A failing health service, the social care timebomb, disregard for the safety of women and children, economic stagnation, the aftermath of the pandemic, immigration woes, a crisis in law and order, the deficiencies of our energy policy – yet even the boldest politicians seem to offer little more than sticking plasters, if not proposals that will positively make things worse. Even secular commentators are talking in terms of Britain’s “fall from grace” and expressing frustration at how little yield there is for our efforts. We seem to have inherited problems from the previous decades and generations which we cannot solve, while inheriting opportunities which we fail to exploit to our advantage. At the national level it is as if something is preventing us from achieving what we could.
Yet this is not a new experience. In the 1600s commentators such as William Guthrie were keen observers of national trends and their analysis moved beyond the political and economic to also take into consideration the spiritual dimension. In Guthrie’s view, national stagnation and failures were the price the nation paid for collectively forsaking the Lord and loosening their commitment to His ways. In the 1700s Thomas Boston, sharing essentially the same outlook as Guthrie, elaborated further on the perversity of his generation. It was a perversity which seemed to actively incite God to thwart their attempts to better themselves.
The following pair of updated extracts from their writings show Guthrie’s self-accusation of the nation and Boston’s earnest exhortations to “save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Although politicians will always disappoint us with the limited solutions they can offer to the nation’s problems, it is not inevitable that we keep sinking into ever worsening decline. If we accept Guthrie’s and Boston’s analysis and advice, we can break out of the cycle of intergenerational perversity and thrive under God’s blessing.
God is right to be angry with us when we refuse to be humbled by His chastisements
By William Guthrie
We have responded with deep-rooted complacency, impenitence, obstinacy and incorrigibleness under all the dreadful chastisements of God.
Although God has visited us with dreadful chastisements, we have responded with complacency and incorrigibleness. God has also given us tokens of his indignation against us because of these attitudes, yet our attitudes do not change. So while he continues to smite, we are so far from humbling ourselves and turning to him that we grow worse and worse, and sin more and more.
This is surely undeniable. We only need to observe the condition of the land, and the present character and behaviour of the people. Virtually everyone is crying out for their afflictions, but almost no one is mourning for his sin.
What kind of generation is this?
By Thomas Boston
“Save yourselves from this untoward generation” is part of Peter’s advice to his hearers in his sermon in Acts 2. What kind of generation was this?
A generation that has become impervious to the means of grace and the glorious gospel of Christ.
And is not this the case of the present generation? We have long enjoyed the gospel, and now we are like those who are made deaf by the continual sounding of many waters. To whom shall preachers now speak? Who now believes the report of the gospel? Some who once trembled at the Word, now sit like brazen walls against it. Some whose consciences were once touched, are now apparently seared with a hot iron. What can be expected, but that God will change his messengers, and try sharp rods after a slighted word?
A generation in which corruption of life and manners is become universal, having overspread all ranks of society
Alas! is not this our very case? Is not profaneness and wickedness like a flood gone over all its banks? If we look at the congregation, what profane swearing, drunkenness, biting and devouring one another, and uncleanness abound among us, even in the midst of gospel-light! Is this the fruit of plenty, fulness, and thriving in the world? If we look abroad through the nations, religion is truly fallen under contempt. Looseness and licentiousness are become fashionable, the flood-gates of debauchery are set open, and there is no stemming of the tide. The generation has not stopped at ordinary crimes, but they have proceeded to an open defiance of heaven by atheism and blasphemy. What prodigious blasphemies have been heard of, of late! The foundations of Christianity are sapped by damnable heresies. The principles of true religion are in hazard of being lost, not only among people, but pastors. What a dreadful conjuncture this is, when in England and Ireland the supreme Godhead of Christ, and His equality with the Father, is denied, while in Scotland legalism, by which the purity of gospel-doctrine is corrupted, prevails and is countenanced so much!
A generation deaf to the calls of providence, who are not drawn by mercies, and not driven to repentance by lesser strokes
Our generation has met with a great variety of providences. Uncertainty as to who the new monarch would be – but God gave us King George and not another Stuart monarch. Civil unrest in the Jacobite Rising of 1714 – but God stopped it from filling the whole land with blood. Impoverishment following the failure of the Darien Scheme. The threat of pestilence, which rages in France – but so far God has averted it from us. What is the fruit of all these mercies, strokes, deliverances, and long-suffering? Are we bettered by them? So far from it, that we are visibly growing worse and worse. We take one bad step after another, so that the reasons why God is angry are still multiplying.
A generation resistant to check, control, or reproof in their sinful courses, but determined to have their own way
People cannot endure reproof. Church discipline is despised. Personal interventions are apt to incense the reproved against the reprover. Ministers challenging people in the preaching of the Word, people are not able to bear, if they are too close to the bone. Everyone cares more about reputation than conscience.
How can we save ourselves from this generation?
As a first step, we must open our eyes, and look.
1. Look around you, and observe the generation, and consider seriously the way they are going, and the perversity which this manifests. Otherwise you will never bestir yourself to save yourself from it.
2. Look above you, to God. Take notice how the course of the untoward generation is displeasing to Him, how it dishonours Him and robs Him of the glory that is due to his name. God is the governor of the world, and He is not an idle spectator of what people do on earth. Since He looks to us, let us look up to Him.
3. Look within you, and see what perversity exists within your own heart, and appears in your own life and way (Isaiah 6:5). Nobody saves themselves from an untoward generation without beginning here.
1. Return to God by Jesus Christ, in the way of the everlasting covenant held out to you in the gospel. “For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). Be stiff-necked no longer, but yield yourself to the Lord. Take salvation closely to heart now at last, and enter into the covenant, if you are still a stranger to Christ. And if you are the friend of Christ, renew your covenant, give a renewed consent to the marriage-covenant between Christ and your soul.
2. Endeavour to walk closely with God in your personal capacity, as Noah did (Genesis 6:9). Strive to be acquainted with the life and power of religion in your own souls. When the church is going through a dark and cloudy day, it is hard to keep fast to a religion you don’t feel. When the winds of error and delusion are left to blow, they will hurt anyone who doesn’t know God. In a time of general calamity, anyone who cannot live by faith will find it hard to live.
3. Beware of and stand at a distance from the sinful ways and courses of the untoward generation. “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11). Let it not encourage you to sin, that you see others take liberty to themselves to do so, for that way you only enter into the conspiracy against God with the multitude. If you are ever to save yourselves from this untoward generation, you will be instructed of God (as Isaiah was), that he “should not walk in the way of this people” (Isaiah 8:11).
4. Mourn over the sins of the untoward generation, as well as over your own, otherwise you are not free of them (Ezekiel 9:4; Psalm 119:136). “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes,” said David, “because they (the wicked) keep not thy law.” God is dishonoured, His name is profaned, His ways, truths, and ordinances are trampled on by this untoward generation – and we stand by as unconcerned spectators, or else join in! What? is God our Father? is Christ our elder brother? are we on heaven’s side or are we not?
5. Make the welfare of Christ’s church a matter of your own personal concern. Take a personal interest in how it fares with the church of Christ in this untoward generation.
There has been much contending in Scotland, even unto blood, for all the parts of our covenanted reformation. Few of the Covenanting generation remain now, but in this current generation the work is at risk of going to wreck at our hands. It is much to be lamented that church members generally are very easy and complacent about the matter. They do not see the danger, they do not perceive the weight of it, and they are not inclined to take much interest in it. Hence no wonder they are not busy wrestling with God about it. But you are called to bestir yourself on Zion’s behalf. Our Lord takes notice how people behave in times when His interest is sinking. He will look after His own interests Himself in due time, but those who stand aloof from it are in a dangerous position, according to what Mordecai told Esther, “For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed” (Esther 4:14).
Now is the time to save yourselves. God is still on a throne of grace. He is calling to you, however far you have gone on with the untoward generation, to save yourselves now from this generation.
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