Posts Tagged ‘revival’
Under the pseudonym John Ploughman, Charles Spurgeon published earthy articles in his magazine, The Sword & Trowel, which were later collected into two volumes, John Ploughman’s Talk and John Ploughman’s Pictures. These two volumes are themselves now collected to form Spurgeon’s Practical Wisdom: Or, Plain Advice for Plain People (Banner of Truth, 2009). They were intended to be humorous (but not light), simple, colourful and blunt. Read today, the stance may seem a little condescending and the humour lacking subtlety, but the points are still made very effectively. Spurgeon takes broad swipes at all manner of vice, and stands up without apology for virtue. It is practical religion, with the emphasis on practical, although the Christian underpinnings of the proposed morality float readily and naturally to the surface. There seems to be something distinctively Victorian about the relentless nature of his genius, and it can be a little overwhelming at times (paragraph after paragraph of the same point made using waves of different illustrations and analogies) but it is also the reason for its effectiveness. As a study in how to communicate truth to a chosen audience, it is brilliant. Spurgeon seeks to enter the world of those to whom he is writing – adopting the appropriate frame of reference, vocabulary, tone, humour – and use it as a means to do good men’s souls and bodies. It should be read, then, in two minds: with one, we ought to take the plain advice; with the other, we should learn how to give it. In both regards, Spurgeon serves us well.
Not a new book, this, but a reset volume: John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Banner of Truth, 2009). This work has been available for a long time, but the previous edition had somewhat poor paper quality and binding which was quite quickly chewed up (I replaced mine at least once). For those who do not know it, it is divided into two parts. For some, the second part is the easier introduction, being a little more popular in style, and consisting of ten short chapters taking readers through the ordo salutis (order of salvation, the sequence of events in God’s saving sinners). The first part – on the necessity, nature, perfection and extent of the atonement – is not more or less profound but is denser and perhaps a little less accessible to those not accustomed to Murray’s style. The author never wastes a word: there is no flab in his writing, which makes it brief and clear and crisp (a tonic for the mind) but also means that concentration and acuity are required for reading. Some will appreciate this, others will find it more difficult. For all willing and able to penetrate to the substance, this volume will prove a rich treat, a draught of pure, cold water when there is so much brackish fluid swilling around. Murray reaches the heart by way of the mind: here we see that the truth makes us free indeed, free not least to honour and adore the God of our so great salvation. This ought to be required reading for all who desire to know the how and why of God’s gracious dealings with sinners, and this newly reset edition will make it all the more accessible and attractive. If you already have it, consider investing afresh in this clear and readable edition. If you do not have it, you have no choice: go and get one.
Fire from Heaven: Times of Extraordinary Revival (Evangelical Press, 2009) by Paul E. G. Cook is a curious combination of topical and historical material, in which instruction and application is interwoven with and arises from historical detail. Mr Cook focuses on the period 1791-1840 and the unusual works of God that occurred in England during this time. Assuming much of the vocabulary of revival, he contends that revival does not differ from the essence of normal religious experience, but in its degree, both intensively and extensively (he insists that revival is a Christian experience, but does tend to focus on its impact outside the church). Mr Cook rightly emphasises a ‘supernaturalistic’ view of salvation, bemoaning the impact of Finneyism, and calling saints not to seek revivals, but to seek God himself. The historical material is enlightening and moving, carefully researched and clearly laid out. The didactic material is earnest, even passionate, but some readers would doubtless wish to nuance or disagree with Mr Cook. What none will deny is the vibrant and vigorous godliness, tinged with a sense of eternity, which clearly characterises the subjects of this stimulating book, and which ought to stir up a sense of holy desire for more of the same in every true saint.
Kevin DeYoung gives us a title that I suspect no one else ever will: Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Or, How to Make A Decision Without Dreams, Visions, Fleeces, Impressions, Open Doors, Random Bible Verses, Casting Lots, Liver Shivers, Writing in the Sky, etc. (Moody Publishers, 2009). This is a straightforward, popular treatment concerning the knowledge of God’s will for our lives. DeYoung attempts to make plain what we can know and how we can know it, and what we can’t know and how to get on with life anyway. He exposes some of the nonsense (however well-meaning) identified in his elaborate sub-sub-title, and urges God’s children to get on with doing the known will of their heavenly Father, not looking for guidance where God has never given it, but using sanctified common-sense to work hard and plan well and trust fully. Some will feel that he is not quite ‘spiritual’ or mystical enough, while others will fear that he has left open a door for continuing revelation (he has, incidentally, after a fashion). Probably a book to read yourself before you put it into the hands of others, to ensure that it meets the particular needs in question, but a helpful, short, straightforward, straight-talking volume.
James Fraser of Brea was born in the north of Scotland in 1639 and converted shortly before his twentieth birthday, though not without much agony of soul. From his longer autobiographical memoir is extracted this Pocket Puritan volume, Am I A Christian? (Banner of Truth, 2009). Here he identifies twenty “objective grounds” for doubting whether he is genuinely converted, with his Scripture-soaked answers to each. Those who suffer similar trials and wrestle with similar doubts and fears may find here either specific answers to their own particular questions, or at least a sound method to follow in examining their own standing. There is some sweet balm here for wounded souls, for Fraser pulls no punches in dealing with the stark realities both of sin and of grace. (Fraser’s use of the word ‘conversion’ is interesting, and also treated here, and there is a brief biographical note.)
I recommend unstintingly Psalm 119 For Life: Living Today in the Light of the Word by Hywel R. Jones (Evangelical Press, 2010). Having its genesis in a series of expository studies in the Chapel of Westminster Seminary (California), our author walks us through each stanza of Psalm 119. Each chapter is brief, with a veiled but evident deep understanding of the text supporting the clear and pointed explanation and application. Dr Jones brings out the full-orbed relationship of a saved man and his saving Lord, not least in the matter of faith and obedience. Excellent as a daily devotional, a pattern for Bible study, or just as a refresher for the soul, this is a volume of rich poetry and rich piety. Take it up and read it.
The One True God (3rd edition, revised and expanded, Granted Ministries Press, 2009) is a spiral-bound but solid workbook by Paul David Washer intended to bring readers face-to-face with the God of the Bible: the student effectively undertakes his own exegesis. The questions demand Scriptural answers, the concern being to hear what God says about himself. At the same time – and it is plain from the very structure of this work – there is an evident appreciation of the stream of historic Biblical Christianity, within which this volume stands. Fourteen lessons deal with specific attributes of the Godhead, asking questions, giving space for answers, and providing a brief summary. More technical vocabulary is explained where necessary. The section on the names of God is a little gem. Perhaps best for group study under a competent guide, this also function well as an individual workbook, and well serves the intended aim of promoting an encounter with God through his Word.
One of many Calvin biographies that was produced in the quincentennial year, Bruce Gordon’s Calvin (Yale University Press, 2009) is an outstanding contribution to the field. Thoroughly-researched and broad of scope, situating Calvin in the theological, cultural and political currents of his time, this stands very well alongside older and other more current biographies. It is a modern treatment in the sense that hero-worship is very far from the agenda. Indeed, one sometimes gets the sense that – so keen is our author to avoid hagiography – there is something that borders on relish when the feet of clay are uncovered. Determined to be fair and frank, Dr Gordon provides a corrective to more defensive biographies but sometimes falls short in the empathy/sympathy department. There is more evident interest in the man than in his God. Again, this may be because, to write what certainly deserves to be one of the academic standards, one is obliged to bow to the standards of the academy. Still, Calvin the man and the minister are here before us, warts and all. We see Calvin as he saw himself and as others saw him, and should be left delighted in and grateful for the enduring kingdom which Christ himself rules.
The Westminster Conference for 2009 – “Calvin, Geneva and Revival” – will take place later this year on Tuesday 8th and Wednesday 9th December at the Whitefield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road, London. The brochure will be mailed out shortly, but you can download a pdf copy here (or click the picture on the right) which can be printed out.
The schedule for the conference is as follows, God willing:
- John Calvin’s agenda: issues in the separation with Rome (Garry Williams)
- Calvin as commentator and theologian (Don Carson)
- 1859 – a year of grace (Stephen Clark)
- Elizabeth and Calvin (Robert Oliver)
- Darwin before and after (Ken Brownell)
- The Moravians and missionary passion (Bruce Jenkins)
What follows is a sermon from 1859 – a year of revival. Nevertheless, Charles Spurgeon preached with a view to the church being revived. We used this sermon this morning as a springboard for a regular special season of prayer in the church. May it do your soul good, whoever you are who reads it.
One antidote for many ills
Charles H. Spurgeon
“Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.” (Psalm 80:10)
This seems to be the only prayer the Psalmist puts up in this Psalm, as being of itself sufficient for the removal of all the ills over which he mourned. Though he sighs over the strife of neighbours and the ridicule of foes; and lamenting the ill condition of the goodly vine, he deplores its broken hedges, and complains of the wild beasts that waste and devour it, yet he does not petition the Most High against these evils in detail; but gathering up all his wishes into this one prayer, he reiterates it o’er and o’er – “Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.” The reason is obvious. He had traced all the calamities to one source, “O Lord God, how long wilt thou be angry – ?” And now he seeks refreshing from one fountain. Let thy face no longer frown, but let it beam upon us with a smile and all shall then be well. This is a select lesson for the church of Christ. “In your troubles, trials and adversities, seek first, chiefly, and above everything else, to have a revival of religion in your own breast, the presence of God in your own heart; having that, you have scarcely anything beside to pray for; whatever else may befall you shall work for your good, and all that seems to impede your course, shall really prove to be a prosperous gale, to waft you to your desired haven: only, take care that you seek of God that you yourselves are turned again unto him, and that he would give you the light of his countenance; so shall you be saved.”
This morning’s sermon, then will be especially addressed to my own church, on the absolute necessity of true religion in our midst, and of revival from all apathy and indifference. We may ask of God multitudes of other things, but amongst them all, let this be our chief prayer: “Lord, revive us; Lord, revive us!” We have uttered it in song; let me stir up your pure minds, by way of remembrance, to utter it in your secret prayers, and make it the daily aspiration of your souls. I feel, beloved, that notwithstanding all opposition, God will help us to be “more than conquerors, through him that loved us,” if we are true to ourselves, and true to him. But though all things should go smoothly, and the sun should always shine upon our heads, we should have no prosperity if our own godliness failed; if we only maintained the form of religion, instead of having the very power of the Holy Spirit manifested in our midst.
I shall endeavour to urge upon you this morning, first of all, the benefits of revival, as we shall find some of them suggested in this Psalm; and secondly, the means of revival - “Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts;” then, thirdly I shall exhort you to use these means, that you may acquire these benefits.
I. THE BENEFITS OF REVIVAL TO ANY CHURCH IN THE WORLD will be a lasting blessing. I do not mean that false and spurious kind of revival which was so common a few years ago. I do not mean all that excitement attendant upon religion, which has brought men into a kind of spasmodic godliness and translated them from sensible beings, into such as could only rave about a religion they did not understand. I do not think that is a real and true revival. God’s revivals, whilst they are attended with a great heat and warmth of piety, yet have with them knowledge as well as life, understanding as well as power. The revivals that we may consider to have been genuine, were such as those wrought by the instrumentality of such men as President Edwards in America, and Whitfield in this country, who preached a free-grace gospel in all its fullness. Such revivals I consider to be genuine, and such revivals, I repeat again, would be a benefit to any church under heaven. There is no church, however good it is, which might not be better; and there are many churches sunken so low, that they have abundant need, if they would prevent spiritual death, to cry aloud, “Lord, revive us.”
Among the blessings of the revival of Christians, we commence, by noticing the salvation of sinners. When God is pleased to pour out his Spirit upon a church in a larger measure than usual, it is always accompanied by the salvation of souls. And oh, this is a weighty matter, to have souls saved. Some laugh, and think the salvation of the soul is nothing, but I trust, beloved, you know so much of the value of souls that you will ever think it to be worth the laying down of your lives, if you might but be the means of the saving of one single soul from death. The saving of souls, if a man has once gained love to perishing sinners, and love to his blessed Master, will be an all-absorbing passion to him. It will so carry him away, that he will almost forget himself in the saving of others. He will be like the stout, brave fireman, who careth not for the scorch or for the heat, so that he may rescue the poor creature on whom true humanity hath set his heart. He must, he will pluck such a one from the burning, at any cost and expense to himself. Oh the zeal of such a man as that Whitfield to whom I have alluded! He says in one of his sermons, “My God, I groan day-by-day over the salvation of souls. Sometimes,” he says, “I think I could stand on the top of every hackney-coach in the streets of London, to preach God’s Word. It is not enough that I can do it night and day, labouring incessantly by writing and by preaching, I would that I were multiplied a thousand-fold, that I might have a thousand tongues to preach this gospel of my blessed Redeemer.” Ah, you find too many Christians who do not care about sinners being saved. The minister may preach, but what heed they the results? So long as he has a respectable congregation, and a quiet people, it is enough. I trust, my friends, we shall never sink to so low a state as to carry on our services without the salvation of souls. I have prayed my God many a time, and I hope to repeat the prayer, that when I have no more souls to save for him, no more of his elect to be gathered home, he may allow me to be taken to himself, that I may not stand as a cumberground in his vineyard, useless, seeing there is no more fruit to be brought forth. I know you long for souls to be converted. I have seen your glad eyes when, at the church-meetings; night after night, sinners have told us what the Lord has done for them. I have marked your great joy when drunkards, blasphemers, and all kinds of careless persons have turned with full purpose of heart unto God, and led a new life. Now, mark you, if these things are to be continued, and above all, if they are to be multiplied, we must have again a revival in our midst. For this we must and will cry, “O Lord our God, visit thy plantation, and pour out again upon us thy mighty Spirit.”
Another effect of a revival in a church, is generally the promotion of true love and unanimity in its midst. I will tell you the most quarrelsome churches in England, if you will tell me the most lazy churches. It has actually become a proverb now-a-days. People say, when persons are sound asleep, “He is as sound asleep as a church;” – as if they really thought the church was the soundest asleep of anything that exists! Alas that there should be so much truth in the proverb. Where a firm, established for business would have all its eyes open – where a company, that had for its object the accumulation of wealth, would be ever on the watch – churches, for the most part, seem to neglect the means of doing good and fritter away holy opportunities of advancing their Master’s cause; and for this reason, many of us are split in sunder. There are heart-burnings, achings, ranklings of soul, quarellings amongst each other. An active church will be a united church; a slumbering church will be sure to be a quarrelsome one. If any minister desires to heal the wounds of a church, and bring the members into unanimity, let him ask God to give them all enough to fill their hands, and when their hands are full of their Master’s work, and their mouths are full of his praise, they will have no time for devouring one another, or filling their mouths with slander and reproach. Oh, if God gives us revival, we shall have perfect unanimity. Blessed be God, we have much of it; but oh for more of it that our hearts may be knit together as the heart of one man, – that we, being one army of the Living God, may none of us have any anger or ill-will towards each other, but being – as I trust we all are – brethren and sisters in Christ Jesus, we may live as becometh such. Oh that Christ would give us that spirit that loveth all, hopeth for all, and will bear burdens for all, passing by little things, and differences of judgment and opinion, that so we may be united with a three-fold cord that cannot be broken. A revival, I think, is necessary for the unanimity of the church.
A revival is also necessary, in order that the mouths of the enemy of the truth may be stopped. Do they not open wide their mouths against us? Have they not spoken hard things against us? – ay, and not only against us, but against the truth we preach, and against the God we honour? How shall their mouths be stopped? By our replying to them? No; foul scorn we think it to utter one single word in our own defence. If our conduct be not sufficiently upright to commend itself, we will not utter words in order to commend it. But the way we can shut our adversaries’ mouths is this: by seeking a revival in our midst. What! do they rail against our ministry? If more souls are saved, can they rail against that? Ay, let them if they will. Do they speak against the doctrines? Let them; but let our lives be so holy that they must lie against us when they dare to say that our doctrines lead any into sin. Let us seek of God that we may be so earnest, so eminently holy, so God-like, and so Christ-like, that to all they say their own consciences may tell them, “Thou utterest a falsehood whilst thou speakest against him.” This was the glory of the Puritans: they preached doctrines which laid them open to reproach. I am bold to say I have preached the doctrine of the Puritans, and I am bold to say, moreover, that those parts which have been most objected to in my discourses, have frequently been quotations from ancient fathers, or from some of the Puritans. I have often smiled when I have seen them condemned, and said, “There now, sir, thou hast condemned Charnock, or Bunyan, or Howe, or Doddridge,” or some other saint of God whom it so happened I quoted at the time. The word condemn was theirs, and therefore it did not so much affect me. They were held up to reproach when they were alive, and how did they answer their calumniators? By a blameless and holy life. They, like Enoch, walked with God; and let the world say what they would of them, they only sought to keep their families the most rigidly pious, and themselves the most strictly upright in the world; so that while it was said of their enemies, “They talk of good works,” it was said of the Puritans, that “They did them,” and while the Arminians, for such they were in those days, were living in sin, he who was called Calvinist, and laughed at, was living in righteousness, and the doctrine that was said to be the promoter of sin was found afterwards to be the promoter of holiness. We defy the world to find a holier people than those who have espoused the doctrines of free-grace, from the first moment until now. They have been distinguished in every history, even by their enemies, as hating been the most devotedly pious, and as having given themselves especially to the reading of God’s Word and the practice of his law; and whilst they said they were justified by faith alone, through the blood of Christ, none were found, so much as they, seeking to honour God in all the exercises of godliness, being “a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Their faith let us follow, and their charity let us emulate. Let us seek a revival here; and so our enemies’ mouths, if not entirely shut, shall be so far stopped that their consciences shall speak against them whilst they rail against us. We want no eminent reply to silence their calumny; no learned articles brought out in our vindication; no voice lifted up in our favour. I thank my friends for all they do; but I thank them little for the true effect it produces. Let us live straight on; let us work straight on; let us preach straight on, and serve our God better than heretofore, then let hell roar, and earth resound with tumult, the conscious integrity of our own spirit shall preserve us from alarm, and the Most High himself shall protect us from their fury. We need a revival, then, for these three reasons, each of which is great in itself.
Yet, above all, we want a revival, if we would promote the glory of God. The proper object of a Christian’s life is God’s glory. The church was made on purpose to glorify God; but it is only a revived church that brings glory to his name. Think you that all the churches honour God? I tell you nay; there are some that dishonour him – not because of their erroneous doctrines, nor perhaps because of any defect in their formalities, but because of the want of life in their religion. There is a meeting for prayer; six people assemble besides the minister. Does that proclaim your homage to God? Does that do honour to Christianity? Go ye to the homes of these people; see what is their conversation when they are alone; mark how they walk before God. Go to their sanctuaries and hear their hymns, there is the beauty of music, but where is the life of the people? Listen to the sermon, it is elaborate, polished, complete, a master-piece of oratory. But ask yourselves, “Could a soul be saved under it, except by a miracle? Was there anything in it adapted to stir men up to goodness? It pleased their ears; it instructed them in some degree, perhaps, but what was there in it to teach their hearts?” Ah, God knows there are many such preachers. Notwithstanding their learning and their opulence, they do not preach the gospel in its simplicity, and they draw not near to God our Father. If we would honour God by the church, we must have a warm church, a burning church, loving the truths it holds, and carrying them out in the life. Oh that God would give us life from on high, lest we should be like that church of old of whom it was said, “Thou hast a name to live, and art dead.” These are some of the benefits of revivals.
II. WHAT ARE THE MEANS OF REVIVAL? They are two-fold. One is, “Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts;’, and the other is, “Cause thy face to shine.” There can be no revival without both of these. Allow me, my dear hearers, to address you one by one, in different classes, in order that I may apply the former of these means to you.
“Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts.” Your minister feels that he needs to be turned more thoroughly to the Lord his God. His prayer shall be, God helping him, that he may be more fearless and faithful than ever; that he may never for one moment think what any of you will say with regard to what he utters, but that he may only think what God his Master would say concerning him; – that he may come into the pulpit with this resolve – that he cares no more for your opinion with regard to the truth than if you were all stones, only resolving this much:- come loss or come gain by it, whatsoever the Lord God saith unto him, that he must speak; and he desires to ask his Master that he may come here with more prayer himself than heretofore, that whatever he preaches may be so burnt into his own soul that you may all know, even if you do not think it true yourselves, that at any rate he believes it, and believes it with his inmost soul. And I will ask of God that I may so preach to you, that my words may be attended with a mighty and a divine power. I do forswear all pretence to ability in this work. I forswear the least idea that I have aught about me that can save souls, or anything which could draw men by the attractions of my speech. I feel that if you have been profited by my preaching, it must have been the work of God, and God alone, and I pray to him that I may be taught to know more my own weakness. Wherein my enemies say aught against me, may I believe what they say, but yet exclaim,
Weak though I am, yet through his might,
I all things can perform.
Will you ask such things for me, that I may be more and more turned to God, and that so your spiritual health may be promoted.
But there are some of you who are workers in the church. Large numbers are actively engaged for Christ. In the Sabbath-school, in the distribution of tracts, in preaching the Word in the villages, and in some parts of this great city – many of you are striving to serve God. Now what I ask and exhort you to is this: cry unto God – “Turn us again, O God.” You want, my dear working friends, more of the Spirit of God in all your labours. I am afraid we forget him too much, we want to have a greater remembrance of him. Sunday-school teachers, cry unto God that you may attend your classes with a sincere desire to promote God’s glory, leaning wholly on his strength. Do not be content with the ordinary routine, gathering your children there, and sending them home again but cry, “Lord, give us the agony which a teacher ought to feel for his child’s soul.” Ask that you may go to the school with deep feelings, with throes of love over the children’s hearts, that you may teach them with tearful eyes, groaning before heaven that you may be the means of their salvation and deliverance from death. And you who in other ways serve God, I beseech you do not be content with doing it as you have done. You may have done it well enough to gain some approval of your fellows: do it better, as in the sight of the Lord. I do not mean better as to the outward form, but better as to the inward grace that goeth with it. Oh! seek from God that your works may be done from pure motives, with more simple faith in Christ, more firm reliance on him, and with greater prayer for your success. “Turn us again,” is the cry of all, I hope, who are doing anything for Jesus.
Others of you are intercessors; and here I hope I have taken in all who love the Lord in this place. Oh! how much the strength of a church depends upon these intercessors! I had almost said we could do better without the workers than the intercessors: We want in every church, if it is to be successful, intercessors with God – men who know how to plead with him and to prevail. Beloved, I must stir you up again on this point. If you would see great things done in this place, or in any other place, in the salvation of souls, you must intercede more earnestly than you have done. I thank God our prayer-meetings are always full; but there are some of you whom I do not see so often as I would desire. There are some of you business-men who are accustomed to come in for the last half-hour, and I have seen you, and called on you to pray. For six months I have not seen some of you at all. There are others whom I know to be as much engaged as you are, who somehow or other manage to be always here. Why is it not so with you? If you do not love prayer, then I wish you not to come until you do. But I do ask of God to bring you into such a state of mind, that your soul may be more thoroughly with the Lord’s church, and you may be more thoroughly devoted to his service. Our prayer-meeting is well attended, and is full, but it shall be better attended yet, and we shall have the men among us coming up “to the help of the Lord against the mighty.” We do want more prayer. Your prayers, I am sure, have been more earnest at home than ever they were, during the last three weeks; let them be more earnest still. It is by prayer we must lean on God; it is by prayer that God strengthens us. I beseech you, wrestle with God, my dear friends. I know your love to one another, and to his truth. Wrestle with God, in secret and in public, that he would yet open the windows of heaven, and pour out a blessing upon us, such as we shall not have room enough to receive. There must be a turning again to God of the intercessors in prayer.
Again: we want a turning again to God of all of you who have been accustomed to hold communion with Jesus, but who have in the least degree broken off that holy and heavenly habit. Beloved, are there not some of you who were accustomed to walls with God each day? Your morn was sanctified with prayer, and your eventide was closed in with the voice of praise. You walked with Jesus in your daily business; you were real Enochs, you were Johns, you did lay your head on the bosom of your Lord. But ah! have not some of you known suspended communion of late? Let us speak of ourselves personally, instead of addressing you; have not we ourselves held less communion with Jesus? Have not our prayers been fewer to him, and his revelations less bright to us? Have we not been content to live without Emmanuel in our hearts? How long is it with some of us since our morsel was dipped in the honey of fellowship? With some of you it is weeks and months, since you had your love visit from Jesus. Oh! beloved, let me beseech you, cry unto God, “Turn us again.” It will never do for us to live without communion; we cannot, we must not, we dare not live without constant hourly fellowship with Jesus. I would stir you up in this matter. Seek of God that you may return, and experience the loveliness of Jesus in your eyes, that you may know more and more of your loveliness in his eyes.
And once more, beloved, “Turn us again” must be the prayer of all you, not only in your religious labours, but in your daily lives. Oh! how I do groan over each one of you, especially those of you who are my children in Christ, whom God has granted me to be the means of bringing from nature’s darkness into marvellous light; that your lives may be an honour to your profession. Oh! my dear hearers, may none among you who make a profession, be found liars to God and man. There are many who have been baptized, who have been baptized into the waters of deception: there are some who put the sacramental wine between their lips, who are a dishonour and a disgrace to the church in which they assemble. Some who sing praises with us here can go and sing the songs of Satan elsewhere. Ay, are there not some among you, whom I cannot detect, whom the deacons cannot, nor your fellow-members either, but whose consciences tell you, you are not fit to be members of a church? You have crept into our number, you have deceived us, and there you are, like a cancer in our midst. God forgive you and change your hearts; God turn you to himself! And oh my brethren one and all of us, though we hope we have the root of the matter in us, yet how much room there is for improvement and amendment! How are your families conducted? Is there as much of that true and earnest prayerfulness for your children as we could desire? How is your business conducted? Are you above the tricks of trade? Do you know how to stand aloof from the common customs of other men, and say, “If all do wrong it is no reason why I should – I must, I will do right?” Do you know how to talk? Have you caught the brogue of heaven? Can you eschew all foolishness, all filthy conversation, and seek to bear the image of Jesus Christ in the world? I do not ask you whether you use the “thee” and “thou,” and the outward formalities of ostentatious humility, but I ask you whether you know how to regulate your speech by the Word of God. I trust, in some degree, that you all do but not as we could desire. Cry out, then, ye Christians, “Turn us again, O God!” If others sin, I beseech you, do not you sin, remember how God is dishonoured by it. What! will you bring shame on Christ, and on the doctrines we profess? There is enough said against them without our giving cause of offense; lies enough are made up, without our giving any effuse that men should truthfully speak ill of us. Oh! if I thought it would avail, methinks I would go down upon my knees, my brethren and sisters in Christ Jesus, to beg of you, as for my very life, that you would live close to Jesus. I do pray the Holy Spirit that he may so rest on you in every place, that your conversation may be “such as becometh the gospel of Christ;” and that in every act, great or small, and in every word of every sort, there may be the influence from on high, moulding you to the right, keeping you to the right, and in everything bidding you to become more and more patterns of godliness, and reflections of the image of Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, to be personal with each other again, are we where we want to be just now, many of us? Can we put our hands to our hearts, and say, “O Lord, I am, in spiritual things just where I desire to be?” No, I don’t think there is one of us that could say that. Are we now what we should desire to be if we were to die in our pews? Come now, have we so lived during the past week, that we could wish this week to be a specimen-week of our whole lives? I fear not. Brethren, how are your evidences? – are they bright for heaven? How is your heart? – is it wholly set on Jesus? How is your faith? – doth it dwell on God alone? Is your soul sick, or is it healthy? Are you sending forth blossoms and bearing fruit, or do you feel dry and barren? Remember, blessed is the man who is planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season. But how about yourselves? Are not some of you so cold and languid in prayer, that prayer is a burden to you? How about your trials? Do they not break your heart more, almost, than ever they did? That is because you have forgotten how to cast your burden on the Lord. How about your daily life? Have you not cause to grieve over it, as not being all you could desire it? Ah! beloved, do not reckon it a light matter to be going backwards, do not consider it a small thing to be less zealous than you used to be. Ah! it is a sad thing to begin to decline. But how many of you have done so! Let our prayer be now, -
Lord, revive us, Lord, revive us,
All our help must come from thee.”
Do, I beseech you, I entreat you, in the name of God our Father, and Jesus Christ our brother, search into your own hearts; examine yourselves, and put up this prayer, “Lord, wherein I am right, keep me so, against all opposition, and conflict; but wherein I am wrong, Lord make me right, for Jesus’ sake.” We must have this turning again unto God, if we would have a revival in our breast. Every unholy liver, every cold heart, every one who is not entirely devoted to God, keeps us back from having a revival. When once we have all our souls fully turned unto the Lord, then I say but not till then, he will give us to see the travail of the Redeemer’s soul, and “God, even our own God shall bless us, and all the ends of the world shall fear him.”
The other means of revival is a precious one – “cause thy face to shine.” Ah! beloved, we might ask of God, that we might all be devoted, all his servants, all prayerful, and all what we want to be; but it would never come without this second prayer being answered; and even if it did come without this, where would be the blessing? It is the causing of his face to shine on his church that makes a church flourish. Do you suppose that, if to our number there were added a thousand of the most wealthy and wise of the land, we should really prosper any the more without the light of God’s countenance? Ah! no, beloved, give us our God, and we could do without them, but they would be a curse to us without him. Do you imagine that the increase of our numbers is a blessing, unless we have an increase of grace? No, it is not. It is the crowding of a boat until it sinks, without putting in any more provision, for the food of those who are in it. The more we have in numbers, the more we need have of grace. It is just this we want every-day: “Cause thy face to shine.” Oh! there have been times in this house of prayer, when God’s face has shone upon us. I can remember seasons, when every one of us wept, from the minister down almost to the child; there have been times, when we have reckoned the converts under one sermon by scores. Where is the blessedness we once spoke of? Where is the joy we once had in this house? Brethren, it is not all gone; there are many still brought to know the Lord; but oh! I want to see those times again, when first the refreshing showers came down from heaven. Have you never heard that under one of Whitfield’s sermons there have been as many as two thousand saved? He was a great man; but God can use the little, as well as the great to produce the same effect; and why should there not be souls saved here, beyond all our dreams? Ay, why not? We answer, there is no reason why not, if God does but cause his face to shine. Give us the shining of God’s face; man’s face may be covered with frowns, and his heart may be black with malice, but if the Lord our God doth shine, it is enough
If he makes bare his arm,
Who can his cause withstand
When he his people’s cause defends
Who, who can stay his hand?
It is his good hand with us we want. I do think there is an opportunity for the display of God’s hand at this particular era, such as has not been for many years before, certainly, if he doeth anything, the crown must be put on his head, and on his head alone. We are a feeble people: what shall we do? But if he doeth anything, he shall have the crown and the diadem entirely to himself. Oh that he would do it! Oh that he would honour himself! Oh that he would turn unto us that we might turn unto him, and that his face may shine! Children of God, I need not enlarge on the meaning of this. You know what the shining of God’s face means; you know it means a clear light of knowledge, a warming light of comfort, a living light poured into the darkness of your soul, an honourable light, which shall make you appear like Moses, when he came from the mountain – so bright, that men will scarce dare to look upon you. “Cause thy face to shine.” Shall we not make this our prayer, dearly beloved? Have I one of my brethren in the faith, who will not this day go home to cry out aloud unto his God, “Cause thy face to shine?” A black cloud has swept over us, all we want is that the sun should come, and it shall sweep that cloud away. There have been direful things; but what of them, if God, our God, shall appear? Let this be our cry, “Cause thy face to shine.” Beloved, let us give no rest unto our God, until he hears this our prayer, “Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.”
III. Come, now, let me stir you all up, all of you who love the Saviour, to seek after this revival. Some of you, perhaps, are now resolving in your hearts that you will at once, when you reach your homes, prostrate yourselves before your God, and cry out to him that he would bless his church; and oh! do so I beseech you. It is common with us under a sermon to resolve, though after the sermon we are slow to perform. You have often said, when you left the house of God, “I will carry out that injunction of my pastor, and will be much in prayer.” You thought to do it so soon as you arrived at home, but you did not, and so there was an untimely end of the matter – it accomplished not what was designed. But this time, I beseech you, while you resolve be resolute, instead of saying within yourselves, “Now I will devote myself more to God, and seek to honour him more,” anticipate the resolution by the result. Ye can do more in the strength of God than ye can think or propose to yourselves in the utmost might of man. Resolves may pacify the conscience very frequently for a while, without really benefitting it. You say you will do it, conscience therefore does not reproach you with a disobedience to the command, but ye do it not after all, and so the effect has passed away. Let any holy and pious resolution you now form be this instant turned into prayer. Instead of saying, “I will do it,” put up the prayer, “Lord, enable me to do it; Lord, grant me grace to do it.” One prayer is worth ten thousand resolutions. Pray to God that you, as a soldier of the cross, may never disgrace the banner under which you fight. Ask of him that you may not be like the children of Ephraim, who turned back in the day of battle, but that you may stand fast in all weathers, even as good old Jacob, when “in the day the drought consumed him and the frost by night,” – so may you serve that God who has called you with so high a calling. Perhaps others of you think there is no need of a revival, that your own hearts are quite good enough; I hope but few of you think so. But if thou dost think so my hearer, I warn thee. Thou fanciest thou art right, and therein thou dost prove that thou art wrong. He who says within himself, “I am rich and increased with goods,” let him know that he is “poor and naked and miserable.” He who says he needs no revival knoweth not what he says. Beloved, you shall find that those who are noted as best among God’s people need to write themselves the worst; and those who fancy all goes well in their hearts ofttimes little know that an under-current of evil is really bearing them away as with a tide where they would not wish to go, whilst they fancy they are going on to peace and prosperity.
Oh! beloved, carry into effect the advice I have just given. I know I have spoken feebly. It is the best I can do just now, I have only stirred you up by way of remembrance. Think not my desires are as feeble as my words; imagine not that my anxiety for you is or can be represented by my speech. Ask, I beseech you, ask of God, that to every one of you brethren and sisters, the simple exhortation of one who loves you as his own soul, may be blessed. God is my witness, beloved, that for him I seek to live: no other motive have I in this world, God knoweth, but his glory. Therefore do I bid and exhort you, knowing that you love the same God, and seek to serve the same Christ, do not now, in this hour of peril, give the least cause to the enemy to blaspheme. Oh! in the bowels of Christ, I entreat you for his sake who hung upon the tree and who is now exalted in heaven by his bloody sacrifice offered for your redemption, by the everlasting love of God, whereby you are kept. I exhort, I beseech, I entreat you, as your brother in Christ Jesus, and such an one as your pastor, be in nothing moved by your adversaries. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, when they shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for our Saviour’s sake.” But do ask that your life and conversation may be an honour to your Lord and Master; in nothing give occasion for the enemy to malign our sacred cause; in everything may your course be “like the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.”
But oh! ye who come here and approve the truth with your judgment but yet have never felt its power in your hearts or its influence in your lives, for you we sigh and groan; for your sake I have stirred up the saints among us to pray. Oh how many of you there are that have been pricked in your consciences and hearts many a time. Ye have wept, ay, and have so wept that you have thought with yourselves, “Never souls wept as we have done!” But ye have gone back again. After all the solemn warnings ye have heard, and after all the wooings of Calvary, ye have gone back again to your sins. Sinner! thou who heedest little for thyself, just hear how much we think of thee. Little dost thou know how much we groan over thy soul. Man! thou thinkest thy soul nothing, yet morning, noon, and night, we are groaning over that precious immortal thing which thou despisest. Thou thinkest it little to lose thy soul, to perish, or mayhap to be damned. Dost thou account us fools that we should cry over thee? Dost thou suppose we are bereft of reason, that we should think thy soul of so much concern, whilst thou hast so little concern for it? Here are God’s people, they are crying after thy soul; they are labouring with God to save thee. Dost thou think so little of it thyself, that thou wouldst fool away thy soul for a paltry pleasure, or wouldst procrastinate thy soul’s welfare beyond the limited domain of hope; Oh! sinner, sinner, if thou lovest thyself, I beseech thee, pause and think that what God’s people love must be worth something, that what we labour for, and strive for, must be worth something, that what was reckoned worth a ransom so priceless as Jesus paid must have its sterling value in the sight of heaven. Do, I beseech thee, pause and think of the value of thy soul; think how dreadful it will be if it is lost; think of the extent of eternity, think of thine own frailty; bethink thee of thine own sin, and of thy deserving. May God give thee grace to forsake thy wicked ways, turn unto him and live, for he “hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but rather that he should turn unto him and live!” Therefore, saith he, “Turn thee, turn thee, why wilt thou die?”
And now oh Lord God of hosts, hear our ardent appeal to thy throne. “Turn us again.” Lighten our path with the guidance of thine eye, cheer our hearts with the smiles of thy face. O God of armies, let every regiment and rank of thy militant church be of perfect heart, undivided in thy service. Let great grace rest upon all thy children. Let great fear come upon all the people. Let many reluctant hearts be turned to the Lord. Let there now be times of refreshing from thy presence. To thine own name shall be all the glory, “O thou that are more glorious and excellent than the mountains of prey!”
Thoughts from C. H. Spurgeon on the nature of revival: the need of it, the place of it, the means of it, and the effects of it. There are few men better qualified to give insights into the realities of Biblical revival than the great Victorian preacher. Spurgeon’s description of where most of us are as Christians and churches, contrasted with the portrait of vital faith and vigorous life, ought to make us long for those immediate operations of the Spirit of Christ which are the very life-breath of his church.
The word “revival” is as familiar in our mouths as a household word. We are constantly speaking about and praying for a “revival;” would it not be as well to know what we mean by it? Of the Samaritans our Lord said, “Ye worship ye know not what,” let him not have to say to us, “Ye know not what ye ask.” The word “revive” wears its meaning upon its forehead; it is from the Latin, and may be interpreted thus – to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.
When a person has been dragged out of a pond nearly drowned, the bystanders are afraid that he is dead, and are anxious to ascertain if life still lingers. The proper means are used to restore animation; the body is rubbed, stimulants are administered, and if by God’s providence life still tarries in the poor clay, the rescued man opens his eyes, sits up, and speaks, and those around him rejoice that he has revived. A young girl is in a fainting fit, but after a while she returns to consciousness, and we say, “she revives.” The flickering lamp of life in dying men suddenly flames up with unusual brightness at intervals, and those who are watching around the sick bed say of the patient, “he revives.”
In these days, when the dead are not miraculously restored, we do not expect to see the revival of a person who is totally dead, and we could not speak of the re-vival of a thing which never lived before. It is clear that the term “revival” can only be applied to a living soul, or to that which once lived. To be revived is a blessing which can only be enjoyed by those who have some degree of life. Those who have no spiritual life are not, and cannot be, in the strictest sense of the term, the subjects of a revival. Many blessings may come to the unconverted in consequence of a revival among Christians, but the revival itself has to do only with those who already possess spiritual life. There must be vitality in some degree before there can be a quickening of vitality, or, in other words, a revival.
A true revival is to be looked for in the church of God. Only in the river of gracious life can the pearl of revival be found. It has been said that a revival must begin with God’s people; this is very true, but it is not all the truth, for the revival itself must end as well as begin there. The results of the revival will extend to the outside world, but the revival, strictly speaking, must be within the circle of life, and must therefore essentially be enjoyed by the possessors of vital godliness, and by them only. Is not this quite a different view of revival from that which is common in society; but is it not manifestly the correct one?
It is a sorrowful fact that many who are spiritually alive greatly need reviving. It is sorrowful because it is a proof of the existence of much spiritual evil. A man in sound health with every part of his body in a vigorous condition does not need reviving. He requires daily sustenance, but reviving would be quite out of place. If he has not yet attained maturity growth will be most desirable, but a hale hearty young man wants no reviving, it would be thrown away upon him. Who thinks of reviving the noonday sun, the ocean at its flood, or the year at its prime? The tree planted by the rivers of water loaded with fruit needs not excite our anxiety for its revival, for its fruitfulness and beauty charm every one. Such should be the constant condition of the sons of God. Feeding and lying down in green pastures and led by the still waters they ought not always to be crying, “my leanness, my leanness, woe unto me.” Sustained by gracious promises and enriched out of the fullness which God has treasured up in his dear Son, their souls should prosper and be in health, and their piety ought to need no reviving. They should aspire to a higher blessing, a richer mercy, than a mere revival. They have the nether springs already; they should earnestly cover the upper springs. They should be asking for growth in grace, for increase of strength, for greater success; they should have out-climbed and out-soared the period in which they need to be constantly crying, “Wilt thou not revive us again?” For a church to be constantly needing revival is the indication of much sin, for if it were sound before the Lord it would remain in the condition into which a revival would uplift its members. A church should be a camp of soldiers, not an hospital of invalids. But there is exceedingly much difference between what ought to be and what is, and consequently many of God’s people are in so sad a state that the very fittest prayer for them is for revival. Some Christians are, spiritually, but barely alive. When a man has been let down into a vat or into a well full of bad air, yea do not wonder when he is drawn up again that he is half-dead, and urgently requires to be revived. Some Christians – to their shame be it spoken! – descend into such worldly company, not upon such unhallowed principles, and become so carnal, that when they are drawn up by God’s grace from their backsliding position they want reviving, and even need that their spiritual breath should as it were be breathed into their nostrils afresh by God’s Spirit.
When a man starves himself, continuing for a long time without food, when he is day after day without a morsel of bread between his lips, we do not marvel that the surgeon, finding him in extremities, says, “This man has weakened his system, he is too low, and wants reviving.” Of course he does, for he has brought himself by low diet into a state of weakness. Are there not hundreds of Christians – shame that it should be so! – who live day after day without feeding upon Bible truth? Shall it be added without real spiritual communion with God? They do not even attend the week-night services, and they are indifferent hearers on the Lord’s day. Is it remarkable that they want reviving? Is not the fact that they do so greatly need it most dishonourable to themselves and distressing to their truly spiritual brethren?
There is a condition of mind which is even more sad than either of the two above mentioned; it is a thorough, gradual, but certain decline of all the spiritual powers. Look at that consumptive man whose lungs are decaying, and in whom the vital energy is ebbing; it is painful to see the faintness which suffuses him after exertion, and the general languor which overspreads his weakened frame. Far more sad to the spiritual eye is the spectacle presented by spiritual consumptives who in some quarters meet us on all hands. The eye of faith is dim and overcast, and seldom flashes with holy joy; the spiritual countenance is hollow and sunken with doubts and fears; the tongue of praise is partially paralyzed, and has little to say for Jesus; the spiritual frame is lethargic, and its movements are far from vigorous; the man is not anxious to be doing anything for Christ; a horrible numbness, a dreadful insensibility has come over him; he is in soul like a sluggard in the dog-days, who finds it hard labour to lie in bed and brush away the flies from his face. If these spiritual consumptives hate sin they do it so weakly that one might fear that they loved it still. If they love Jesus, it is so coldly that it is a point of question whether they love at all. If they sing Jehovah’s praises it is very sadly, as if hallelujahs were dirges. If they mourn for sin it is only with half-broken hearts, and their grief is shallow and unpractical. If they hear the Word of God they are never stirred by it; enthusiasm is an unknown luxury. If they come across a precious truth they perceive nothing particular in it, any more than the cock in the fable, in the jewel which he found in the farmyard. They throw themselves back upon the enchanted couch of sloth, and while they are covered with rags they dream of riches and great increase of goods. It is a sad, sad thing when Christians fall into this state; then indeed they need reviving, and they must have it, for “the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint.” Every lover of souls should intercede for declining professors that the visitations of God may restore them; that the Sun of righteousness may arise upon them with healing beneath his wings.
When revival comes to a people who are in the state thus briefly described, it simply brings them to the condition in which they ought always to have been; it quickens them, gives them new life, stirs the coals of the expiring fire, and puts heavenly breath into the languid lungs. The sickly soul which before was insensible, weak, and sorrowful, grows earnest, vigorous, and happy in the Lord. This is the immediate fruit of revival, and it becomes all of us who are believers to seek this blessing for backsliders, and for ourselves if we are declining in grace.
If revival is confined to living men we may further notice that it must result from the proclamation and the receiving of living truth. We speak of “vital godliness,” and vital godliness must subsist upon vital truth. Vital godliness is not revived in Christians by mere excitement, by crowded meetings, by the stamping of the foot, or the knocking of the pulpit cushion, or the delirious bawlings of ignorant zeal; these are the stock in trade of revivals among dead souls, but to revive living saints other means are needed. Intense excitement may produce a revival of the animal, but how can it operate upon the spiritual, for the spiritual demands other food than that which stews in the fleshpots of mere carnal enthusiasm. The Holy Ghost must come into the living heart through living truth, and so bring nutriment and stimulant to the pining spirit, for so only can it be revived. This, then, leads us to the conclusion that if we are to obtain a revival we must go directly to the Holy Ghost for it, and not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker. The true vital spark of heavenly flame comes from the Holy Ghost, and the priests of the Lord must beware of strange fire. There is no spiritual vitality in anything except as the Holy Spirit is all in all in the work; and if our vitality has fallen near to zero, we can only have it renewed by him who first kindled it in us. We must go to the cross and look up to the dying Saviour, and expect that the Holy Spirit will renew our faith and quicken all our graces. We must feed anew by faith upon the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so the Holy Ghost will recruit our strength and give us a revival. When men in India sicken in the plains, they climb the hills and breathe the more bracing air of the upper regions; we need to get nearer to God, and to bathe ourselves in heaven, and revived piety will be the sure result.
When a minister obtains this revival he preaches very differently from his former manner. It is very hard work to preach when the head aches and when the body is languid, but it is a much harder task when the soul is unfeeling and lifeless. It is sad, sad work – painfully, dolorously, horribly sad, but saddest of all if we do not feel it to be sad, if we can go on preaching and remain careless concerning the truths we preach, indifferent as to whether men are saved or lost! May God deliver every minister from abiding in such a state! Can there be a more wretched object than a man who preaches in God’s name truths which he does not feel, and which he is conscious have never impressed his own heart? To be a mere sign-post, pointing out the road but never moving in it, is a lot against which every tame heart may plead night and day.
Should this revival be granted to deacons and elders what different men it would make of them! Lifeless, lukewarm church officers are of no more value to a church, than a crew of sailors would be to a vessel if they were all fainting and if in their berths when they were wanted to hoist the sails or lower the boats. Church officers who need reviving must be fearful dead weights upon a Christian community. It is incumbent upon all Christians to be thoroughly awake to the interests of Zion, but upon the leaders most of all. Special supplication should be made for beloved brethren in office that they may be full of the Holy Ghost.
Workers in the Sunday-schools, tract distributors, and other labourers for Christ, what different people they become when grace is vigorous from what they are when their life flickers in the socket! Like sickly vegetation in a cellar, all blanched and unhealthy, are workers who have little grace; like willows by the water-courses, like grass with reeds and rushes in well-watered valleys, are the servants of God who live in his presence. It is no wonder that our Lord said, “Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth,” for when the earnest Christian’s heart is full of fire it is sickening to talk with lukewarm people. Have not warm-hearted lovers of Jesus felt when they have been discouraged by doubtful sluggish people, who could see a lion in the way, as if they could put on express speed and run over them? Every earnest minister has known times when he has felt cold hearts to be as intolerable as the drones in the hive are to the working bees. Careless professors are as much out of place as snow in harvest among truly living Christians. As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes are these sluggards. As well be bound to a dead body as forced into union with lifeless professors; they are a burden, a plague, and an abomination. You turn to one of these cold brethren after a graciously earnest prayer-meeting, and say with holy joy, “What a delightful meeting we have had!” “Yes,” he says carelessly and deliberately, as if it were an effort to say so much, “there was a good number of people.” How his frostbitten words grate on one’s ear! You ask yourself, “Where has the man been? Is he not conscious that the Holy Ghost has been with us?” Does not our Lord speak of these people as being cast out of his mouth, just because he himself is altogether in earnest, and consequently, when he meets with lukewarm people he will not endure them? He says, “I would thou wert cold or hot,” either utterly averse to good or in earnest concerning it. It is easy to see his meaning. If you heard an ungodly man blaspheme after an earnest meeting, you would lament it, but you would feel that from such a man it was not a thing to make you vexed, for he has only spoken after his kind, but when you meet with a child of God who is lukewarm, how can you stand that? It is sickening, and makes the inmost spirit feel the horrors of mental nausea.
While a true revival in its essence belongs only to God’s people, it always brings with it a blessing for the other sheep who are not yet of the fold. If you drop a stone into a lake the ring widens continually, till the farthest corner of the lake feels the influence. Let the Lord revive a believer and very soon his family, his friends, his neighbours, receive a share of the benefit; for when a Christian is revived, he prays more fervently for sinners. Longing, loving prayer for sinners, is one of the marks of a revival in the renewed heart. Since the blessing is asked for sinners, the blessing comes from him who hears the prayers of his people; and thus the world gains by revival. Soon the revived Christian speaks concerning Jesus and the gospel; he sows good seed, and God’s good seed is never lost, for he has said, “It shall not return unto me void.” The good seed is sown in the furrows, and in some sinners’ hearts God prepares the soil, so that the seed springs up in a glorious harvest. Thus by the zealous conversation of believers another door of mercy opens to men.
When Christians are revived they live more consistently, they make their homes more holy and more happy, and this leads the ungodly to envy them, and to enquire after their secret. Sinners by God’s grace long to be like such cheerful happy saints; their mouths water to feast with them upon their hidden manna, and this is another blessing, for it leads men to seek the Saviour. If an ungodly man steps into a congregation where all the saints are revived he does not go to sleep under the sermon. The minister will not let him do that, for the hearer perceives that the preacher feels what he is preaching, and has a right to be heard. This is a clear gain, for now the man listens with deep emotion; and above all, the Holy Spirit’s power, which the preacher has received in answer to prayer comes upon the hearer’s mind; he is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come, and Christians who are on the watch around him hasten to tell him of the Saviour, and point him to the redeeming blood, so that though the revival, strictly speaking, is with the people of God, yet the result of it no man can limit. Brethren, let us seek a revival during the present month, that the year may close with showers of blessing, and that the new year may open with abundant benediction. Let us pledge ourselves to form a prayer-union, a sacred band of suppliants, and may God do unto us according to our faith.
Father, for thy promised blessing,
Still we plead before thy throne;
For the time of sweet refreshing
Which can come from thee alone.
Blessed earnests thou hast given,
But in these we would not rest,
Blessings still with thee are hidden,
Pour them forth, and make us blest.
Wake thy slumbering children, wake them,
Bid them to thy harvest go;
Blessings, O our Father, make them;
Round their steps let blessing flow.
Myriads may in triumph blend.
Let no hamlet be forgotten,
Let thy showers on all descend;
That in one loud blessed anthem,
In this fifth and final section of Andrew Fuller’s challenging letter (see section 1, section 2, section 3 and section 4), the author moves on from the causes of declension that he has identified (contentment with a superficial acquaintance with the gospel;contentment with present attainments without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness; making the religion of others rather than the Word of God our standard;failure to consider the consequences of our own good and evil conduct) to address some of the means of their removal, and the pursuit of a more wholehearted and entire religion, a more vital and earnest Christianity.
These, brethren, we apprehend, are some of the causes, among many others, which have produced those declensions which you and we lament. But what do we say? Do we indeed lament them? If we do, it will be natural for us to inquire, “What shall we do? What means can be used towards their removal, and a happy revival?” If this be now indeed the object of our inquiry, we cannot do better than attend to the advice of the great Head of the church to a backsliding people: “Remember . . . from whence thou art fallen, . . . and do thy first works.” “Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain that are ready to die. . . . Remember . . . how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent!” (Rev 2.5; 3.2-3). Particularly,
First, let us recollect the best periods of the Christian church, and compare them with the present; and the best parts of our own life, if we know when they were, and compare them with what we are now. A recollection of the disinterestedness, zeal and godliness of the primitive Christians, and their successors in after-ages, millions of whom, in Christ’s cause, loved not their lives unto death, would surely make us loathe ourselves for our detestable lukewarmness! As Protestants, let us think of the fervent zeal and holy piety of our Reformers – think what objects they grasped, what difficulties they encountered, and what ends they obtained! As Protestant Dissenters, let us reflect on the spirit and conduct of our Puritan and non-conforming ancestors. Think how they served God at the expense of all that was dear to them in this world, and laid the foundation of our churches in woods, and dens, and caves of the earth! Say, too, was their love more than need be? Is the importance of things abated since their death? Might not they have pleaded the anger and cruelty of the times in excuse for a non-appearance for God, with much more seeming plausibility than we can excuse our spirit of hateful indifference? O let us remember whence we are fallen, and repent!
As to our own lives, if we are real Christians, probably we can remember times wherein the great concerns of salvation seemed to eclipse all other objects. We covenanted with God. We resigned over all to him. We loved to be his, wholly his, rather than our own. We were willing to do any thing, or become any thing, that should glorify his name. And is it so now? No! But why not? What iniquity have we found in him, that we are gone away backward? “O my people,” saith the Lord, “what have I done unto thee? . . . Wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me!” Have I been a hard master, or a churlish father, or a faithless friend? Have I not been patient enough with you, or generous enough towards you? Could I have done any thing more for you that I have not done? Was the covenant you made with me a hard bargain? Was it hard on your side for me to be made sin, who knew no sins, that you might be made the righteousness of God in me? Were the rewards of my service such as you could not live upon? Is it better with you now than then? O Christian reader! pause awhile. Lay aside the paper, and retire before God! Reflect, and pour out thy soul before him. Say unto him, “O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of face!” Thus, thus, “remember . . . whence thou art fallen, and repent”!
But do not stop here. Think it not sufficient that we lament and mourn over our departures from God. We must return to him with full purpose of heart. “Strengthen the things that remain which are ready to die.” Cherish a greater love to the truths of God – pay an invariable regard to the discipline of his house – cultivate love to one another – frequently mingle souls by frequently assembling yourselves together – encourage a meek, humble, and savoury spirit, rather than a curious one. These are some of the things among us that are “ready to die!” To this it is added,
“Do thy first works.” Fill up your places in God’s worship with that earnestness and constancy as when you were first seeking after the salvation of your souls. Flee from those things which conscience, in its most tender and best informed state, durst not meddle with, though since perhaps they may have become trifling in your eyes. Walk in your family, in the world, and in the church, with God always before you. Live in love, meekness, and forbearance with one another. Whatever your hands find you to do, “do it with all your might,” seeking to promote, by all means, the present and eternal welfare of all around you.
Finally, brethren, let us not forget to intermingle prayer with all we do. Our need of God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to do any thing, and everything, truly good, should excite us to this. Without his blessing all means are without efficacy, and every effort for revival will be in vain. Constantly and earnestly, therefore, let us approach his throne. Take all occasions especially for closet prayer. Here, if anywhere, we shall get fresh strength, and maintain a life of communion with God. Our Lord Jesus used frequently to retire into a mountain alone for prayer. He, therefore, that is a follower of Christ, must follow him in this important duty.
Dearly beloved brethren, farewell! “Unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.”
Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #2 Contentment with present attainments without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness
Following on from section 1 of Andrew Fuller’s letter, section 2 is below. Here Fuller weighs in against a too-ready satisfaction with where we are at. He puts to us a challenge that sticks in my mind: am I inclined to ask “What must I do for God?” or “What can I do for God?”
Another thing which we apprehend to be a great cause of declension is, a contentedness with present attainments, without aspiring after eminence in grace and holiness. If we may judge of people’s thoughts and aims by the general tenor of their conduct, there seems to be much of a contentment with about so much religion as is thought necessary to constitute them good men, and that will just suffice to carry them to heaven; without aiming by a course of more than ordinary services to glorify God in their day and generation. We profess to do what we do with a view to glorify God, and not to be saved by it; but is it so indeed? Do these things look like it? How is it, too, that the positive institutions of Christ are treated with so little regard? Whence is it that we hear such language as this so often as we do. “Such a duty, and such an ordinance, is not essential to salvation – we may never be baptized in water, or become church members, and yet go to heaven as well as they that are”?
It is to be feared the old puritanical way of devoting ourselves wholly to be the Lord’s, resigning up our bodies, souls, gifts, time, property, with all we have and are to serve him, and frequently renewing these covenants before him, is now awfully neglected. This was to make a business of religion, a life’s work, and not merely an accidental affair, occurring but now and then, and what must be attended to only when we can spare time from other engagements. Few seem to aim, pray, and strive after eminent love to God and one another. Many appear to be contented if they can but remember the time when they had such love in exercise, and then, tacking to it the notion of perseverance without the thing, they go on and on, satisfied, it seems, if they do but make shift just to get to heaven at last, without much caring how. If we were in a proper spirit, the question with us would not so much be, “What must I do for God?” as, “What can I do for God?” A servant that heartily loves his master counts it a privilege to be employed by him, yea, an honour to be entrusted with any of his concerns.
If it is to be inquired, “What then is to be done? Wherein in particular can we glorify God more than we have done?” We answer by asking, “Is there no room for amendment? Have we been sufficiently earnest and constant in private prayer? Are there none of us that have opportunities to set apart particular times to pray for the effusion of the Holy Spirit? Can we do no more than we have done in instructing our families? Are there none of our dependants, workmen, or neighbours that we might speak to, at least so far as to ask them to go and hear the gospel? Can we rectify nothing in our tempers and behaviour in the world, so as better to recommend religion? Cannot we watch more? Cannot we save a little more of our substance to give to the poor? In a word, is there no room or possibility left for our being more meek, loving, and resembling the blessed Jesus than we have been?”
To glorify God, and recommend by our example the religion of the meek and lowly Jesus, are the chief ends for which it is worth while to live; but do we sufficiently pursue these ends? Even these chief ends of our existence, are they in any good degree so much as kept in view? Ah, what have we done for God in the towns, villages, and families where we reside? Christians are said to be the light of the world, and the salt of the earth – do we answer these characters? Is the world enlightened by us? Does a savour of Christ accompany our spirit and conversation? Our business, as Christians, is practically to be holding forth the word of life. Have we, by our earnestness, sufficiently held forth its importance, or by our chaste conversation, coupled with fear, its holy tendency? Have we all along, by a becoming firmness of spirit, made it evident that religion is no low, mean or dastardly business? Have we by a cheerful complacency in God’s service, gospel, and providence sufficiently held forth the excellency of his government and the happy tendency of his holy religion? Doubtless, the most holy and upright Christians in these matters will find great cause for reflection, and room for amendment; but are there not many who scarcely ever think about them, or if they do, it only amounts to this, to sigh, and go backward, resting satisfied with a few lifeless complaints, without any real and abiding efforts to have things otherwise?
Causes of declension in religion and means of revival #1 Contentment with a superficial acquaintance with the gospel
One of the most effective and penetrating pieces of writing I can remember reading is a circular letter written by the Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller to the churches of an association to which he belonged. This responsibility was occasionally assigned to Fuller, and one of the results was the letter which follows. I still recall the impact of reading this for the first time in Fuller’s Works (a nice three volume edition available from Sprinkle Publications, or a new one volume set from Banner of Truth, but see also here). Even relative to the quality of much of his writing, this still leapt up and bit me. That doesn’t mean that it is necessarily so much better than everything else, but it might speak volumes of my spiritual condition. It is a letter to which I periodically return as a means of self-examination. As it is quite lengthy, I will post it in sections, beginning below.
Dearly beloved brethren,
Through the good hand of our God upon us we met together according to appointment, and enjoyed the pleasure of an agreeable interview with several of our dear friends and brethren in the Lord. We trust also that our God was with us in the different stages of the opportunity. The letters from the several churches, which were attended to the first evening of our meeting together, afforded us matter for pain and pleasure. Two of the association churches continue destitute of the stated means of grace, others are tried with things of an uncomfortable nature, and most complain of the want of a spirit of fervour and constancy in the ways of God. Yet, on the other hand, we met with some things which afforded us pleasure. Many of our congregations are well attended; a spirit of desire after the Word is, we think, upon the increase; nor are our labours, we hope, altogether in vain, as the work of the Lord, in a way of conversion, appears to be carrying on, though not in instances very remarkable.
‘Tis true we have reason to bewail our own and others’ declensions, yet we are not, upon the whole, discouraged. It affords us no little satisfaction to hear in what manner the monthly prayer meetings which were proposed in our letter of last year have been carried on, and how God has been evidently present in those meetings, stirring up the hearts of his people to wrestle hard with him for the revival of his blessed cause [note: this was the prayer call based on the original Humble Attempt]. Though as to the number of members there is no increase this year, but something of the contrary; yet a spirit of prayer in some measure being poured out more than balances in our account for this defect. We cannot but hope, wherever we see a spirit of earnest prayer generally and perseveringly prevail, that God has some good in reserve, which in his own time he will graciously bestow.
But while we rejoice to see such a spirit of united prayer, we must not stop here brethren, lest in so doing we stop short. If we would hope for the blessing of God upon us, there must be added to this a spirit of earnest inquiry into the causes of our declensions, and a heart desire and endeavour for their removal. When Israel could not go forward, but were smitten by the men of Ai, Joshua and the elders of the people prostrated themselves before the Lord. In this they did well; but this was not sufficient – “Get thee up,” said the Lord to his servant – “wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned” – “Up, sanctify the people” – and search for the accursed thing! This, it is apprehended, is the case with us, as well as it was with Israel; and this must be our employment as well as theirs. With a view to assist you, brethren, and ourselves with you, in this very necessary inquiry, we appropriate the present letter to the pointing out of some of those evils which we apprehend to be causes of that declension of which so many complain, and the means of their removal.
The first thing that we shall request you to make inquiry about is, whether there is not a great degree of contentedness with a mere superficial acquaintance with the gospel, without entering into its spirit and end; and whether this be nor one great cause of the declension complained of. In the apostles’ time, and in all times, grace and peace have ever been multiplied by the knowledge of God; and, in proportion as this has been neglected, those have always declined. If we are sanctified by the word of truth, then, as this word is received or disrelished, the work of sanctification must be supposed to rise or fall. We may give a sort of idle assent to the truths of God, which amounts to little more than taking it for granted that they are true, and thinking no more about them, unless somebody opposes us; but this will not influence the heart and life, and yet it seems to be nearly the whole of what many attain to, or seek after.
We maintain the doctrine of one infinitely glorious God; but do we realize the amiableness of his character? If we did, we could not avoid loving him with our heart, and soul, and mind, and strength. We hold the doctrine of the universal depravity of mankind; but do we enter into its evil nature and awful tendency? If we did the one, how much lower would we lie before God, and how much more should we be filled with a self-loathing spirit! If the other, how should we feel for our fellow sinners! How earnest should we be to use all means, and have all means used, if it might please God thereby to pluck them as brands out of the burning!
We hold the doctrine of a Trinity of Persons in the Godhead; but do we cordially enter into the glorious economy of redemption, wherein the conduct of the sacred Three is most gloriously displayed? Surely if we did, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost would be with us more than it is.
We avow the doctrines of free, sovereign, and efficacious grace; but do we generally feel the grace therein discovered? If we did, how low should we live! How grateful should we be! We should seldom think of their sovereign and discriminating nature, without considering how justly God might have left us all to have had our own will, and followed our own ways; to have continued to increase our malady, and despise the only remedy! Did we properly enter into these subjects, we could not think of a great Saviour, and a great salvation, without loathing ourselves for being such great sinners; nor of what God has done for and given to us, without longing to give him our little all, and feeling an habitual desire to do something for him.
If we realised our redemption by the blood of Christ, it would be natural for us to consider ourselves as bought with a price, and therefore not our own, “a price, all price beyond!” O, could we enter into this, we should readily discern the force and propriety of our body and spirit being his, his indeed! dearly bought, and justly due!
Finally, we all profess to believe the vanity of this life and its enjoyments, and the infinitely superior value of that above; but do we indeed enter into these things? If we did, surely we should have more of heavenly-mindedness, and less of criminal attachment to the world.
It is owing in a great degree to this contentment with a superficial knowledge of things, without entering into the spirit of them, that we so often hear the truths of the gospel spoken of with a tone of disgust, calling them “dry doctrines!” Whereas gospel truths, if preached in their native simplicity, and received with understanding and cordiality, are the grand source of all well-grounded consolation. We know of no consolation worth receiving but what arises from the influence of truth upon the mind. Christ’s words are spirit and life to them who hunger and thirst after them, or have a heart to live upon them; and could we but more thoroughly enter into this way of living, we should find the doctrines of the gospel, instead of being dry, to be what they were in the days of Moses, who declared, “My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Dt 32.2). O brethren, may it be our and your concern not to float upon the surface of Christianity, but to enter into the spirit of it! “For this cause” the apostle bowed his knees “to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that we might “comprehend . . . the breadth, the length, and depth, and height” of things; and for this cause we also wish to bow our knees, knowing that it is by this, if at all, that we are “filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph 3.14-19).
Today I am back in the often-irregular regularities of life, and starting to catch up and get organised. My weekly planner is being printed, and there are errands to run, church issues to attend to, and various other bits and pieces to get under control.
Before I get on with that, though, yesterday while I was in London a parcel arrived. Opening it, I found my new two-volume set of The Calvinistic Methodist Fathers of Wales. Peachy! I had ordered these at a discount while at the Banner of Truth Conference in Leicester earlier this year (at which the translator, John Aaron, delivered an appetite-whetting paper). I have read a few bits and pieces in translation in other sources, but this is the real thing.
In approaching these books (and I do hope to read them before too long, probably more as ‘relaxation’ than anything else – you cannot beat a nice chunk of history), it is worth bearing several things in mind. First of all, I must not make the abnormal normative. These were men whom God raised up at a time and for a purpose that the history of Christ’s church suggests is not usual, however much it may be desirable. Furthermore, their intensified experience of the Holy Spirit’s operations is not the Biblical norm, although our desires for such are not illegitimate in their proper place. Secondly, I can pray for God’s grace to be bestowed upon his church and ministers now as then, but I am not entitled to expect the replication of particular gifts – “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1Cor 15.10) – nor need I beat myself up because God has not given them to me. Thirdly, I must recognise that the core of their experience is essentially nothing more nor less than Biblical Christianity. Blood-earnest preaching, conviction of sin, heartfelt repentance, vital faith, assurance of salvation, pursuit of holiness, longings for glory: are these things to be expected only in times of God’s more unusual operations? If we make the notion of revival some panacea – if we sit on our hands until God moves to accomplish these things in us without praying and labouring as called in accordance with the means appointed – then we are missing the point entirely. Though we might wish them intensified and advanced, they are not the exception but the rule of Christian experience and life under any circumstances. Fourthly, I must remember that these things begin with the people of God. Too often Christians think and pray as if revival is something that happens to the world because the church – we smug believers – is all OK as it is. I must recognise that it is my soul which clings to the dust, and which needs to be revived according to God’s Word, and that my life and ministry, and the life and ministry of the church I serve, will have an effect upon the unbelieving world in proportion to the degree that I live near to God. The problem is not first and foremost with the world, but with the church. Saved by grace, we need to know and feel the glories of our salvation, and then the light of the gospel will not trickle out, but shine forth to the praise of God’s grace in Christ.