Real Christianity (1797) by William Wilberforce
This Christian classic is certainly among my top 10 favourite books beside the Bible and one that the Lord formatively used in my life. While written many years ago it is highly relevant for today.
Made more accessible by the paraphrase of Bob Beltz in 2006 (along with the release of the Song, “Amazing Grace, My Chains are Gone” and the movie about the abolitionist, Amazing Grace), this work is the best seller that helped end slavery in the British Empire.
Frustrated that the populace of a “Christian” nation wouldn’t support his appeals to end slavery, Wilberforce realized the reason, most were nominal. This can be seen in the historic and long title: A Practical View of the Prevailing System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity [emphasis added].
He knew he couldn’t change the direction of his country until the Lord had changed its heart:
"But fruitless will be all attempts to sustain, much more to revive, the fainting cause of morals unless you can in some degree restore the prevalence of Evangelical Christianity. It is in morals as in physics; unless a source of practical principles be elevated, it will be vain to attempt to make them flow on a high level in their future course… By all, therefore, who are studious of their country’s welfare…every effort should be used to revive the Christianity of our better days."
This is a helpful reminder for those Christians who still think the political process can deliver Canada—it cannot, only the Gospel can!
By his work Real Christianity, example, network and involvement in the Evangelical Revival, Wilberforce was a powerful figure in shaping a nation for Christ, a legacy still felt in many respects today.
Though Canada is a post-Christian nation, the problem of nominal Christianity persists. This book will help you recognize what nominal Christianity is as you contrast it with real Christianity.
“His [Jesus’] winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:12; c.f. Lk 3:17)
When I was younger I worked for an organic farmer for several years who still used many traditional Ontario farming practices, including the fanning mill. Taking grain from the grainery of the old hip roof barn I insert pails of raw grain directly into the mill. A combination of the fanning and shaking would separate the chaff from the grain. The chaff was good for, well, nothing; and the grain, free from defect or blemish, would be used to plant in the fields. This Victorian invention mechanized the age old practice that Jesus describes in our verse, whereby the grain was threshed (beaten to loosen the grain) and then winnowed by tossing the grain-husk-stem mix into the air. The breeze would carry away the unwanted materials and the grain would fall to the threshing floor to be collected, used or consumed. The chaff would be burned.
Now this verse has an eschatological edge to it (end times), however, there is a sense in which it has more universal application today: the Lord is often busy about winnowing the visible Church, separating real and nominal Christians, the former to His glory and the latter to their derision.
As we’ve been seeing in C2C, at certain times in history seismic events overturn established orders and reveal the true state of things, human hearts.
For many years the wheat and chaff in the visible church have been allowed to remain together in Ontario churches. Many people looked like respectable Christians, that is until the winnowing fork was set to them, the pressure produced by recent seismic shifts and events that revealed on what side of the line they really stood:
We are living in changing times and the pressures of these changes are highly revelatory as to the hearts of visible Christians. This is burdensome, yet there is hope, hope that the church, purged, pruned and winnowed may be the faithful remnant that will then shine forth all the brighter in the darkness.
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.