Online Text Sermon - Revival Part 2 Can We Promote It, Psalm 85 vv.4-5
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Revival Part 2 Can We Promote It (Time and date not certain. Ayr Free Church)|
|Text||Psalm 85 vv.4-5 |
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"Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" (Psalm 85, 4-6)
This Psalm clearly deals with the subject of religious revival - a theme that we have begun this recent series of morning sermons upon.
Last time we looked at the subject, under the general heading: What Do We Mean By Religious Revival? You would remember that we noticed that from time-to-time in the history of His church, God has brought in a wonderful change - perhaps, sometimes in one congregation or in a whole town or district. At other times, as in 1859-60 in Britain, the whole land was transformed. Northern Ireland was absolutely aflame and afire with the Word of God. Hundreds upon hundreds were being blessed and converted. The same was true in Scotland and Wales and to a lesser extent in England. This was not something that man manipulated. It wasn't the result of economic forces or sociological changes or renewed cultural outlooks. It wasn't because of an educational promotion scheme run by the government of the day. This was God Himself coming down with the blessing of His grace. Let me give you one example of what happened in 1859. One of the prominent preachers of the Free Church of Scotland - just to take one example of very, very many - had been conducting open-air services in the Dumfries area for about nineteen years during his summer holiday there. As far as he knew, nobody had been blessed or brought to Christ through his preaching in the previous years. However, in this year of revival in 1859-60, he said he was hearing that the Word of God was going from family to family. Family worship was being started in many homes. Moral evil was almost disappearing and fading away for a time. You can see the effect of revival by looking at statistics: the numbers of Prayer Meetings were suddenly multiplied throughout the churches of the day; the way in which illegitimate births came down very suddenly because people had a regard for the Commandments of God.
I am looking at this subject of religious revival, of course, not as entertainment, although it is highly entertaining and most thrilling: far more entertaining and thrilling than reading fiction or watching some modern play. This is real, the power of God changing lives of men and nations; creating a desire for God where before there was none. So I want today to look at a very practical part of the subject: How Can You and I Promote and Advance Religious Revival? There is a sense in which we cannot because it is God's work but we mustn't become Hyper-Calvinistic; in other words, we mustn't become fatalistic. As the good professor said the other night, we believe in the immovable purposes of God but at the same time, we believe that the Lord hears the prayer of His true and earnest people. We can do something. From this Psalm, I want to look at some of the things that you and I can and ought to be doing in order to cry out to God to have this experience of religious revival become a reality in our nation and in our churches once again.
1. HOW WE MAY PROMOTE RELIGIOUS REVIVAL
2. GOD ANGRY WITH CHURCHES
3. THE SIGNS OF GOD'S ANGER AGAINST A VISIBLE CHURCH
1. HOW WE MAY PROMOTE RELIGIOUS REVIVAL
The first thing is in verse 1: "Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob." How does that verse become to us a help, to show us how we may promote religious revival? I want to show you how. It is because it tells us that the writer here, who was praying for revival, had, first of all, sat down and thought about what God had done in the past. He had thought about previous acts of God's power. As a consequence of thinking of what God had been able to do in the past, he was now crying out for God to do it all over again. We have to get to know what God has done in days of old: we have to remember our spiritual history.
It is a remarkable fact that when people begin to take an interest in revival, they immediately start to pray for it all over again. Let me mention one perfect example of this - I don't think you will find a better example anywhere in the voluminous literature on revival. In 1839, in the town of Kilsyth (northeast of Glasgow), there was a service going on and the preacher was a young man called William Chalmers Burns - he later went to China as a missionary and he was the great hero of Dr. Hudson Taylor of the China Inland Mission. Hudson thought of Burns as being the ideal and perfect missionary - he modelled himself in many ways on Burns. This was before Burns went to China. He was now preaching in his father's church. There were too many for the building if I remember, so they were in the open air - I think that is correct. He was preaching on the subject of revival; he was burdened that revival come again into Scotland. He began to tell the people what had happened the previous century in that very parish of Kilsyth in the days of Whitfield and the eighteenth century evangelical revival - 1740's in fact. W.C. Burns described the way the Holy Ghost came down on the people and the way in which thousands of people from all over Scotland were meeting in that congregation. From being a few hundred, it became ten and twenty thousand in strength. When Whitfield preached there on one occasion in the open air, he calculated there could have been even thirty thousand people there. The people were just enthralled with the presence of God. They were being blessed, their souls were being fed; they needed to have a church service every day of the week. The minister was never free from people coming to the Manse asking how they could be saved. That was Kilsyth in the eighteenth century.
Let us go back again to W.C. Burns. He is now preaching a whole century later and he is telling the people of Kilsyth, who had forgotten these things because people forget their history, what had happened a hundred years before. Listen to this: as he was telling the people what had happened a century earlier, it happened all over again. The Spirit of God came upon the people and they were being blessed and converted right before their very eyes. Hard hearts were being melted like snow before the fire or wax before the sun. All sinners and all backsliders were being brought to Jesus in the meeting. The Spirit of God was convicting people of their need of faith and of repentance.
We need that today - not simply in the Ayr, Free Church of Scotland, but in all the churches of Ayr and in all the churches of our land. We need, my friends, to remember our history and to recall that God has done these things in the past. If our churches in Scotland do not see this kind of thing happening again, then all that can happen is the churches will hold on to their numbers only by compromise. Churches can do two things in a time of declension. They can either hold to their principals and many people will drift away because they don't like principles, firmness, doctrine and truth. Many good churches will lose a lot of the people and they will be small churches with faithful believers. Other churches will say to themselves that they cannot possibly tolerate to see our people go and so we've got to let the standards down. We must keep the people at all costs. No matter how far our standards go down, we must keep our people. They become more and more liberal, more and more shallow until in the end the preacher daren't preach half of the Bible because it would upset too many people. He would just have to keep his mouth shut and say things which he knows are smooth and agreeable: to pat them on the back and give the whole thing a sense of apparent unity. That is happening in many places today. What is going to bring out the multitude in their homes to the churches of God? It is this power of the Holy Spirit; so let's get to know what God has done in the past and let's remember it.
2. GOD ANGRY WITH CHURCHES
The second thing we can do to promote revival is in verses 2 and 3. "Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger." Notice, my beloved friends, that revival is always closely related to the sins of the church and the forgiveness of the sins of the church. Let's make certain things clear because there are Christians who never, ever in their lives thought in terms of such a concept as this. There are many Christians who think that God is angry with the world because they are sinners, but it never occurs to them to think that God could ever be angry with Christians or with the church in this world. I say to you - that is a great mistake. God is frequently angry with Christians and He is frequently angry with churches. Let me prove the point. God was angry with Moses. Remember that occasion when Moses was impatient with the people: he was told to speak to the rock and in his impatience he smote the rock and said, "Ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock?" (Numbers 20, 10). Remember how God rebuked Moses. God was very angry with Moses for being impatient with his own people and he never got in to the Promised Land. You know the story well. David was the same: "The sword shall never depart from thine house" (11 Samuel 12, 10): the result of the way in which David had dealt with Bath-sheba and her husband. In Revelation 2 and 3, think of the church of Laodicea - that was a church, it wasn't the world. The Lord Jesus Christ said to the church at Laodicea, "be zealous therefore, and repent" (Revelation 3, 19), "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Revelation 3, 16). That is, God angry with churches.
My beloved I want to tell you something today which is a very unwelcome doctrine to some ears but which is essential if we are to promote revival. That is, God is angry with churches in Scotland and Britain today. That is our problem. The problem is not that we don't have great preachers and great theologians. The problem is, God is not with us, as we need to have Him with us. We have grieved Him. How have we grieved Him? Well we don't know, but it didn't happen yesterday morning. It has been like this for a century. My one view is it came upon us when those ministers of several generations ago, began to bring their critical thoughts to bear upon the Word of God: higher criticism of the Word of God. To me, that was the sin of sins which provoked the Holy Spirit to go away. The New Testament says, "Grieve not the holy Spirit of God" (Ephesians 4, 30); "Quench not the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5, 19). The Holy Spirit is the source of power in our preaching, in our praying and in our living. When the Holy Spirit is grieved or quenched or offended or blasphemed against, He withdraws His power. He doesn't put forth His energies through preaching or through the witness of His people. Preaching of itself cannot convert anybody. The Holy Spirit takes the Word and blesses it to people in testimony or in preaching that leads to conversions and blessing and spiritual feeding. When the Holy Spirit withholds His power then the blessing is also withheld and that is the problem. We must get back to this conception that is in the Psalm of God being angry with His people.
My friends, have we got that vision. Does it matter to you today that God is offended because of the sins that have been going on for a long time - not simply in the world but in the church. Has it ever occurred to you that there are things which we ought to put right in our own lives and in our own congregations? Did you ever think that you or I could be one of the causes why there is so little blessing in our times? You remember Achan in the camp of Israel who sinned in secret. Nobody knew but Achan that secret sin was the cause of the removal of the blessing from Israel. No wonder Robert Murray McCheyne said to his people, "Pray for me; because your greatest need as a congregation is my personal holiness. The holier I am, the more the blessing will come on you." That is a wonderful truth expressed by McCheyne. A holy minister is a great instrument in the hands of a holy God and that is what this passage refers to. The secret of revival is turning God away from His anger, which immediately takes me to the concept of prayer.
3. THE SIGNS OF GOD'S ANGER AGAINST A VISIBLE CHURCH
Thirdly, what are the signs of God's anger against a visible church? The signs are prayerlessness, spiritual deadness, no vision for the conversion of the world, becoming like the world, having no zeal for the things of the Spirit, putting our own lives and our own families before the life of God's church and the family of faith, being all out for our own things - the things of God having to take a back seat. These are the signs that God's Spirit has withdrawn from the church. My friends, I do not need to labour the point that the Holy Spirit proves to us that He is offended even by this town of Ayr and how few there are in the churches that are really praying. How few there are that can pray. I wonder how many there are that God knows about in this town who have ever set themselves to go on to their knees for one half hour or one whole hour and to pray in secret to God that He would turn away from His anger and bless this town again and the churches in it. You can't do that unless you have a true conception of God. If you follow the false theory that God is never angry with the church then you never begin to think like this. The early Christian or Plymouth Brethren had this wrong theory that the Christian need not confess his sins because they are all forgiven: the sins of the Christian are pardoned so you don't spend a lot of time confessing them. That was their theory but I hope they have got over that by now. If you hold to that theory then you can't really pray for revival in this sense because you don't believe that God is angry with the church, therefore, you never cry out to Him to remove His anger. Turn now to verses 4-6 and see how different this is from the Word of God: "Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease. Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations? Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" This is one of the great things in the Psalms and in the Word of God: they don't treat God in a way to flatter Him; they treat God straight and honest, knowing that He is a greatly holy God and that the sins of the church are real sins.
It is true that God does not ever deal with the church as He deals with world. We need to have this point explained. When God is angry with the world of unbelievers, He is angry with them as a righteous Judge; when God is angry with the church, He is angry as a Father, not a Judge to destroy and condemn, but a Father to chasten and humble. It should be to you more bitter than death if you are a Christian that there is so little felt of God's presence in our times. It should be like wormwood and gall to your soul to see God so little glorified in our day. The prayer of the Psalmist arises because of his holy love for God. He yearns to see God exalted; he yearns to see the multitude of men and women coming to put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. In the great revival of 1859, a place called Glengarnock (north of Ayr), received a wonderful visitation of the Spirit of God. Roman Catholics in that valley were harassing the people of the Free Church of Scotland at the time in their open-air witness. On one evening in particular, the Lord's people withdrew and came into a school hut; it was quite full of people. The minister was there and they went on pleading with God for the blessing to come down. This was not something they did of their own spontaneity, O no! There was a sense of God's presence with them. They were already hearing reports of just across the water in Ulster and then across the ocean in North America - there were tremendous scenes of revival taking place. As you would expect, the people of Scotland were beginning to be kindled with a desire for the same thing.
Twenty thousand people met in the open-air on Glasgow Green to listen to reports of conversions in Northern Ireland. That kind of thing was not peculiar to Glasgow but on this night that I refer to in Glengarnock, the minister was just about to finish the meeting when he felt compelled to offer prayer. He said, "I prayed such a prayer that night that I have never prayed in my life. When I opened my eyes, the people were tremendously affected by the presence of God. Some of them were weeping for their sins; some of them were remembering their wickedness before God. They were crying out for mercy and praying to the Lord to take pity upon their souls." You can't do that by psychological gimmickry! That was God's work and it went on until after midnight. That, my friends, is what happens when the Lord turns again the captivity of His people (Jeremiah 29, 14) and blesses them. Therefore, I lay upon you today that nothing will make the church so prosperous, nothing will make the Lord's people so happy and so glad, as when this Spirit of reviving comes down.
Let me just point to a verse or two before I close and bring these things before you. Look, for instance, at verse 9: "Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land." Look at that - glory dwelling in our land. Do you know that in the good old days when the Gospel and the church were strong in Great Britain, you could feel the presence of God in the country as a whole? Foreign missionaries who had served in China, Africa, India or other places, when they came home by ship to the shores of Britain - before the days of aeroplanes - they used to say that as they got near to England or Scotland they felt the burden lift off their minds; they felt they were in a place where God dwelt. Samuel Rutherford in his day, talking about this part of Scotland says, "Jesus Christ is pleased to dwell here as he dwells nowhere else." The presence of Christ can sometimes be geographical. The glory was having its habitation in our land.
I know that you care about these things. It is our duty to care about these things. God requires it of us. My friends, are we going to sing the Psalms and not enter into the spirit of the Psalm? Surely, we don't use the Psalms merely as a tradition - no, God forbid! It is because we believe it is the Word of God and there are lessons here which are enshrined in these words which are of timeless and eternal value to the cause of Christ and people of faith.I urge you today, think back to what God has done and then stir yourself up; try in terms of this Psalm - "Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" You can take the word of our forefathers that when revival breaks out the people of God know heavenliness, and happiness, and a fellowship and ecstasy, one with another, and with new converts, which is a very heaven upon earth. A spiritual joy fills the hearts of the people; then, O the singing, O the praying, O the gladness when God comes down. I want you to catch the vision and to begin to pray for these things every day you live and many times a day. As you go through the High Street, pray for these things and as your head lies on the pillow at night, remember to cry out to God for these things. Pray for it until it comes into your soul as a red-hot poker emblazoning truth across the tablets of your heart. Pray for it and give God no rest until He will take away His anger. Say to Him, "O God, we cannot live without Thee. Thou art the life of my soul. Give us our hearts desire. Come down. May glory have its habitation in this land again. "Revive us again, O God, that thy people may rejoice in thee?" (verse 6)
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