Christian believers as they prepare to spend eternity in the loving presence of their Lord and Saviour. But the Christians to whom the Holy Spirit grants ‘a right judgement in all things’ pose a threat to rampant social and political evil in our country. So, this is a prayer with an important social dimension in addition to its main spiritual emphasis:
‘GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.’