What Made Britain Great?: And How Did It All Go Wrong?

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What Made Britain Great?

And How Did It All Go Wrong?

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MP3 Audio (21.24 MB)


What Made Britain Great?: And How Did It All Go Wrong?

MP3 Audio (21.24 MB)

My father often told the story of being introduced to someone from Australia. After talking for a few minutes, and mistaking his new friend’s accent for a British one, my dad asked, “Are you from Great Britain?” With typical Australian humor, the man replied, “Great Britain ain’t been great for years, mate!”

How true that is for those who have watched as Great Britain—formerly ruling the greatest empire the world had ever seen, on which the sun never set—declined in power, influence and internal stability in the 20th century and into the 21st.

Britain is no different from other Western nations in forgetting the source of their incredible blessings and their national power—the Almighty Creator God and His Word, the Bible.

A number of factors have contributed, including the toll of world wars, the welfare state, multiculturalism, integration into a hyper-regulated Europe and, above all, a slide into ever-worsening immorality. Now the nation faces an uncertain future following the vote on “Brexit,” British exit from the European Union, in late June—the outcome unknown as of this writing. Whichever way the vote has gone when you read this, the nation no doubt remains quite divided on the matter—and on many other issues.

How did Great Britain become great in the first place? How did things change? And what should the individual citizen do?

“Such is the end of Empire”

At its peak in the years leading up to World War I, the British Empire was truly a world-dominating power, with territories, colonies and dependencies on all six of the earth’s inhabited continents. In terms of military might, it was unchallenged by any one single opponent until the tremendous changes of the World War I era.

Two world wars later, the combined weight of the global conflicts drained the nation’s economy as well as the willpower of its people. The next step was the dissolution of Britain’s world-spanning empire over the half-century following World War II.

First the empire began its exit from Asia by granting India independence and pulling out of the Middle East in the deal that would lead to the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. Next came Britain’s departure from Africa in the 1960s, led most notably by the independence of South Africa.

Britain’s exit from colonialism and the final breath of its empire came on July 1, 1997, when the United Kingdom officially handed Hong Kong back to China. After the ceremony, on his return trip to England, Prince Charles wrote in his journal a succinct summary of what the handover meant: “Such is the end of Empire, I sighed to myself” (“Charles’ Diary Lays Thoughts Bare,” BBC News, Feb. 22, 2006).

Much has been written on the enduring impact of Britain’s rise to greatness and its colonial legacy, both in admiration and in criticism. Human nature being what it is, her rule was at times marred by personal and national ambition and greed. Yet the British molded much of what we see in the world today in terms of national boundaries, the global balance of power and an enduring cultural legacy.

Political author Fareed Zakaria commented on Britain’s powerful cultural influence: “In fact, Britain has arguably been the most successful exporter of its culture in human history. Before the American dream, there was an ‘English way of life’—one that was watched, admired and copied throughout the world. And also thanks to the British Empire, English spread as a global language, spoken from the Caribbean to Cape Town to Calcutta” (“The Future of American Power,” Foreign Affairs, May-June 2008, p. 20).

God and His Word the source of greatness

Not mentioned by Zakaria is the single most important contribution the British Empire made to the far-flung regions of its dominion—the English-language King James Version of the Holy Bible.

In the year 1611, in the early stages of the British Empire’s first great period of expansion and prosperity, the new translation of the Bible ordered by King James seven years earlier was completed. With that, the Word of God became more widely available and understandable to more people than ever before.

Its widespread availability wasn’t confined to the British Isles, either. As the British Empire spread its arms wide and began to encompass more and more of the world, missionaries followed, taking the Bible’s message to millions of people in lands it had never reached before.

In this way, the British people delivered untold blessings to people around the world—blessings that stem from reading, believing and following the Word of God, a spiritual reality affirmed by Jesus Christ (Luke 11:28).

And the Bible’s dissemination has made a big difference in the world (compare Isaiah 55:10-11). Basic Christian morals are a blessing to any society, especially as more and more citizens learn to faithfully abide by them and practice them. After all, who doesn’t think a society is better served when its people are honest? Or what nation has ever been strengthened by murder?

How much more powerful the impact of the Bible’s standards can be when it begins to take root in a society whose value system included polygamy, intertribal warfare or cannibalism. This was the depth of the impact the British Empire and its Bible-carrying citizens had on many of its colonies. In this way the British people, with their faith in God and conviction that the Bible was His very Word, were a blessing to millions around the world.

A cultural shift away from God’s laws

How did such monumental national decline take place in such a short amount of time? What were the chief factors in the changes to British society and culture?

As we covered before, a nation that reads, believes and obeys the Word of God is blessed by virtue of the Bible’s instructions and the natural positive effects of God’s way. The other side of the equation is also true: A nation that rebels against God’s way, especially after having tasted the blessings that come from following Him, will soon find itself experiencing what the Bible calls “curses”—the opposite of blessings.

Deuteronomy 28 gives a list of blessings from obeying God as well as a chilling list of the curses that would come on a nation that rejected His authority. These curses aren’t magic or mysticism. They’re simply the logical outcomes of a society embracing sin.

The rapid decline and disassembling of the British Empire should come as no surprise if viewed as the natural next step in a nation that no longer views God’s Word as its moral compass.

We should consider that Britain’s highly socialized welfare system—which, as in many other countries, has the appearance of a godly system of helping others—is, in vital respects, actually contrary to God’s law. While the Bible does advocate helping the poor (and spells out how to do so), the government has no right to confiscate income from some to redistribute that to others. This is a form of theft, a violation of the Eighth Commandment.

Socialist programs end up creating government dependency rather than promote industry, a high work ethic and charitable concern for others. This is not to say that people in need should not be helped economically, but the fruit of the social welfare state over generations shows that this is not the right or truly beneficial way to go about it.

Further burdening the welfare system today is mass immigration. The Daily Express reported: “The burden of public services, benefits and pensions for migrants and their families far outstrips the income from what they pay in taxes. Migrants contributed £89.7 billion in taxes but received £106.7 billion in public spending during 2014-15” (Macer Hall, “Migrants Cost Britain £17bn a Year,” May 17, 2016). The same report says that leaving the EU would cut this bill by £1.2 billion, but that is clearly not enough.

Abandonment of Christian values

Beyond this, other laws of God are also violated more and more at every level of society. To claim that the United Kingdom has suffered from a steep and drastic decline in the fundamental standards of Christian morality should not be at all surprising or shocking. Even observers a world away should see the signs of a nation that has lost its spiritual way.

Several years ago, Richard Chartres, the Anglican bishop of London, addressed the moral failings of the British people in regard to the decay of biblical family values. “‘Literally millions of children grow up without knowing a stable, loving, secure family life—and that is not to count the hundreds of thousands more who don’t even make it out of the womb each year,’ he said, in a pointed reference to abortion.

“‘Promiscuity, separation and divorce have reached epidemic proportions in our society. Perhaps, then, we shouldn’t be surprised that depression and the prescription of anti-depressants has reached a similarly epidemic level’” (quoted by Jerome Taylort, “Bishop Says Moral Decline Has Hit ‘Epidemic’ Levels,” The Independent, June 1, 2012).

As Christian morals and beliefs are increasingly passé, and fewer and fewer Brits identify as Christians (now down to about 42 percent), an increasing number of people, nearly half the British population, consider themselves to be entirely nonreligious (John Bingham, “Christians Now a Minority in UK as Half the Population Have No Religion,” The Telegraph, Sept. 10, 2013).

In the religious void left behind in Christianity’s decline, other religions, notably Islam, are growing. One factor in this is the mass immigration already noted, as this includes a huge influx of people from Muslim nations. And multiculturalism, wherein immigrants maintain their own culture rather than blending in to the general culture, is heavily promoted in Britain, causing societal fragmentation.

One result of this is many pockets throughout the country of Islamic fundamentalism and even extremism, wherein the West is viewed as an enemy, with these having high birthrates—against the reduced birthrates of the native population. This was one of the curses God warned of: “The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher and you shall come down lower and lower” (Deuteronomy 28:43). In Britain this has led to homegrown terrorism through bombings and even beheadings on the street. 

Perhaps of chief concern in Islam’s rise in the UK is the appearance of Sharia (Islamic law) “courts” in fundamentalist Muslim communities. While these institutions are not legal courts, per se, their existence has many in Britain concerned about the potential creation of an alternate legal system in the country.

“‘Over the years, we have witnessed with increasing alarm the influence of ‘Sharia courts’ over the lives of citizens of Muslim heritage,’ nearly 200 women’s rights and secular campaigners said in a statement. ‘Though the “Sharia courts” have been touted as people’s right to religion, they are in fact, effective tools of the far-right Islamist movement whose main aim is to restrict and deny rights, particularly those of women and children.’ It has been reported that there are 85 such courts in Britain, but the number is unknown” (Emma Batha, “Britain Must Ban Sharia ‘Kangaroo Courts,’ Say Activists,” Reuters, July 15, 2015).

Yet despite the growing influence of right-wing Islam, the country’s moral underpinnings are tied most strongly to the secular humanist movement. This was displayed prominently recently when London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan, himself raised Muslim, flew the rainbow flag from city hall to honor the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (Donna Edmunds, “Muslim Mayor of London Flies Rainbow Flag From City Hall,” Breitbart, May 17, 2016).

Back to the Bible

Britain is no different from other Western nations in forgetting the source of their incredible blessings and their national power—the Almighty Creator God and His Word, the Bible.

While the future of nations and the balance of world power is solely the purview of God, He does allow us as individuals the opportunity to know Him and follow Him. How do we know God and follow His will? The answer to personal success is the same as the answer to national success—God’s holy Word.

It’s difficult to see our nations, our neighbors and, in some cases, even our families forget God and walk their own way. But Christians must follow God’s lead, not society’s. Commit yourself to reading His Word each day. It is a wellspring that truly brings blessings: “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!” (Psalm 119:1-2, English Standard Version).

That’s a lesson all the British—and all people everywhere—desperately need to learn.

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  • throneofgrace@bellsouth.net

    Thank you for this article that addresses the real reason behind Great Britain's fall from being great. With the event of Brexit there are of plenty of articles addressing the impact of their decision in the natural. But your perspective definitely parallels the United States and where we are in our forgetting what made our country great. Another warning to America...

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