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"The Glorious Revolution"

A third centenary

Perhaps many of us would find it difficult to identify the "glorious revolution" as the sequence of events which in 1688 brought William of Orange to the English throne.

Such details belong to dusty history books. There's so much more of exciting modern development to engage our interest. Doubtless also the term "glorious revolution" was an exaggerated and partisan description of affairs. Nevertheless in this third centenary year we may usefully look back and see the accession of William III in the perspective of the past 300 years.

To refresh our memories, James II had succeeded his brother Charles II in 1685, and at once embarked on policies which antagonized his subjects. He was determined to defy Parliament and the rule of law; also to impose his will in making Roman Catholicism the religion of the state. The ensuing struggle with Parliament and with the Church of England led finally in 1688 to the acknowledgement of Mary (James' elder daughter) and her husband, William of Orange, as Queen and King. James fled the country, but with help from France he developed military action in Ireland. He was thwarted at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, and his hopes were finally crushed at the more decisive Battle of Aughrim a year later. As a result of William's victory the Church of England's independence from Rome was confirmed; an Act of Settlement perpetuated a Protestant monarchy; the Bill of Rights reinforced Parliament's authority.

The overruling hand of God in history is amply confirmed in Scripture. Dominating all history is the divine declaration, "Yet I have set My King upon My holy hill of Zion" (Ps. 2). Nations may rage and imagine vain things, trying to "break their bands asunder" and cast away the cords of divine restraint. God is working all things after the counsel of His will, towards the ultimate manifestation of His appointed King. "We see not yet all things subjected to Him" (Heb. 2:8), but faith recognizes the deep wisdom of God in guiding world affairs throughout the centuries.

Neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south, corneth lifting up. But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and lifteth up another (Ps. 75:6,7).

From this standpoint it is fascinating to see in retrospect the crucial importance of these events in Britain three centuries ago. God was evidently working towards a major role for the English speaking peoples in the spread of His word during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. James II was not allowed to reverse the great spiritual advances of the Reformation era in Britain. The preservation of this heritage was foundational to all that followed in terms of extensive spiritual influence. The eighteenth century evangelical revival under the Wesleys and others was of course the precursor of tremendous missionary enterprise in the nineteenth century. How different the picture could have been if gospel light and liberty had been subdued in Britain by King James II!

A remarkable feature of God's overruling in history is the way He controls situations which seem to be brought about merely by political or economic factors. Pontius Pilate, Herod and Caiaphas all acted from unworthy motives in their handling of the Lord's trial. Yet God used the resulting situation to bring about His great redemptive purpose in Christ. "The determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" effected such high purpose "by the hand of lawless men" (Acts 2:23). "Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee" (Ps. 76:10). William of Orange was doubtless influenced mainly by political motives when' he accepted the English crown; but God harnessed the situation to promote His long-term plan for the preservation of spiritual truth and its communication so widely throughout the English speaking world.

As disciples of the Lord Jesus we are helped by this to understand our present role in divine purpose. Our Master did not get involved in the political affairs or social injustices of this world (cf. John 18:36 & Luke 12:13,14). Nor should we! (John 17:16). Our primary concern is for the spiritual promotion of His kingdom (Mat. 6:33; Acts 1:3; 28:30,31). We may safely leave the superintendence of the world's affairs to God's overruling, only let us be earnest to fulfil our responsibility that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place (1 Tim. 2:14).