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Australian Bicentenary

Special celebrations have this year marked Australia's bicentenary, including Queen Elizabeth's visit to the spectacular Expo in Brisbane, Queensland.

Looking back over two hundred years to what seemed a small and disadvantaged start, there is a great deal to give a sense of achievement in terms of national development and international influence. For prison overcrowding is not a new problem! The British government's policy in 1788 was to establish a settlement in Australia to which convicts could be deported from England. A naval captain, Arthur Phillips, commanded the first expedition under this scheme.

Captain Phillip's party included 736 convicts, of whom 188 were women. The penal code of that era was of course extremely harsh, and deportation was often ordered for relatively small offences. Phillips found that many of the poor, cruelly treated people under his authority were prepared to work hard to develop the settlement. Within four years he could report that "the Colony is progressing to that state in which I have so long and anxiously wished to see it". History has vindicated the view that the foundation of Australia had been laid.

This bicentenary holds special interest from the standpoint of God's overruling for the progress of the gospel during the past two centuries. Jeremiah wrote about God's sovereign working among the nations: "There is none like unto Thee, 0 LORD; Thou art great, and Thy name is great in might. Who would not fear Thee, 0 King of the nations? ... forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their royal estate, there is none like unto Thee" (10:6,7). We recognize the wisdom and power of God as "King of the nations" in just such events as the growth of modern Australia from a small penal settlement to become a great English speaking nation which upholds basic freedoms such as religious toleration.

The late eighteenth century also saw developments in North America which led to the recognition of the United States (1783) and the granting of representative government to Canada (1791), a milestone in Canada's progress to full Dominion status. In both countries liberties were preserved which would give freedom for the progress of the gospel of Christ.

Most interestingly, the half-century which saw these political developments in Australia, New Zealand and North America coincided with the great evangelical revival under Whitefield and the Wesley brothers. Charles Wesley died in 1788, the year of Captain Phillips' arrival at Botany Bay, New South Wales. John Wesley died three years later. Methodism had in their lifetime spread to North America, and after his death the movement developed far more rapidly in the United States than in Britain. As early as 1814 Methodism had also become established in New Zealand.

May we not trace in all this a divine strategy towards the outstanding missionary outreach with the gospel which characterized the nineteenth century? Although of course not exclusively, the English speaking peoples were largely responsible for this missionary expansion. Their common language, democratic institutions and wide influence in so much of the world, were all factors in

promoting the spread of the Word of life by strongly motivated evangelical believers.

Then towards the close of the nineteenth century the marvellous light of God's house (1 Peter 2:9) was shed across the path of some earnest seekers after the way of truth for disciples of, the Lord Jesus. This led to the establishment of churches of God in Great Britain and North America, and in due course also in New Zealand and Australia. Australia's bicentenary therefore marks for us God's control of history to bring about a remarkably expansive phase of His purpose in the gospel. It also shows how the way was prepared towards the re-establishment of "golden lampstands" of divine testimony, together forming "the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15). Some of these churches of God have been separated from others by great distances; but the strength of scriptural principle held in common forms a bond of abiding unity. El-Bethel, the God of the house of God, has brought this about as by the Lord the Spirit, and is glorified through the holding fast of the faith once for all delivered to the saints.