Is it really “worse now than then?”

J. Edwin Orr once wrote:

Not many people realize that in the wake of the American Revolution (following1776-1781) there was a moral slump. Drunkenness became epidemic. Out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed drunkards; they were burying fifteen thousand of them each year. Profanity was of the most shocking kind. For the first time in the history of the American settlement, women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

What about the churches? The Methodists were losing more members than they were gaining. The Baptists said that they had their most wintry season. The Presbyterians in general assembly deplored the nation’s ungodliness. In a typical Congregational church, the Rev. Samuel Shepherd of Lennos, Massachusetts, in sixteen years had not taken one young person into fellowship. The Lutherans were so languishing that they discussed uniting with Episcopalians who were even worse off. The Protestant Episcopal Bishop of New York, Bishop Samuel Provost, quit functioning; he had confirmed no one for so long that he decided he was out of work, so he took up other employment.

The Chief Justice of the United States, John Marshall, wrote to the Bishop of Virginia, James Madison, that the Church ‘was too far gone ever to be redeemed.’ Voltaire averred and Tom Paine echoed, ‘Christianity will be forgotten in thirty years.

Take the liberal arts colleges at that time. A poll taken at Harvard had discovered not one believer in the whole student body. They took a poll at Princeton, a much more evangelical place, where they discovered only two believers in the student body, and only five that did not belong to the filthy speech movement of that day. Students rioted. They held a mock communion at Williams College, and they put on anti-christian plays at Dartmouth. They burned down the Nassau Hall at Princeton. They forced the resignation of the president of Harvard. They took a Bible out of a local Presbyterian church in New Jersey, and they burnt it in a public bonfire. Christians were so few on campus in the 1790’s that they met in secret, like a communist cell, and kept their minutes in code so that no one would know.

After reading Dr. Orr’s assessment of the early days of our country, we are reminded that there is truly “nothing new under the sun.” It is not necessarilyworse now than thenas Marijohn Wilkin once sang. The world, the flesh, and the devil have been our enemies ever since God told Satan after Adam’s first sin that He wouldput enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) Yes, there is much evil in the world, and we should do what we can to be salt and light in this decaying and dark place, but we should never forget that God is sovereign and that He is at work in our present situation for His glory and purpose.

I do not know if spiritual reformation or destruction lay in our immediate future as a nation, but I do know that God’s grace is real, and He will continue to call sinners to repentance regardless of the darkness of the day. Just be diligent to rest in Christ, walk in His Spirit, proclaim the Gospel, and be faithful even unto death and remember that “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run; his kingdom spread from shore to shore, till moons shall wax and wane no more.”

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1 Comment

  1. Kim Norwood said,

    August 30, 2013 at 7:32 PM

    Thanks for the reminder from history. Very encouraging.


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