Changed from Glory into Glory

By Revd Dr David A. Hull

I have the great privilege of serving as a church pastor in Kingswood, on the outskirts of Bristol.  It is, in many ways, the birthplace of the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival.  Former Prime Ministers, no less, have made remarkable claims about that revival.  Lloyd George said that his native Wales “owed more to the movement of which Wesley was … leader, than to any other movement in the whole of its history. It civilised the people … There was a complete revolution effected in the whole country.” Stanley Baldwin said that historians “now realise that they cannot explain nineteenth-century England until they can explain Wesley”. He added: “I believe it is equally true to say, that you cannot understand twentiethcentury America, unless you understand Wesley.”

They observed something that seems to be overlooked so easily.  We cannot understand our culture in the UK today, until we have grasped that much of what we value has its roots in the Evangelical Revival.  It was a moment of refocussing and reenergising.  The transformation of individual lives on a mass scale led to the transformation of society, including not only the abolition of the slave trade, but also reform in almost every aspect of society: education, healthcare, relief for the poor, the care of children, working conditions and workers’ rights, the penal system, and so on.

A twofold message

Today, the effects of the revival live on, not only in the legacy of that social reform, but also of course in the Church’s worship.  The final hymn of the late Queen’s funeral service was Charles Wesley’s, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling’. The final verse takes us to the heart of the Revival’s message.  It captures the vision – the great goal – for life, that was held out:

Finish then thy new creation,
pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation,
perfectly restored in thee,
changed from glory into glory
till in heaven we take our place,
till we cast our crowns before thee,
lost in wonder, love, and praise!

Love divine, all loves excelling, Charles Wesley, 1707-1788

It is a vision of new creation, of being pure and spotless, of seeing great salvation perfectly restored, all taking place in human experience here and now.  This is not something only for the hereafter, for which we hope only when we die.  It is a vision of being changed – from glory into glory – here and now, continually, until ‘in heaven we take our place’.

The message at the heart of that great Revival which fundamentally reset the course of the nation, revolved therefore around two great convictions which flow from the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Firstly, conversion can be personally experienced in an unmistakeably life-changing way.  Secondly, conversion doesn’t only happen in a moment, but initial conversion sets the Christian on the path of a life-long process of conversion, as life is transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ in every aspect.

Those two convictions were at the heart of the Revival because they are at the heart of authentic Christianity.  They continue to be at the heart of Christian faith and life and ministry to this day.  We are in the business of conversion, and it is our joy and delight. 

It is therefore extremely concerning that there is now talk of banning ‘conversion’. There has even been an official Government consultation.  It might be defined as conversion therapy, or conversion practices, but everything we are told the legislation would seek to ban is already illegal, and thus it is unnecessary.  Authentic Christian conversion has never been coercive or abusive, and it is right that coercion and abuse are illegal. Evangelical Christians were at the vanguard of legislating against such things in this country.

A twofold danger

A ban of conversion practices would therefore present a twofold danger to us who continue to present this twofold message.  Firstly, ill-defined legislation connected to conversion – as we’ve seen in other democratic countries – will pave the way for its use, or its deliberate misuse, to criminalise authentic Christian ministry which, at its heart, is – and can only ever be – about conversion.  Secondly, adopting our own anti-conversion legislation in this country, however it is phrased, will be taken by other regimes to legitimise anti-conversion legislation in their own countries, which is used to horrific effect, justifying extreme persecution.

It is worth being mindful that, within our culture today, we are witnessing a clash of worldviews.  There is nothing unusual about that. Such was the case in the days of the eighteenth-century Evangelical Revival, and it has certainly been the case at times since then.  Today, the age-old Judeo-Christian beliefs relating to marriage, intimate relationships, and human identity are being challenged – as they have often been.  We mustn’t ignore the fact that the lifelong, ongoing process of conversion at the heart of Christianity will lead us straight into that conflict: it reaches into every area of life, including marriage, intimate relationships and human identity – of course it does!

Within this age of turmoil, there are many who continue to hold to the Judeo-Christian worldview which has shaped our national life.  We must, it seems to me, stand together in doing everything we can to call upon our Government to keep our country open to the authentic Christian ministry of conversion to Christ that has made us who we are.

Revd Dr David A. Hull

Chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together and Lead Pastor of Freedom Church Bristol