In 1702, colonial American Christian leader Increase Mather published a sermon entitled, “Ichabod or A discourse, showing what cause there is to fear that the glory of the Lord, is departing from New-England.” Like many American Christians today, Mather saw true Christianity declining and had a heart for the revival of God’s people.
Mather’s sermon drew on imagery from Ezekiel 9:3, “Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house.” Ezekiel wrote within the context of the Old Covenant, in which God’s presence was manifest in the Temple. In the New Covenant, God’s presence is in the spiritual temple of us as individual believers and in us as the collective church. Mather’s message warned Christians that God’s glorious presence would recede from them because of spiritual slothfulness and continued, unrepentant sin.
It is important for us to understand that God could withdraw His presence from His people, both in the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Some religious leaders in the Old Testament presumed that God would never judge His people (Jeremiah 7:4), and some Christian leaders today do not think that God would judge Christians. However, the Bible explains, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And ‘If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?’” (1 Peter 4:17-18).
James confronted his Christian audience with the same idea in James 4:1-10. He said that their sin had made them enemies of God (James 4:4). Remember that James was writing to Christians. But James, and Increase Mather, only had the best of intentions. Their rebukes were not meant to be mean-spirited but rather the most loving action they could take. James promised his congregation, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8). And Mather wanted his words to serve as an “awakening” for “the life and power of godliness to be revived.”
Our Lord Jesus Himself conveys the same sentiments to His followers in Revelation 2–3. Five out of Jesus’ seven letters to the churches include sharp rebukes: “repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Revelation 2:5). Removing the lampstand means removing the church and the presence of God therein. But Jesus promises great reward to those who do repent: “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
Thankfully, the people of early America repented and experienced a Great Awakening that changed the course of history. Let us also respond with humble hearts that God would draw near to us again.
Father, we repent on behalf of ourselves, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and our nation for the ways that we have rejected You and put ourselves and our pleasure above worshiping and obeying You. Let the blood of Jesus wash over all our sins and restore us again. Give us the strength to repent and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We want You and Your glory with us more than anything else. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.
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