|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Revival Part 1 Introduction (Time and date not certain. Ayr Free Church)|
|Text||Isaiah ch.64 v.1 |
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"Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!" (Isaiah 64, 1-2).
I propose to begin today a new short series with you under the general heading of 'Religious Revival'. The chapter here before us, like many other sections of the Word of God, deals with the theme of revival. This is surely a most wonderful subject. Religious revival means God coming down to visit His people and to grant His blessing once again with power to the church on earth. I believe this is a most relevant and vital subject for serious Christians to study in our day. The great question confronts us in our age - However is the Christian church to recover in our nation from its terrible decline? Most of the denominations in Britain today will tell you the same story. The congregations have shrunk over the last twenty to twenty-five years; their Prayer Meetings have shrunk; there are fewer people coming now to communion services than there used to be; there is less power in the witness; open air preaching is a thing of the past; nobody in their area goes out any more with tracts or does house-to-house-work. Above all, when the Gospel is preached it seems to fall on deaf ears. Of course, we must not overstate the case.
There are notable exceptions to just about everything I have said and it is so in this country. It is also abundantly so in many other countries where the Gospel is flourishing: in Korea, Indonesia, Russia and China, and other places. However, in this country it is certainly very true that there is a dryness coming upon the church, and has been coming upon it for a long time. There has been no revival, for instance, in this part of Scotland (Ayr), since the middle of the nineteen-twenties. There was just a little touch of blessing round about the nineteen-twenties in places like Annbank and possibly other areas near Ayr. There were notable revivals in parts of the Highlands in the nineteen-thirties, about nineteen-fifty, and in the sixties. In some places there, there is a continuous blessing and a momentum of the Spirit. Let me just remind you of how different this is from what used to be the case, or has been the case, in Scotland. Of all the parts of our nation, nowhere probably has known more about blessing and reviving that has Scotland; Wales too has known much blessing. I could speak of many revivals in the history of Scotland.
Let me tell you about one of them as I introduce the theme as a whole to you today. The great revival of 1859-1860 affected every part of Scotland from the Borders up to the Butt of Ness in Lewis. It is calculated by one authority on the subject of that 1859 revival that one person out of every ten in Scotland, during those years, began to go to church and thousands were converted in the space of a few months. That is a prestigious act of God.
If you were to pass the Irish Sea and go to Ulster in 1859, the Spirit of God was moving with even greater power in that province. The preaching of the Word of God was sublime. People wanted services lasting hour upon hour; they could not get enough of the Word of God. There is no question but that many, many thousands of people were brought to a confession of Christ in a matter of months over those years. That revival began, generally speaking, in a little Prayer Meeting started by some Christian young men.
If you go across the ocean to America and Canada in 1858, the year before, you will see that in the great city of New York a missionary started a Prayer Meeting in a downtown mission hall - a man called Lampion. He put a notice on the front door of the hall to say that if anyone wanted to join him in payer for revival to do so at midday. He turned up and after about another fifteen minutes, another half dozen turned up. They prayed to God for revival and promised one another that they would carry on doing this at the same time each day. In a matter of days the number of people praying was multiplied; in a matter of months they were having to stop the businesses of the whole of New York at four o'clock to give the people of the city liberty to go to the meetings for prayer in all churches. There was standing room only in the largest of churches and the people of the city were agonising to God to send the Spirit of Power and Revival down. That continued for some months until there was a great work of God done and, again, many thousands of people made a profession of faith in Christ.
If one had time, one could speak for hours about the same kind of wonderful action of God in Scotland, Wales, England and in many other nations within the lifetime of some of the most elderly people in our congregations. The same has happened in Korea. Korea, which used to be anything but a Christian country, was blessed with what was sometimes called its Pentecost in the early years of this century. The Holy Ghost came down in tremendous power upon the churches of Korea in great ingatherings. You may hear today that in the capital city there are some congregations numbering ten and twenty thousand people - huge edifices, almost like super-cathedrals for the huge numbers of people. I therefore say these things by way of introducing the theme of revival, to show you that the deadness of our own day towards the things of God is not without the possibility of a solution and an answer from heaven. I am going to open up the theme today in this way: I would like to show you briefly, what revival is not. Secondly, I want to show you what revival is. Thirdly, I will show our need for revival today. If I have any time after that I shall speak about the need to pray for it, as you will see.
1. WHAT REVIVAL IS NOT
2. WHAT REVIVAL IS
3. OUR NEED FOR REVIVAL TODAY
Let us remind ourselves what revival is not. The first point we must see here is that revival is not simply reformation. Reformation is very important in the life of the church. Reformation is trying to put right the evils and the shortcoming of the church to bring it into line with the order of Scripture. Many congregations in England just now are becoming aware that the pattern of the Scriptures is different from the pattern of their own churches. One particular thing they have become aware of over the last twenty-five years is the need, for instance, to have Elders. Many churches that were evangelical did not have Elders. They had another type of office bearer but not Elders. They reformed the church and made Elders. Another thing that is becoming of interest to churches in the south is the neglect of the Psalms. I find that many times when I go to churches now they are introducing more Psalm singing as being part of the Reformed biblical pattern of worship as they would regard it. I simply use these as illustrations of ways in which churches may wish to reform. There are many, many others; these are only just examples. One may reform, for example, the church order; one may reform the church discipline of the congregation. All of these things are important in their way. What I am saying is that revival is not reformation.
It is an interesting question: what comes first, the Bible or reformation? The answer to that is you can't be dogmatic. Sometimes when churches reform, the blessing of God comes upon them - you would expect that. At other times, churches which are in a very bad condition in history, have suddenly been visited by the power of God. You mustn't lay down any hard and fast rules. It is up to us to reform as much as we can. It is up to us to put the church right in terms of order and Scripture as much as we can but that is not necessarily going to produce revival. Revival is something distinct; revival is the power of God coming down.
Then again, revival is not simply evangelism. Confusion has come in here, particularly since the last century. There was an American man who became very famous by the name of Charles G. Finney. He wrote a very important set of lectures called Finney's Lectures on Revival; they had a great deal of influence. Some of the things in them were very important and good, others were very confusing and misleading and harmful. The theory that Finney had about revival was this - let me quote him: "revival is something that man can do". In other words, his theory is that it is 'the right use of the appropriate means'. That is how Americans of a certain school of evangelical thought talked about holding a Revival. This is what they have done and still do: they hold a Revival. What they mean is that you hold a great evangelistic campaign and you invite some prominent speaker. After the pop music has died away, he speaks. When he stops speaking the soft music begins again and then you have this tremendous appeal for the people to come forward. The theory behind that is, with 'the right use of the appropriate means' you can break down people's resistance and make them into Christians. That is just not true! That theory has landed us very largely in the mess that we are in today. These huge evangelistic events in London, Glasgow, Birmingham and elsewhere, have not solved the problem of the church in our age. There are some very capable thinkers who feel these mass evangelistic meetings have only led to greater confusion and greater ignorance and greater disorder within the church context.
I said as my heading here, evangelism is not the same as revival. Let me mention a great revival that occurred in Kirk o' Shotts (between Glasgow and Edinburgh) in 1630. The preacher was a young man by the name of Livingstone. It was the Monday night of a Communion - thanksgiving night. He was preaching to a large audience in the open air. He was extremely nervous because he was a young man and there were famous ministers present. It was a very large and well-experienced congregation; there were many outstanding Christians present as well as, of course, many unconverted people. He had actually intended to walk away from the meeting the night before. He quietly stole away from the gathering and began to walk a few miles over the heather moors when the Word of God came to him and he felt rebuked for his unbelief. He went back to his duties and was preaching from Ezekiel 36, 25: "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean". He preached for about three quarters of an hour or an hour and was just about to finish his sermon, when the rain began to pour. People began to put on their capes to protect themselves. Suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon him and upon them. This is what he began to say to them. "Well, well, you people; you are busy protecting yourselves from a few drops of rain, how will you protect yourselves from the wrath of God in the Last Day when the fire falls upon you and you have no Redeemer or protection from the Judgement to come?" Those, he meant, who were not yet converted and become Christians. An extraordinary scene occured. It wasn't just his words or his persuasion; the power of God in true revival came down upon that meeting. It was calculated that no fewer than five hundred people were converted to God on that occasion through the remarks of that one preacher and that one sermon. That is what we call Revival; it is not something that man does. The man did not intend to preach that way when he started, as I told you he was actually very nervous. This was the work of God: "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down" (text) - and God did that at Kirk o' Shotts. Therefore Revival is not simply Evangelism. That is not to deny that there is a place for evangelistic and special events, I am not decrying that. All I am saying is we must never equate the two; that is confusing and misleading.
One other brief point under this heading: revival is not simply one or two conversions. It is a wonderful thing, of course, even when one person is converted; we rejoice in that. It does a lot of good and helps to revive a congregation. Even when one person comes to Christ or, and I don't think a lot of you recognise this, even when you come to church, it helps the Lord's people. When you are absent, they mourn. When they see you sitting in your place, they are glad. When a person is brought to faith in Christ, the Lord's people are greatly enriched and enlivened spiritually and so are the congregation. What I am saying is that that is not revival. Revival is that on a far wider scale.
The great pattern of revival is in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. I want to say something about that because some thinkers and speakers take the point of view that Pentecost was in every sense unrepeatable and absolutely unique - what in modern parlance is called a 'one off event'. I don't take that view nor did our forefathers before us. It is certainly not the view of our greatest preachers, writers and thinkers before us. The view they took about Pentecost is something like this. God promises in the New Testament age, "I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh" (Acts 2, 17). That began to happen at Pentecost. It was not completed at Pentecost. God did not pour out His Spirit upon all flesh at Pentecost. This was just a token of what was to happen continuously, repeatedly, over and over again in history. You see there were many subsequent outpourings similar to Pentecost. We are not interested in the tongues- speaking and healing and things of that sort; that is of only minor interest to us. What is of interest is when God's Spirit comes down upon men in this wonderful way. You know what happened in Acts 2 when they heard the preaching of Peter and others, they were pricked in their hearts: they were convinced of their sin and constrained to cry out, "What are we to do? Where are we to go to find relief from this burden of guilt and sin?" They were pointed to Christ, of course, as being the Saviour. Now then, that is what revival isn't - it is not just the conversion of one or two or ten - it is this amazing and widespread work of the Spirit of God.
I have tried to say there a little about what revival is not: it is not simply reformation, it is not simply evangelism, it is not merely one or two conversions. Now the second heading: what revival is.
Revival is, first of all, a powerful action of God at work in a community. Let me point you to some things in this chapter which give a description of revival. The prophets words in verse 1 are this: ""Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens" (text). To 'rend' something is to tear it. What he is saying to God is this: "O God, we are in such a condition of need. The church is barren and dead and powerless everywhere. O God, take hold of the heavens with both hands, as a man would take hold of a piece of material or cloth, and rend it in sunder and come down upon us. Pour upon us this power from above." See the illustration at the end of our text: "that the mountains might flow down". This is an illustration of a volcano or something. The mountains are flowing down at the presence of God: "As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil" (verse 2). All of that is a description of something absolutely supernatural and titanic: heavens rent, mountains melting, seas boiling and surging. You can see this is the conception the Bible gives us of Revival - God's doing, God's power. What is important is that it is not something anybody can produce or engineer. This is clear, for instance, at verse three: "When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for" (verse 3). In other words, this overwhelmed us; this took us by surprise. So Revival, you see, is the powerful working of God. It is also the presence of God - that is the word he is talking about: "Thou wouldest come down" (text) - Thy presence known and felt in the congregations.
One of the wonderful features of true spiritual revival is that men can feel that God is present in that meeting. This is something that they will tell you. Even unconverted people, when revival occurs, will tell you there is a sense of the presence of God. For instance in a great revival in North Wales at the very beginning of the twentieth century, the people were so aware of the presence of God in a little village called Rhos. For instance, just to take one tiny detail, the football team never put on their football strips for a whole year. That is not because playing football is a sin. The reason was that there was such a sense of the presence of God that at that time it felt out of place to put on clothes for playing football. It was like whistling in the church of God - it was out of place. God was almost to be felt in the whole town. People travelled from different parts of England to go to that place. When they were travelling on the train they used to witness as they were getting near to this town, they felt a strange calm coming over their spirit. It was as though heaven was dwelling there in that part of Wales. This used to be true of Ayrshire and the southwest of Scotland: there was a sense of the presence of God. The Covenanters used to say this in their writings: "Jesus Christ is dwelling more in the south of Scotland that anywhere else on earth." It was true in those days. Christ moves on - that is one of the lessons. He isn't here anymore like that. I wish I could take my glasses off, put my handkerchief over my face and weep with you for half an hour. The greatest loss we have is that Christ is not with us in the south of Scotland as once He was.
This is the great tragedy and, my friends, who in the world sees it? Who in the world knows it? Our great tragedy is not our lack of employment; it is not that the pound is fluctuating or the Bank of England rates are going up and down. Our great tragedy is Jesus Christ is not dwelling in our midst so that men can feel Him. That is why they won't come to church. In the days when He rends the heavens and comes down, they will come, thousands will come from all parts of the land and they will want to know what this presence of God is. You see, in true revival man is aware of the presence of God. Look at verse two: "to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!" That is very interesting. When God comes down to a people, how do you know? What do people do when God comes down in this sense? What is the proof that God is present in the church service? That is a very important question. You don't all start jumping, shouting and clapping your hands. The proof that God has come into a place like this is to be found there in verse two - "the nations may tremble at thy presence!" This is always true. You have it in Acts 2 and you have it borne out by every subsequent revival in history, when God comes down in this way, there is a sense of awe, an awareness of sublime powers at work. They don't turn to their neighbour and give a holy cuddle and a kiss as you see in some sort of religious gatherings: nothing 'matey' or 'chummy' comes in. People forget where they are; they become aware of eternity. Sometimes they sit for hours in their seats praying to God - they don't want to go home; they forget the Sunday roast: they are aware of God and they tremble.
I come to my third point in just a few words - our great need of revival today. Why do we need it? It is so clear from a verse like verse 11. The prophet here is praying to God. Isn't it interesting that the whole chapter here is a chapter of prayer. Every word in this chapter is addressed to God. It is not prophecy in a sense; it is prayer - the whole lot of it. In verse 11 he is arguing his case with God and he is saying to the Lord, "O God we need revival because of the state of our nation and of our lands". Verse 11 says, "Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste." My friends, do we not surely find ourselves identifying with these words of the prophet? Every spiritual mind feels the same - it doesn't matter where you go. Take this very town of Ayr. I have been here nearly fourteen years. When I came there were churches with large congregations which have just vanished. The church building at the Sandgate is now used for commercial purposes. Where many ministers' fists used to smite on the pulpit, now the auctioneer's hammer is knocking down second-hand furniture. Another place is a D.I.Y. store; another place for teaching dancing; another place for musicals and theatricals and another place the Civic Theatre. What does it mean?
There is yet another place under the underpass here, for theatrical costumes. I went into it not long ago just to fill my spirit with a sense of prayer. Where the Word of God had been preached, where our fathers' worshipped, is now filled with costumery and things to do with the stage. You could say that if the building wasn't being used there was no reason why it shouldn't be. Ah yes, but is this not something which stabs at your heart? "Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste" (verse 11). Where is the gospel; where is the truth; where is the power; where are people being converted? Tell me - do you know this? Have you heard this before? Let me tell you what is happening in our country today. There are more Muslims in Britain today than Baptists and Methodists put together. Let me tell you another one. Two mosques are being built in Britain every three weeks. "Our holy and our beautiful house" (verse 11) - how are we going to put this right? It won't come about by setting up more committees. It won't come about by some people organising some little method of spreading the gospel in this way or in that. For myself, I am brought to do what this prophet here does: to cry out to God in prayer for revival. "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down" (text).
As I close I leave you with verse 7: "And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities". What is he saying? He is saying to God that the times call for urgent intercession and prayer but there is so little of it. Indeed, he says, there is not a single one that is stirring up himself to call upon God. Don't we find ourselves right here. Isaiah 64 might have been written this very morning about this very town and about this very nation. Therefore, my beloved brethren, I would urge you, take this burden upon yourself in secret and collectively and believe that God has written these things to inspire and encourage us. "Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down" (text) thyself. With God, these things are possible. It is a glorious vision. Never let a day go by without many a time calling upon God to do for His church everywhere, what He promises to do.
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