By Dr. Paul Wilkinson
I tell no man that these two truths are essential to salvation, and that he cannot be saved except he sees them with my eyes. But I tell any man that these truths appear to me distinctly set down in holy Scripture, and that the denial of them is as astonishing and incomprehensible to my own mind as the denial of the divinity of Christ.
These words were proclaimed by one of the most authoritative British churchmen of the nineteenth century, J.C. Ryle (1816-1900). In his sermon, “Scattered Israel to be Gathered,” the former bishop of Liverpool (left) highlighted the two essential truths of Biblical prophecy which, to him, stood out “as plainly as if written by a sunbeam” – the premillennial return of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the national restoration of Israel.
John Nelson Darby was another well known 19th century evangelist in Britain. Described as an “uncompromising champion for Christ’s glory and God’s truth,” Darby was the leading architect and patron of what today is known as Christian Zionism. In 1840, he noted how the nations of the world were “occupied about Jerusalem (Zech.12:3), and know not what to do about it.” In a series of lectures he gave in Toronto in 1863, Darby shifted his attention to the Church:
“It is exactly through being wise in its own conceit that the professing church has fallen. It has looked on the Jews as entirely set aside, forgetting that ‘the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.’”
Darby understood from the Scriptures that the Church had not replaced Israel, and that Israel’s promised restoration was inextricably linked to Christ’s return. Like the Apostle Paul, he also “longed for His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:8). In 1828, Darby made the following appeal: “Let the almighty doctrine of the cross be testified to all men, and let the eye of the believer be directed to the coming of the Lord.”
In this article we will consider how the beacon of our “blessed hope,” and Israel’s redemption, was transferred across the Atlantic from Britain to the United States.
In September 1654, twenty-three Sephardic Jews sailed into New Amsterdam to establish the first Jewish community in colonial America. That same year Menasseh ben Israel, chief rabbi of old Amsterdam, sent a petition to Oliver Cromwell appealing for the readmission of the Jews to Britain. The Jewish people had been exiled from British shores since King Edward I issued an expulsion edict in 1290. No two nations were to play so decisive a role in securing the future of the Jewish people, and heralding the Lord’s return, as Britain and the United States. In 1654, however, it was unclear which nation would stay the course.
In an address to the Fourth Zionist Congress in London in 1900, Zionist leader Theodor Herzl confidently declared: “England, mighty England, free England, with its world-embracing outlook will understand us and our aspirations.” Herzl’s confidence seemed well placed after British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and his war cabinet formulated proposals for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Lloyd George later explained to the Jewish Historical Society why his government had enlisted the support of Zionist leaders such as Chaim Weizmann (on the right with President Truman) to aid their war effort: “You have been hammered into very fine steel, and that is why you can never be broken. Hammered for centuries into the finest steel of any race in the world! And therefore we wanted your help.” As a 10-year-old boy living in his home shtetl of Motol, Weizmann had written a letter to his teacher expressing supreme confidence in England’s future role: “All have decided that the Jew is doomed to death; but England nevertheless will have mercy on us.”
The issuing of the Balfour Declaration (right) effectively promoted British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to the position of “the new Cyrus restoring the Jews to their ancient land.” On 24 July 1922, the League of Nations conferred upon the British government the Mandate for Palestine. As correspondent Herbert Sidebotham wrote: “The whole world looked on, and the ghosts of three thousand years history walked again to see how this great England would acquit herself on this magnificent stage. Never had the glory of England stood higher.”
In 1925, Arthur Balfour was welcomed by the Jewish people as “an honoured guest in their own National Home.” Accompanied by his close friend Chaim Weizmann, he addressed a crowd of thousands on Mount Scopus at the opening of the Hebrew University. Acknowledging the enormous debt owed to the Jews by those “brought up on a translation into English of the Hebrew Scripture,” Balfour concluded with the following prayer: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who hast kept us in life, and hast preserved us, and enabled us to reach this moment.” Four years later the future of the Jewish homeland hung in the balance as Palestinian Arabs, encouraged by Arab sympathisers within the British administration, began to riot.
Britain’s policy of Arab appeasement reached its climax on 17 March 1939 with the issuing of the MacDonald White Paper, a reprehensible and vicious document which “closed the doors of Palestine to Jewish immigration just as Hitler was opening the door of Auschwitz.” Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir described it as Britain’s betrayal of the Jews. British Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen described it as “the complete abdication of Britain’s moral influence in the world,” and one which would cost this nation dear. In his final Zionist Congress address in 1946, an emotional Chaim Weizmann declared how “few documents in history have worse consequences for which to answer.” The premature end of Britain’s support for the Jewish homeland heralded the transfer of patronage across the Atlantic, as America emerged as the foremost political and theological friend of Israel and Britain’s glory lay in tatters.
Eleven minutes after David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence on 14 May 1948, President Harry S. Truman formally acknowledged the Jewish State. Eight hours later the British administration sailed out of Haifa, leaving the Jewish people with only the “sour conviction of betrayal by His Majesty’s Government.”
November 2007 marked the ninetieth anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. How far the once mighty British Empire has fallen since the day God raised up a generation of Evangelicals to sound the midnight cry, and established a government of Zionist sympathisers to intervene on behalf of His people Israel. For Zion’s sake, and for the sake of God’s Holy Name, may the Evangelical Church in America heed the lessons of history and raise aloft the beacon of our ‘blessed hope’ in these dark days. May all who love Israel, the Church, and the glorious appearing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ heed His command and look up, for our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28).
Dr. Paul Wilkinson (email@example.com) is Assistant Pastor at Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church, Stockport, Cheshire, UK. He is author of For Zion’s Sake: Christian Zionism and the Role of John Nelson Darby (2007). To purchase this newly released book at the “author’s discount” contact Jeremy Mudditt (firstname.lastname@example.org) at Paternoster Press.