Updated: Dec 7, 2018
‘The moving force in human progress is not widespread’ but ‘the uplifting of man has been the work of a chosen few’ said Oxford English Professor Gilbert Murray. Professor Murray recognized a reality often true in church history. Spiritual progress in church history inevitably comes down to a few. You are the few. Take heart. This is the number for blessing; the sum of salvation; the ‘sweet spot’ and the position of favor. Jesus said, ‘Enter through the narrow gate…for the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.’ (Matthew 7: 13) This is right where I want to be! You too?
The narrow road is one of restricted traffic. It is Tight Squeeze or Narrows, Virginia where the river constricts. Let me consider three features that characterize the narrow way of the few. First, the few make hard, unpopular decisions at forks in the road. Second, their unpopular decisions put them in jeopardy. Third, counterintuitively, their unpopular decisions are the way of blessing and salvation.
It Is the Few with Gideon
Gideon has 30, 000 Israelite soldiers available to take on the Midianites. Too many. God whittles it down to 300. Still too many. But there are thousands of Midianite soldiers. God says, ‘I only want a hundred. Gideon attacks with a hundred.
It Is the Few with Paul in Philippi
In Philippi, Paul meets a small group of Jews for prayer down by the river side. Evidently, they did not have a quorum of Jewish male elders to form a synagogue. Nevertheless, Lydia listens to Paul’s message and accepts Jesus as the Son of God. The church at Philippi begins with one convert.
The Eighteenth Century Revival Begins with a Few
The eighteenth century revival in England began with a few. In 1735 Welsh preacher Rev. Jones preaches outdoors. Welsh layman Howell Harris hears Jones preach and receives Jesus as his Savior. He is born again and begins preaching. Meanwhile, in Oxford, England, a few Oxford University ‘Holy Club’ members come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Benjamin Ingham, James Hervey, George Whitefield, Charles and John Wesley receive faith in Jesus Christ. A converted drop here, a converted drop there. In time, an epoch river of revival flows! The eighteenth century revival is underway!
It Was a Few in Clapham
In the early 1800’s, a small group of aristocrats meet in Clapham, England in the home of Henry Thornton, a wealthy banker. There in his oval library evangelical pastor, Rev. John Venn, son of a Wesley’s friend, Rev. Henry Venn, leads them in Bible study, prayers, and conversation. A member of this ‘Clapham’ group, William Wilberforce, undergoes a conversion. The Clapham members discuss the injustices of the day. Wilberforce and others are moved by their faith to act. As a Member of Parliament, William Wilberforce spends his lifetime in Parliament advocating for Great Britain to abolish the slave trade.
In conclusion, spiritual movements come down to a few. Today, you are the few. You. Me.
Three Characteristics of the Few
What characterizes the few? Notice three features defining them: (1) their decisions are unpopular but obedient to God; (2) their decisions put them in jeopardy; (3) their decisions are the way of blessing and salvation. First, the few are few because they make hard, unpopular decisions at forks in the road. Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord called to Israel at the crossroads, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths; ask where the good way is, and walk in it”’ (Jeremiah 6: 16). In biblical history obeying God is always an unpopular choice. Consider: Noah... Abraham… Joseph… Moses… Ruth… Peter… Paul…Jesus himself.
Consider Those Mentioned Above
The Angel of the Lord says to Gideon, ‘Take the second bull from your father’s herd….Tear down your father’s altar to Baal and cut down the Asherah pole beside it’(Judges 6: 14). The Lord had told Israel not to worship the Amorites ’gods. ‘But you have not listened to me’ said the Lord. God asks Gideon to do an unpopular thing: He commands Gideon to go against his father and his people’s ways. This put his life in jeopardy. The townsmen find out he had torn his father’s altar down. ‘Bring out your son, he must die’ they demanded of Gideon’s father Joash. Gideon obeys and this unpopular decision puts him in danger but becomes the way of blessing and salvation. Gideon goes on to spearhead Israel’s deliverance from Midian for forty years.
George Whitefield and John Wesley begin preaching in a brickyard in Bristol. It is unpopular with the powers that be. The Bishop of Bristol, Bishop Joseph Butler, hauls Wesley in to confront him. The interview took place not far from where I used to wait on my wife Pam at the Bristol City Library. The Bishop spoke plainly to John Wesley: ‘You have no business here; you are not commissioned to preach in this diocese, therefore I advise thee to go hence.’
John Wesley stands his ground. He argues by virtue of being a Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford he has a commission to preach the word of God in any part of the Church of England. Therefore, he did not conceive ‘I break any human law’. Wesley put himself in jeopardy and on the wrong side of the famous Bishop. He continued to be excluded from English pulpits.
Nevertheless, the unpopular decision put him on the wrong side of the Church of England but the right side of history. Through his decision he entered into a historic ministry of offering Jesus Christ to persons outside the sanctuary door. The unpopular decision led to the way of blessing and salvation!
William Wilberforce and the Clapham Group
William Wilberforce’s decision to combat the slave trade was highly unpopular. He found himself sidewise of a seventy million dollar commercial enterprise. It put him at personal risk. Newspapers leveled vicious attacks against him. Death threats came. He was forced to travel with a body guard. Nevertheless, his persistence against the slave trade opposition became the way of blessing and freedom. With his and others’ leadership, he introduced a bill in Parliament that stopped Great Britain from trading in slaves. After 25 years of fighting, the House of Commons passed his bill with an eruption of applause! The slave trade was ended!
Progress comes down to a few. Today, the few are still in spiritual advance. They are unpopular in some churches for being perceived to preach an anachronistic message. They proclaim Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only Savior of sinners. They affirm that by his sacrificial, substitutionary death on the cross confirmed by his bodily resurrection he saves persons through their faith from sin and death. Moreover, they privilege the Word of God over and above every other authoritative word. They are scandalized for promoting the Biblical view of sexuality of millennia and its rejection of the practice of homosexuality.
Many of you reading this recognize yourselves as among the few who have put yourselves in jeopardy, personally and vocationally. You have been ridiculed and not taken seriously. Some of our appointments and opportunities in the church have been limited and circumscribed because of it. Nonetheless, it is the way of blessing and salvation. Choosing the narrow road opens into freedom, health, wholeness, godliness, and deliverance. This is the narrow way! This is the road of the few who find it. I love being on it with you!!
Rev. Dr. H. O. (Tom) Thomas