As Scotland goes to the polls to vote on the question of independence, it would be fitting for all Christians–especially Reformed Christians–to give thanks for the rich Christian heritage in that nation and pray for a revival of gospel truth and grace.
I don’t claim to be an expert on contemporary Scotland or the church scene there. But I do know how concerned John Witherspoon was for his homeland in the 18th century. Here is a prayer adapted from portions of his sermon Prayer for National Prosperity and for the Revival of Religion Inseparably Connected preached on Thursday, February 16, 1758 on a public fast day in Scotland. Perhaps it captures how Scottish Christians might pray today, or how any of us in the West might pray for our own country
O Lord, let us not for Scotland, or for any nation, ask for national prosperity without a revival of religion. Our prayers are only warrantable when we adjust and proportion our esteem of the mercies of God to their real worth, and desire them for their proper ends. A love to one’s country, and a desire of its outward welfare, is, no doubt, an excellent an amiable disposition. But it is much more so to be concerned for their everlasting interest. When we ask for temporal prosperity, without an equal, or rather superior solicitude for the enlightening and sanctifying influences of the Holy Ghost, we are alienating his mercies from their proper use, turning them into weapons of rebellion against him, and cherishing that love of the world which is destructive of the love of God.
Are we not also, O Lord, in a very low and fallen state as a church? How have all ranks, from highest to lowest, corrupted their ways. How gross and prevalent is infidelity? How many of high rank have wholly deserted the house and worship of God? And with how much zeal and diligence does the lower part of the nation emulate the higher in that which is the reproach of both? So great is the prevalence of irreligion, contempt of God, sensuality and pride, that many of the grossest crimes are not only practiced but professed, not only frequent but open, not only persisted in but gloried in and boasted of.
It is not, indeed, to be wondered at that not only this nation, but the Protestant states of Europe in general should be brought under the rod, as they have so shamefully departed from that purity of faith and the strictness of morals which was the glory of the Reformation. How many have of late been ashamed of the cross of Christ and the doctrine of the grace of God? And what hath been substituted in their room? A pliant and fashionable scheme of religion, a fine theory of virtue and morality. A beautiful but unsubstantial idol, raised by human pride, adorned and dressed by human art, and supported by the wisdom of words.
For this reason, we ask that we might discover Christ’s power and glory in an eminent and remarkable revival of religion among all ranks.
That our blessed Redeemer, the king of Zion, who reigns to all generations, who hath ascended up on high and received gifts for men, would send forth his Spirit in a large and plentiful measure.
That his work and power may appear in all his gracious influences, convincing and converting sinners, sanctifying, quickening and comforting believers.
That this may be a common blessing on all corners of the land, on persons of every class and denomination, of every rank and degree, from the highest to the lowest, of every station and office, civil and sacred.
Above all, that he would “clothe his priests with salvation, that his saints may shout aloud for joy.”
O when shall the time come when “the Lord of hosts shall be for a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty to the residue of his people”? When instead of fine schemes spun for the honor of their makers, those who are called ministers of Christ shall preach the gospel, “with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” When the truth of God, by its simplicity, majesty, force and efficacy, shall make its way into the hearts of the most obstinate, and Satan’s kingdom fall as lightning before it.
We plead that believers may be brought back to their first faith and their first love; that the unhappy divisions among us be abolished; and that the bond and centre of union may be Christ crucified, the only author of salvation.
Let us not give way to desponding thoughts. Though infidelity unresisted spread its poison, though profaneness and enmity to religion and seriousness everywhere abound, though there are few to support the interest of truth and righteousness, let us not be discouraged.
We plead the cause that shall finally prevail.
Religion shall rise from its ruin; and its oppressed state at present should not only excite us to pray, but encourage us to hope for its speedy revival. While every one is diligent in his own sphere, and in his proper duty, and earnestly pleading for the revelation of the arm of the Lord, let us recollect his favor and protection to the church in every time of need, and his faithfulness which is to all generations. Let us say with the Psalmist, “Walk about Zion and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever, he will be our guide even unto death.” Amen.
Almost every word of the prayer above was taken directly from scattered portions of Witherspoon’s sermon. The message, based on Isaiah 51:9, can be found in Volume 2 of The Works of the Revd. John Witherspoon (Woodward, 1802), pages 453-477.