by W. Elwyn Davies
During the last decade we have been made vividly aware of the rapid increase in the population of the world.
During the last decade we have been made vividly aware of the rapid increase in the population of the world. The population increase during the Christian era has been as follows: A.D. 650, 300 million; 1650, 600 million; 1850, 1,200 million; 1950, 2,400 million. The United Nations reported on August 30, 1964, that midway through 1962 the earth’s population was 3,135 million. By A.D. 2000 it is likely that there will be over 6,000 million people alive.
Such figures cannot really make sense to us. Who can understand million? Some facts about the growth of the human race are understandable, however. For example, it took one thousand years for the race to double itself, but from 1650 to 1850 the same process took place in just two hundred years. That was the period of great strides in food production, medicine, science, and human knowledge in many areas. It was followed by a still greater period of human attainment, with a corresponding increase in the process of human growth, so that what had once taken one thousand years to achieve was accomplished in one hundred years (1850 – 1950). All signs indicate that the second half of the twentieth century will witness more than a doubling of the race. The process is obviously continuing at an accelerated pace. The annual increase now amounts to 2.1 per cent a year, the highest yet recorded.
We cannot ignore such figures. Politicians, sociologists, educators, industrialists, medical men, and others are aware of the terrifying prospects of this great surge of mankind, leaving in its wake a wide swath of anarchy, as starving multitudes of underprivileged humans overflow from under developed countries. These leaders are not given to exaggeration, yet they are greatly concerned about the immensity of the problems which confront mankind. Those who are best informed are the ones who fear most that the human race will reproduce itself into a suicidal mass, sweeping the gains of centuries of civilization into oblivion.
All too often the reaction of Christians to all this is, "But of course God . . ." If this truly represents a deep, scriptural trust in God, it is good. But this reaction may reveal something of the apathy and indifference of a church out of contact with the real world in which it is called upon to witness to Christ. There can be few more disastrous fallacies than to hide behind a pseudo-confidence in the sovereignty of God, while actually being out of touch with the startling and revolutionary changes that are sweeping over mankind.
UNDERSTANDING OUR TIMES
Before we can effectively meek the flood of humanity that is now rushing toward our generation of Christians, we must seek some understanding of the phenomenon itself. Has it been brought about merely by a remarkable combination of improved economics, hygiene, medical facilities, and the fantastic ability of life to reproduce itself? Does God enter into the picture? Has the Bible anything to say that will guide us in our approach to it? These are questions we must not shun, for we live in a world that is simply alive with men and women men and women we are commissioned to reach for Christ.
On at least two major occasions in the past the world has known other population explosions. To examine the scriptural record of these is to glean some significant information that can be of value to us today.
In Genesis 6:1 we read, "And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth. . ." At that time the Lord said, "My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years" (Gen. 6:3 ) . At this time of multiplication of the world’s population God "saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5 ) . The solemn record goes on to say that "it repented the Lord that he hadmade man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created." Verse 12 further declares, "And God looked upon the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth." The eighth verse comes in great relief: "But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord."
The picture is of a great surge of population, a corresponding wave of sin and corruption, a godly remnant, and intervention by God.
Exodus 1:7 records another great population explosion. It is significant that this explosion did not occur early in the sojourn of Israel in Egypt. God had promised Abraham that after four centuries his people would return to the Promised Land from Egypt. Stephen pin-pointed the population explosion by saying, "But when the time of the promise drew nigh, which God had sworn to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt" (Acts 7:17 ) . This explosion was not unrelated to other events in history. It occurred at a time when a new dynasty had taken over in Egypt–one not beholden to the Israelites for services rendered by Joseph (Exod. 1:8). It was also the time when the people of Canaan, who were soon to be dispossessed by Israel, were reaching the limits of sin permitted by a longsuffering God (Gen. 15:16 ). With world events setting the stage for the great drama, and man’s sin creating a demand for judgment, the seventy-five souls who went into Egypt suddenly appear as a nation numbering perhaps three million. It was at that point that God intervened in the affairs of both Egypt and Canaan, to say nothing of Israel itself.
Another significant fact is the emergence of men of God to lead His people. Noah was such a man. And so was Moses. Stephen pointedly remarks, "In which time Moses was born" (Acts 7:20).
From two precedents we learn that in the past a vast population explosion has heralded a great intervention by God.
A more localized explosion in Egypt introduced the intervention of God in the lives of the nations involved.
Is it possible that we are living at a time when God is about to intervene once again in the affairs of mankind? If these biblical incidents are any indication, it could be that we have before us in the present population explosion one of God’s signposts to our generation. The God who intervened when men multiplied, and sin abounded, may well intervene once again. The return of the Lord Jesus Christ may well be much nearer than we dare think.
The doctrine of the coming of Christ was never intended to take the thoughts of God’s servants away from their tasks in the world. It was to be a stimulus to greater efficiency and urgency in our service. The circumstances today that give rise to the conviction that the Lord is coming soon are also a means of stimulating us to greater concentration on the task to which we are called. When Peter said that God is "not willing that any should perish" (2 Pet. 3:8 ) and Paul shut the church in to the challenge of making the Gospel known by saying "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?" there were only three hundred million persons in the world. But the number of Christians was so small, and their means were so limited, it seemed an impossible task. In spite of the odds, however, the church exploded in the world, and vast multitudes turned to God from idols.
FACING OUR WORLD
Today in our world of three billion, it should be remembered that the Word of God remains unchanged and unmodified. God is still at work calling out a Body for His Son. The Lord Jesus is still building the church. God still commands "all men every where to repent" (Acts 17:30 ) and believe the Gospel. God still "will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:4 ). To say that the present population explosion has made our goal of bringing the Gospel to every man unrealistic is to fly in the face of the teachings of the Scriptures.
Even if man is inclined to give up the job as hopeless, apparently God is bent on accomplishing His purposes. The Iron Curtain may have caused many Christians to give up all thought of penetrating Russia with the Gospel and the Word of God-especially if they have prophetic views in which Russia figures as "the enemy"–but John 3:16 still applies to Russia; China, and Cuba.
The challenge to the church is on a vaster scale than ever before. As in the days of Moses, however, it is directly related to contemporary history. It is no accident that at the very time when the population of the world is so vast God has placed in the hands of the church the technical means of propagating the Gospel all over the globe.
The wealth of the church in the West makes it possible, if the wealth is consecrated to God. The number of young people in our churches today makes it possible for tens of thousands of missionaries to fan out all over the world. Over two hundred countries can today be entered by missionaries. Indeed, humanly speaking, it is far more possible for us to reach our generation with the Gospel than it was for the early apostles to fulfill their commission. God knows this; He will hold us accountable.
The time of God’s intervention may well be near. We are faced with an awesome choice. Either we must throw out most of the claims we make for the Gospel as the power of God, and for the commission of the church, or we must do some serious heart-searching. Dare I go on believing that a vast Niagara of souls goes into eternity every day without hearing the Gospel, and that this means eternal loss to them? Dare I claim that the Gospel alone offers hope for men, because there is no other way of salvation for mankind? Dare I believe that the Lord Jesus said, "As my Father bath sent me, even so send I you" (John 20:21)? Dare I claim that there is sufficiency in Christ for all the demands of our day? If I dare, then I must do some thing about the day in which I am living. I must face squarely the tragic powerlessness in the church. Time honored methods of evangelism may have to give way before a new dynamic. Pentecost was an explosion. Perhaps nothing short of another explosion will enable us to reach our target in this generation.
The men involved in Pentecost may have the secret for us. They were, without exception, men with a history of consecrated living. When Peter claimed, "We have left all, and follow thee" (Luke 18:28 ) the Lord Jesus did not contradict him. Perhaps our ideas of consecration need overhauling.
They were also men who had had recent encounters with God-a risen Savior who had manifested Himself to them, and had taught them day by day. They were also men possessed of a spirit of obedience, who tarried when told to tarry, who prayed when called to pray, and who spoke up when urged to do so. Such men became explosive when the right moment arrived. Such men were material the Spirit of God could use explosively. The world needs such just now.
EMQ, Jan. 1965, pp. 33-38. Copyright © 1965 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.