CAN A CAPTIVE LEAD ANOTHER CAPTIVE?
By Will Graham
Captivity is an altogether dissatisfying and dehumanizing condition in which chains and bondage become part and parcel of everyday existence. Although created to rejoice in the blissful oxygen of soul-enriching freedom, humanity has lived crippled over and weighed down by the heavy heft of sin ever since the tragic Fall of Eden. Rousseau’s insight with which he begins his Social Contract remains as true as the day he penned it: “Man was born free but is everywhere in chains.” Baptist preacher and revivalist Billy Sunday once commented something similar, “Everywhere I look I see scarred humanity.”
Rousseau and Sunday may have passed on a good few years ago, but things in our world haven’t changed one bit. In spite of all of our scientific, political, technological and medical advances, twenty-first century men (and women) still live under a thick blanket of oppression and the dark umbrella of captivity. Large parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia continue to live under the demonic shadow of socio-political and economic tyranny today, but even the so-called ‘free’ Western world (Europe and North America) is plagued by an existential captivity that refuses to budge an inch. Look at the people on your way to work. Their broken faces tell a million tales of chronic depression, despairing hearts, insecurity, constant anxiety and a general (but unidentifiable) unease that just hovers about within. Recent surveys, for example, have displayed that at least one in every six first-world Brits now live in clinical depression. How can this be?
With a world sunk in despondency and desperation; it is time for the church to arise. Napoleon Bonaparte once said of China that she was a “sleeping giant”; but I think it would be wiser to apply that epitaph to the church of the living God. Under the blessing of the Holy Spirit of God, I believe that there is nothing impossible for the pilgrim people of Christ on earth. If the church could just wake up from her Jonah-like slumber, whole nations could be turned to God like Wales, England, Ulster, Scotland and the United States were from 1857 to 1859. But if the church is to be a liberating agent in God’s hand she first must break herself free from every oppressing hindrance. After all, can a captive lead another captive? Or as Jesus put it: “Can one blind man lead another?” If the church is to fulfil her messianic call to freedom; she first must come out of captivity. To what type of captivity am I referring? Allow me to explain.
As far as I can see, the current captivity which the Christian church is facing in the Western world has to do with two main areas (both of which are intimately linked), namely, doctrine and practice. The church must be set free from contemporary doctrinal perversions as well as every type of ungodly praxis.
First and foremost, let’s talk about where our doctrine needs to beef up. I would have no hesitation in declaring that the most vital truth that needs to be recovered and re-preached today is the glory of the sovereign Lord of Scripture. In so many evangelical circles, God has been reduced to a mere Santa Claus, a puppet on a string or a cool sugar daddy. This is not the God of the Bible. The Lord of the cosmos is holy, transcendent, wholly other and worthy to be feared. He is not a cheap sentimental toy who only exists to make us happy. God is not who you think He is; God is who He says He is.
Recently I preached at a three-day retreat in Albacete (Spain) where a 28 year old woman said to me after the last night of meetings: “For the first time in my life I have seen that God is God.” Needless to say, her comment filled my heart with joy and thankfulness to God. Surely that is what Christian preaching is all about: to show God to be God. We must always remember that the pulpit- and the theology that proceeds from it- must make much of God. The pulpit is for His glory; not for our pet theological topics or ministries. It was none other than Jonathan Edwards who remarked that the sermons most used and blessed by the Lord during the revivals at Northamptonshire were those which dealt with the greatness of the sovereignty of God. So preachers: take note!
A second truth which needs to be emphatically emphasized again is the sinfulness of man. For some strange reason, we still keep thinking folk are good at heart. Spurgeon said preaching on sin has never been in fashion and it never will be. But the captives in our world will never cry out for a Saviour until they realize they need saving. That’s why Luther underlined that we must preach the Law before we preach grace. If we don’t show men where they stand before God in their unregenerate condition, then they will never flee to Christ for mercy. George Whitefield preached under such anointing that sinners felt he was addressing each one of them specifically and individually. Their wretched hearts were torn asunder by the convicting power of the Spirit. Should we not get low and ask God to bestow such a blessing upon us?
Now, I recognize that preaching on sin will not make you your town’s favourite preacher; but you’ve got to decide whether you’re living for God’s glory (true freedom) or the applause of men (carnal captivity). God’s prophet Leonard Ravenhill once quipped: “I have preached in a lot of churches once.” I suppose you know why. It is God-centred men like Moses who can dare to ask for a vision of the heavenly King upon Mount Sinai; whereas the men-fearing preachers like Aaron end up making a golden calf in the valley. Every prophet before Christ and every preacher after Him always expounded upon the hatefulness and vileness of sin. And if we are to be faithful to our heavenly calling; we must not refuse to preach the whole counsel of God. Martyn Lloyd-Jones penned the following words: “When you have revival you see men and women groaning, agonizing under the conviction of sin. They are so conscious of their unworthiness, and their vileness, that they feel that they cannot live. They do not know what to do with themselves. They cannot sleep. They are in an agony of soul.” I venture to say that we will not see true repentance like this until the cardinal issue of man’s sinfulness is dealt with in all of its ugly bestiality.
With regards to Christian practice, I would also point out two things that we need to recover in order to come out of captivity. The first is our prayer life. Prayerlessness, more than theological liberalism and dead orthodoxy, is the curse of the contemporary church. Must I remind you that a non-praying Christian is a contradiction? There can be no such specimen in existence. Prayer is the breath of the believer; and you know as well as I do that a fellow that stops breathing doesn’t tend to last too long.
From my own personal failings and shortcomings, I consider the root problem with prayer is unbelief. We don’t believe that God answers. If we really did, we would rush to pray like a deer springs to the lake’s bounty. If we truly understood that all is God’s (and all is ours in Christ) then how could we ever cease from drawing near to Him with expectant hope? Maybe we’ve been disappointed with a lack of response for our past requests. But the Lord calls us to be patient (Hebrews 6:12). And the Lord also calls us to pray according to His will (1 John 5:14). If we seek, we will find. If we ask, it will be given. If we knock, the door will be opened (Matthew 7:8). Jesus promised that. So don’t lose heart! Prayer expert R.A. Torrey exhorts us: “There is no place where the devil so resists us as when we pray. What shall we do? Give up? No! A thousand times, No! Fight through on your knees to God, and win.”
The second vital aspect of Christian praxis that we must recover is that of Holy Ghost inspired solemnity. The first apostles were marked by spiritual weightiness. But the general lightness and levity with which the things of God are approached nowadays is more than alarming. And I think it comes as a direct consequence of our lack of concern for the majestic sovereignty of God. Every revivalist in history took God extremely seriously (almost fanatically so). That doesn’t mean we can’t tell jokes, amusing stories and have a good laugh every now and again over a cup of tea (after all, God is not a kill joy); but have you ever noticed how many Christians are characterized by continual light talk, humour, immaturity, childishness and foolish behaviour? Why is it that the men we hold in most esteem in church circles are the funny guys rather than the praying ones? Have you never felt your soul wince within when God has been speaking to you directly during a meeting and as soon as the service wraps up you’ve got to pass through five or six chronic jokers before you get out the church door? Do you not sense how the spiritual mood is dampened and your heart is taken away from the things of above? We must be careful to not quench the Spirit. A good dose of spiritual solemnity would go a long way in helping us to rescue our current generation from laughing its way to hell. God said we are soldiers. And soldiers are not clowns.
A world in captivity, then, cannot be freed by a church in captivity. Nevertheless, if the church were to arise and to proclaim the light of God’s sovereignty plus the wretchedness of human sin; and if she were to return to the prayer closet and cry out solemnly for God to revive His work again in our generation: something could begin to happen again in our day and age. The age has come for a fire-filled generation to take its place in the land of the living. God will have a prepared people in this epoch of world crisis and decadence. Only a church awoken by the power of the Spirit and living for the glory of God will be able to point this hell-bound world back to the path of true salvation and liberty: the Lord Jesus Christ.