Malachi 3:10: Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
The sense of a need for revival is gaining ground in the church. Some are promising it most confidently. Others speak more carefully, and feel assured it will come if God’s people fulfil the conditions on which He has promised to bestow it.
As Mr. Moody said in a letter, published nor long before his death: “If our ears are open to God’s voice, and our hearts respond fully to his leading, I believe we are on the eve of unusual revivals of religion.” If it is true that God’s faithfulness in the fulfilment of His promise waits on our faithfulness in the fulfilment of His conditions, it becomes us to ask most earnestly whether the attitude of the church and the ministry is such as to give us confidence to expect the abundant blessing we long for and speak of.
It is indeed a heart-searching truth that the union between God and His people is so close, and that their partnership in the work of saving the world is so real that the performance of their part is just as indispensable as God’s. Everyone who prophesies revival would need to be someone who has stood in God’s counsel, has a divine right to speak in God’s name, and, in witnessing against sin and interceding in faith, is fulfilling God’s conditions. Just think of a man like Elijah. God had given him the promise, “I will send rain upon the earth.” But much had to happen before it came. He had to show himself to Ahab, rebuild God’s altar, reform the apostate people, bring down fire from heaven, and destroy the priests of Baal before he could tell Ahab, “Get thee up: there is sound of abundance of rain.” Even then his work was not done. He had to go up to the top of Carmel and bow himself down upon the earth, put his face between his knees, and pray. And in spite of the word of his servant “There is nothing!” Elijah had to wait for the same report seven times before even the cloud like a man’s hand could be seen.
To promise rain from heaven to a sinful people is a solemn thing. That action needs a man who stands before God and gets His knowledge of what is coming, who stands boldly before the people and pleads for a jealous God, and who then in persevering prayer brings down the blessing. Verily, it is not a light thing to prophesy revival, to give assurance that God is going to do something new and wonderful, to dare to say that He will in very deed open the windows of heaven, and pour out blessing that there shall not be room to receive it.”
This passage in Malachi sets before us in a striking way the conditions for revival and man’s part in securing it. The prophet tells the people that they have been withholding from God what He asks; therefore He withholds what they ask. God had His temple among them as the symbol of His presence and favor and as the place of His service and worship. He asked them to present their tithes there, both as an acknowledgment of their dependence on Him and of their gratitude. It was also to be used for the maintenance of His servants whom He had put in charge of His house. In that house God was to reveal and prove how He lived wholly to bless them. In that house His people were to show and prove how wholly they lived for Him. God left it to them to show how much they would have of Him. He would be to them what they were to Him; He would give them in blessing just as much as they proved He was worth to them. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” “The Lord is with you, while [as far as] ye be with him.” And they had utterly failed. They had not brought their tithes or offerings as God had commanded.
To show Israel the heinousness of their sin, God charges them with having robbed him. “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. Ye are cursed with a curse, even this whole nation.” They had taken what belonged to God and kept it for themselves. They had withheld from His house what was His due; and God had withheld His blessing. “Bring ye the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house.” The whole controversy with His people is about His house. If they will give Him the whole tithe, all that He claims, He will give them all they can desire: “He will open the windows of heaven, and pour out blessing, that there shall not be room to receive it.”
The jealousy of God for His house and service had been very strikingly enforced by Haggai a hundred years earlier. In the name of God he had reminded them of all God’s visitations. “Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough ye looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when ye brought it home, I did blow upon it.” Then God asks them in one single word to consider what all this meant. “Why? Saith the Lord of hosts. Because of mine house that is waste, and ye run every man unto his own house. Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this house lie waste?” And then when the people obeyed, the promise came at once: “I am with you, saith the Lord. From the day that the foundation of the Lord’s temple was laid, consider it from this day will I bless you.
God’s house on earth is the test of obedience of His people: their devotion to the house is the measure of their devotion to God; therefore, in that measure will they receive blessing from Him.
All of us who long for revival plead the promise in Malachi. We ask that God would open the windows of heaven and pour out His abundance of blessing. Are we careful to ask and then to say to God that we are ready to bring the whole tithe, all that He claims, into His house? Have we looked around to see if God’s people, who pray for revival, are doing it? Are we giving our testimony to God, and pleading with His people around us for His house that is lying waste, while we live in our panelled houses? Are we sure that God will not say, is not even now saying, in answer to our prayer: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me even this whole people”?
“Consider.” In this dispensation in which we live, what is the house of God? Christ spoke of it in the words of the prophet: My father’s house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. In the house to be built there must be room to fulfill the command: “Go and teach all nations.” In the parable of the kingdom of heaven the king made a great supper and Christ uses the words “Go out and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” This is the house of that God says: “My house lieth waste: ye live in your ceiled houses.”
To the church of Christ has been given the unspeakable honor and privilege of building the house of God. Yes, believers themselves are that house, “an habitation of God through the Spirit” in which the nations can be gathered in to worship Him. The first work of Solomon’s reign of peace was to build the temple. The first work Israel was to do when brought out of exile to Jerusalem was to restore the house of God. The first object for which the church exists is to build the house of God throughout the world that “every creature”—these are Christ’s words—may know the good tidings that God loves him. God has asked His people to make sure there is meat in His house that His servants may be supported and free to go and call all nations into His house. God has asked every believer, without exception, with his whole heart and strength, out of love to God and his neighbor, to give himself to help in building God’s house.
And what do we find to be the case? After nearly nineteen centuries the larger part of the world has not even heard the tidings that there is a house of the Father open to them. After a century of missionary revival there are scarcely 10,000 white missionaries on the field—all that the church cares to give to meet the needs of a thousand million who don’t know Christ. Throughout the unreached world, notwithstanding the attempts of the few to overtake the work, God’s house lies waste, and all because Christians do not listen to Christ’s command. They are not prepared to bring the whole tithe for what the house needs, to give themselves wholly to the work God has laid upon them. Missionary organizations may plead for men, women and money; messages may come from national converts crying for more help; the Word of God may reiterate, command and promise—yet the great majority of Christians have not a thought of bringing the whole tithe into God’s storehouse.
Through vast regions His house lies waste, and where it is building there is no meat in His house sufficient for the open mouths willing to receive the bread. And God’s Word comes today to His people as solemnly and pointedly as to Israel of old: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me, even the whole nation.” Oh, that Christians who pray for revival would consider the charge even if they themselves are not guilty! If they would see how impossible it is for the blessing to come until ‘the whole tithe,” all that is due to God, all that God claims, is brought into His house!
In Israel they had answered the prophet: “‘Wherein have we robbed thee?” They denied the truth of the charge; they were sure it was not true. The word wherein is repeated five times in the book. Wherein have we despised thy name? Wherein have we polluted thee? Wherein have we wearied Him? Wherein shall we return? Wherein have we robbed thee? The word reveals the utter absence of any sense of sin. They have no idea of God’s claim and how much He means it when He asks for the whole tithe. In self-complacent ignorance they boast of being God’s people.
Is it so very different in our day? Is it understood among Christians what the whole tithe means, and that God does in very deed ask it? Is it preached and believed that with the whole tithe God means and asks the love of the whole heart, the devotion of the whole strength to himself and His service? Is it recognized that the claim of God is absolute, and that in withholding the men, women and money needed for building His house of prayer for all nations, He counts His church guilty of robbing Him of that which He rightly claims—and greatly needs?
God has a controversy with His church—not so much with the lukewarm and self-contented who count it sufficient to be saved, and never think of the whole tithe, but with those who come as the representatives of His people and plead for revival. He asks them if they have brought the whole tithe and given themselves completely to His will and service. He asks those who by His grace have done so if they have lifted up their voices and testified against this sin, if they feel its weight and burden, if they are prepared, before the blessing is poured out, to have the evil removed. God withholds His blessing because we withhold His due. The very first thing needed before His hand can open the windows of heaven is that “the whole tithe,” all He claims, be given Him.
A great deal is often spoken about the lack of interest in missions, but it does not go to the root of the matter. Its terrible evil consists in that the heart is not devoted to God, that the spiritual life is diseased and feeble, and that religion is centered in self. Until the sin is known and mourned over, publicly confessed and condemned, and men are ready to be led by the Holy Spirit to a life entirely devoted to God and His service, prayer for revival will not avail.
What is needed is that those who see the evil should lift up their voice. Judging from what is spoken in many an assembly and meeting, council and congress, there is often a tone of mutual congratulation as to the state of the churches, which is so occupied with certain things that are good that it utterly fails to recognize the tremendous hindrance that keeps the windows of heaven closed. It is only when bold testimony, true confession, and deep humiliation prepare the way that the blessing can come down.
How easy it would be if God’s Spirit, as the Spirit of consecration, were poured out, and Christians were quickened to give gladly and liberally, for every missionary organization to double its income and its work and make the three million of last year into six. A true revival in God’s children would speedily work it. No one would feel the poorer for it; many all the richer. In seeking for revival, we need to be made ready for this consecration by confessing the terrible sins of the past and pledging ourselves and our brethren to a new obedience. The Spirit of God can and will work it. We need to pray for the Spirit, with the desire and surrender to give ourselves to be wholly possessed by Him and led to all that God would have of us.
The prayer for revival is a most heart-searching thing. With it comes a tremendous responsibility. It needs great divine grace. It asks if we are ready to turn our hearts and lives from other interests and to bear the weight and sorrow of those in the city of God who sigh and cry because of the abominations that are done in the midst thereof. It asks if we so believe in prayer—in our right and power with God to undertake this great request—that God shall entirely change the life of some, of many, of His people from one of selfishness to one of entire self-sacrifice. It asks whether we will be the first to give the answer, to offer ourselves for the Holy Spirit to do His full work of convincing of sin and consuming what is of self. It asks if we will accept and carry the answer to our brethren and prove what God can do. Oh, this prayer for revival may mean much to us in more ways than one, but let us not fear. Let us unhesitatingly bring the whole tithe into His house; let us unhesitatingly expect to see the windows of heaven opened and floods of blessing poured out.
Psalm 67:1, 2, 6-7: God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations God, even our own God shall bless us. God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear him.
In speaking of and praying for revival, it is important that we understand what we really desire and ask for. To most Christians the word conveys the meaning of a large increase in the number of conversions. When that happens, they say, “There has been quite a revival in that church (or town).”
The true meaning of the word is far deeper. The word means making alive again those who have been alive but have fallen into what is called a cold, or dead, state. They are Christians and have life, but they need reviving to bring them back to their first love and the healthy growth of the spiritual life to which conversion was meant to be the entrance. When the church as a whole, its ministers and members, is not living in full wholehearted devotion to Christ and His service, is not walking in the joy of the Lord and separation from the world, we need to pray, more than for the conversion of the unconverted, that God’s people may truly be revived and have the life of God in power restored to them.
It may be said: Is not adding new converts the best way of reviving the church? Does not that awaken interest, and gladness, and the Christians to new activity? This may be true, and yet not meet the real need for two reasons: First, such a revival is generally very temporary, and soon leaves the church settling down to its ordinary level. Second, these converts, when brought into a church that is not living in the warmth of the true spiritual life—in all holiness and fruitfulness—are not helped as they need, and do not rise above the lukewarmness around them.
What we need to pray and labor for, first of all, is that the church of true believers may be revived. What the world needs above everything is not more men and women of the ordinary type of Christians but better people. We need Christians who are stronger in faith and holier in life, intensely devoted to Christ and His service and ready to sacrifice all for the salvation of souls. When God’s Spirit is poured out upon the church, and men and women, who are now struggling on in feebleness, are clothed with the garments of praise and the power of the Spirit, the world will soon share the blessing. These revived believers will be ready to give themselves to God’s work at home or abroad; their word and witness will be in power. Nominal Christians will be judged by the power of the revived ones’ example, and will confess that God is with them. And the world will, in the increased numbers and the burning fervor of the messengers of a quickened church, share in the blessing. A revival among believers is the great need of our day. A revived church is the only hope of a dying world.
If our conviction of this truth is to be deep and influential, if by it our desire and faith in prayer for revival are really to be stirred and strengthened, we need the Holy Spirit of God to reveal the meaning of such words in the light of God’s purpose. The spiritual character of the church, its great object as the instrument of God’s almighty power in conquering the world, and the conditions under which that purpose can be accomplished, are all thoughts of God— as high above our thoughts as the heavens are above the earth. It will need to be one of the very first things we pray for—that God himself shows what His church is meant to be, what He has promised to be to it, and how His plan with her is to be carried out. Let us try to think out some of the great thoughts of God as revealed in His Word.
The church has the charge of the world entrusted to it. When Christ finished His work on earth and went to heaven to carry it on there, He spoke of two powers to whom the continuation of the work on earth was to be committed. He spoke of the Holy Spirit, who, equally with God himself and the Father, should come in His name to convict the world of sin and be a divine power in His disciples to reveal himself in them, and so make them witnesses for Him to the ends of the earth. He spoke of His disciples as those whom He sent into the world, even as the Father had sent Him. Just as entirely as He had lived to do the Father’s will in saving men and women so was His Spirit to do that work, too. And just as wholly as the Spirit was to be devoted to that work was the body, the church, to be set apart for it. The whole body of believers, and every individual believer, was to be like Christ, the light of the world, placed in the world with the one definite, exclusive object of enlightening its darkness and bringing men and women out of darkness into light.
To do its work the church has the promise of the power of the Holy Spirit of God. That Spirit is given to every believer to be within him the power of a divine and holy life. That Spirit is to be to him the seal of his worship and acceptance, the fountain of love and joy, the grace for conquering sin and the world, the power to do all that God would have us do. That Spirit is to enlighten and guide and lead, to sanctify and fit for unbroken fellowship with a holy God, to reveal Christ the Son of God the Father within the heart. He is to be a fountain springing up within and flowing forth as streams of living water in what He thus works in personal experience; He equips the person to boldly testify about God’s power and to communicate to others what has happened in his own life. Without the power of the Holy Spirit fully recognized and experienced, the church cannot know or fulfil its calling. With His power the life and fruit God asks for are natural and sure. When the Spirit does not work in power, it is proof that another spirit has been allowed to take its place.
There are only two spirits in the spiritual world—the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world. Between these there is an unceasing struggle going on. It is because Christians live so much for this present world, and under its power, that its spirit gets possession of them, and grieves and quenches the Spirit of God. They lose the power to conquer sin or live a holier life. They lose any intense desire to live for God and His kingdom. They lose the divine love that would enable them to live for or to have influence on their neighbors. Their religion becomes that of the mind and not of the heart. They are willing to listen to beautiful words on religion, and count the pleasing impressions these make as religious feeling. And all the while they are quenching the life in them into impotence and death. This is the state in which multitudes of Christians live, making themselves and their churches powerless for good or for blessing.
It is out of this state that a revival is needed to lift the church into its true life, according to the divine pattern.
A true revival means nothing less than a revolution, casting out the spirit of worldliness and selfishness and making God and His love triumph in the heart and life. As every birth has its travails and its pangs, so this entrance of a new divine life in power into a church must be preceded and accompanied by the pains of conviction and confession, by the earnest searchings of heart in which sin is discovered, is held up to shame, and condemned. In such a work of grace many will learn how little truth or power there has been either in their conversion or their spiritual life. They will see things that they tolerated to be vile sin, that nothing but the blood of Christ can wash away and the power of Christ can overcome. They will no longer wonder at someone speaking of the need of a second conversion; the experience of many will teach them that the change is even greater. They will see that now, for the first time, they truly know what the power of grace is, what the blessedness of God’s love is, and what the joy of a heart given to His service is. And work for Christ will be the spontaneous fruit of God’s Spirit coming on them.
On those who believe that a revival is needed and is possible rests the solemn responsibility of preparing the way of the Lord in speaking to God and men and women about it. To God we speak about it in prayer. We ask Him to open our own eyes and hearts, and those of our church, to what He thinks and says of the spiritual life He finds. We confess our own sin and the sin of our brethren. We give ourselves to stand in the gap, to take hold of God’s strength. We ask the Spirit to give us the consciousness of being intercessors, who in tender love, and yet in holy zeal and truth, speak to God about the state in which His church is. Not in the spirit of judgment or self-exaltation, but in deep humility and the spirit of self-sacrifice, we ask God to show us if it is true what we think we see—that the spirit of self-will and the world is robbing the church of its power to continue to carry out the work Christ began. We ask God to reveal to us if and how deliverance can come.
And so we are prepared to lift up our testimony and speak to our brethren. It may not happen at once: the fire may burn long in our bones. It may not be to large audiences, or with any marked result. But if our speaking to men is the fruit of much speaking to God, of real waiting on Him for revival, it must tell. As one here and another there—this is usually God’s way—begins to see what God’s will really is concerning His church, the cause of her failure, and the path of restoration and what the certainty of the visitation of His grace, his prayer will become more urgent and believing, and the blessing will come.
All this must lead to the assured faith that a revived church is a possibility, a promise, and a certainty. As in the individual and his needs, so with the church and the mighty change to be wrought in it: unbelief is the great hindrance. And faith can triumph only where it stands, not in the wisdom of men and in the hope they have of revival from all the agencies that are at work, and all the progress they see, but in the power of God and His direct intervention. Faith looks up to and worships the God of absolute omnipotence and infinite love. God can, God will—these are its foundational strengths, on the right hand and on the left.
Yes, God is able! It needs but an act of His will; and His Holy Spirit, the mighty power of God working in His church, can give new life to all who long to receive Him. He can work conviction in those who are resting content in external prosperity and human agencies. He can give the joy of the Holy Spirit, first in single churches and then in larger bodies. He can awaken His people, as out of sleep, to see, consent, and rejoice that they are indeed the hope of a dying world. And God is ready! As the sun pours its light and warmth on every tiny flower to give it growth and beauty, God’s love is waiting and longing to pour itself into hearts that reach out after Him. Sometimes it may appear as if He waits long and delays His coming. But let us be sure of this: He does not wait one moment longer than is needful. We may depend upon it, with the utmost confidence, that if His children unite in praying for a revived church as the only hope of a dying world, He will hear the prayer.
Let us give ourselves to such prayer—intelligent, deliberate, intense prayer I now venture to offer to God’s children what I trust may be help in praying for revival. I wish to begin by showing what is lacking in the life of the church, and the causes to which this is attributed. I then propose to invite my readers to take time to set their hearts on the pattern given in the Sermon on the Mount, according to which everything in the life of the believer and the church ought to be regulated. I shall ask them to pray very specially that God would give them and all God’s people a vision of what He expects His church to be, of what He has promised He is able to and actually can make it. In the light of that vision, may the conviction be deepened of how impossible it is for us to rest satisfied with the present church. This will prepare us for realizing the utter impotence of all human efforts, and the necessity for us to look up for a divine intervention. It will compel us to listen earnestly to God’s Word concerning the almighty power in which He is ready to work. We will see that in our personal experience we may prove; and may be able to testify confidently to others, that God does a new thing in the earth, that He does enable His children to live lives of holy and exact obedience, of joyous and complete consecration to His service. We shall then be ready to believe with a new intensity in the Holy Spirit. For He can fill the hearts of God’s saints and clothe them with the power that fits them for conquering the world.
It is hardly necessary to say how varied the elements of prayer suggested by such a study will be. It will begin with heart-searching, confession, and humiliation. The Holy Spirit will show us what part we have had in the universal defection, even while we deplored it. He will judge in us things that have been tolerated. He will open our eyes to see what is wrong around us, and to come to God himself bearing the burden of the worldliness and self-contentment of His children, who are one body with us.
As we study and see what God has promised, and connect that with the individual churches or the larger bodies to which we belong, we shall feel what a solemn thing it is to offer ourselves as intercessors with God and witnesses with men, in regard to the dishonor done to His name. The word revival will get a new meaning and fullness of thought; the prayer for it a new urgency; the effectual prevailing prayer a new demand. As the solemn words “a revived church the only hope for a dying world” are borne in upon us and burned into us, prayer and intercession will become a transaction with God. Our utter helplessness will have to take hold of and cling to His almighty power. Our whole life must become possessed by the thought that there is nothing worth living for but the will of God in the salvation of men.
Christ sent me to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect I came not with Excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. My speech and my preaching was not with enticing [persuasive] words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:17; 2:1, 4, 5
In our first chapter we spoke of the terrible sin of the Jewish people in robbing God. They withheld from Him what He claimed; He withheld from them what they asked. We also noted that it is the same sin in the Christian Church that withholds the blessing of the Spirit’s working and makes revival so needful. We looked at only one proof of disobedience to God’s command: the neglect of the church to be what God wants it to be— a light to lighten the Gentiles; the refusal of Christians to live wholly and solely for the glory of God in the salvation of men.
We hardly dare say that this neglect, this refusal, is willful. Men do not know they are called to such absolute devotion; that the perishing world is really their charge; that God refuses to bless them because they refuse to live only for Him and their fellowmen. When we ask how it is that with Scripture so constantly read and preached, and with its commands and principles so plain, the truth is not apprehended, we are led to one of the deepest sources of all the evil and failure in the churches. The truth is held, preached, and received in man s wisdom, not in the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. Listen to what our text teaches concerning this. There is a twofold preaching of Christ and His cross. The one is what Christ forbade—and Paul therefore so emphatically rejected—the preaching in wisdom of words, in Excellency of speech and wisdom, in persuasive words of wisdom. The other is in demonstration of the Spirit and of power—the proof of a direct supernatural divine working. Corresponding to these there is a twofold faith. The one stands in the wisdom of man, is feeble, changeable, and ever dependent upon human support. The other stands in the power of God, which has its root and its strength, on the part of the convert, in the personal communion with God and the experience of His almighty operation. When scriptural truth is studied or heard, is received and held as true, but does not work in power, the chief reason is that it is held in man’s wisdom, in the power of the mind, not of the Spirit of God. There is nothing that so effectually makes void the cross of Christ and robs it of all its power as the wisdom of words and Excellency of speech.
If we ask how it was that the Jews in the time of Malachi could be so ignorant of their sin and so confidently ask, “Wherein have we wearied him? Wherein have we robbed thee?” the only answer is: spiritual ignorance, blindness of heart. In the scribes and Pharisees of our Lord’s time, we see men making their boast of God’s law, priding themselves on their attachment to Scripture, and yet rejecting Him of whom alone it spoke. Having eyes, they saw not. They had received the Word of God in their human wisdom, and remained entire strangers to its spiritual meaning, to its revelation of God’s will; to it’s renewing and sanctifying power. If we ask how Christians now can still rob God, can refuse Him the wholehearted allegiance that He so clearly claims, and can live, not for the glorious work He has entrusted to every one of His people—making God known to their fellowmen—but for themselves and this world, the answer is the same. It is the spiritual ignorance of the meaning and power of all truth that has been learned only in human wisdom.
And if we ask why even the leaders and teachers of the church appear to have so little consciousness of the utter defectiveness of the Christian life of the majority of Christians, and that even what is spoken concerning it has so little effect, the answer is still the same. It is the lack of a truly spiritual apprehension of God’s claim to “the whole tithe”—the whole heart and all the strength in His service. The terrible prevalence and extreme sinfulness of withholding this tithe, and so robbing God of His due, is caused, above everything else, by confidence being placed in man’s wisdom. Scripture is studied, its truth is admitted, is preached and listened to with conviction and pleasure in the power of the human mind without the power of the Holy Spirit to make it effective.
If we study God’s Word carefully, we shall be surprised to find how many things it contrasts with knowing, and the danger in knowing without its leading to that which it was meant to produce, scripture contrasts knowing and believing. The mind can form a conception of the most spiritual truths—the love of God, the atonement of Christ, the power of the Spirit—can be convinced of their truth and value, and so give them a perfect intellectual assent, while the heart does not believe them, does not open to yield itself to their all—controlling influence, scripture contrasts knowing and doing. In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord warns against the danger of knowing and not doing. To His disciples He said: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” James says: “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” Knowing is contrasted with hearing. Just as there is great pleasure in a beautiful picture of some interesting object, so the mind may delight in the contemplation of the divine realities of which the Bible tells—of the love of God, of the beauty of true humility or great devotion to God or man—while the heavenly grace itself is not possessed or hardly desired. Knowing is contrasted with being.
As the science of education advances, the teacher is constantly reminded that his work is infinitely nobler than imparting a certain amount of knowledge, or even than developing the pupil’s power of thought, so that he may be able to acquire knowledge for himself. The true teacher tries to instill into a pupil that character is everything—it is not what a man knows, but what he is that is the real standard. This is infinitely truer in God’s school in which His children are being trained. What we actually are, as humble, holy, believing, devoted children of God, is the only proof that God’s Word has in truth entered into us and done its work.
And knowing is contrasted with living. In each child of God, the power of an endless life is working. God’s own life is secretly striving within him. As the great work of education is to waken a child to the consciousness of its power as a living being, so all the success of the Christian life depends upon the clear and abiding consciousness of a life from God growing within him as surely as the lily is clothed with its beauty by a power from God. The knowledge that occupies and pleases and at length satisfies the mind, without day-by-day leading to the faith, the actions, the character, and the true inner life for which God meant it, is the most dangerous of all enemies.
It may well be asked, How is it possible that men should delight in knowing about what they do not with their heart believe, or do, or possess, and about what they neither are nor live out? There is a double answer. The one points to the expression so often used—the pleasure of the pursuit of knowledge. One of the most wonderful powers with which God has endowed man is the mind, with its power of observing and comparing facts, of discovering and understanding laws, and causes and effects. The exercise of every function has been made by the Creator to be a pleasure. One of the highest pleasures that man is capable of is when all the wonders of nature disclose themselves at the bidding of reason. While some men study science for it’s practical use, there are multitudes who do so simply for the pleasure it gives and its elevating and refining influence. There are spheres of knowledge in which this does no harm. But in the region of morals, where knowledge reveals duty, the result is most disastrous. In knowing what they ought to do, in delighting to have that knowledge put before them while they do not obey and perform, the effect is the blinding of the conscience and the growth of that terrible folly of self-deception by which a man is satisfied and happy in the knowledge of that which condemns him. It is for this reason that the true educationalist is so careful to distinguish between teaching and training. He is not content to tell the child continually what he is to do or be; he watches over him until he has helped him to do and to be it.
In the spiritual realm this pleasure in the power of knowledge is still more dangerous. This brings us to the second answer to the question we asked, how is it that men can delight in knowing about what they neither believe nor do, about a character and a life they do not possess. When a teacher seeks to train his pupil to obedience, diligence, and truthfulness, he is dealing with a life that is capable of these virtues, and has his seeds sown in conscience. But God’s Word and the church have to deal with supernatural realities of a heavenly life in order to apprehend that which nature of itself is incapable. It is because this is not believed or remembered that all our Bible teaching has no larger results in training humble, holy believers wholly living for God, for the supreme and most blessed work of making God known to fallen men.
In I Corinthians, chapter one, Paul speaks about Christ who was made unto us of God’s wisdom, righteousness and sanctification. In regard to the latter, all evangelical Christians believe that we have neither righteousness nor holiness of our own, and that we must find them in Christ—the righteousness through His death, the holiness through His Spirit. But they do not believe that just as little as we have a righteousness for merit or strength for holiness of our own, so little have we any wisdom of our own, nor is our human wisdom capable of apprehending divine things. They do not believe that just as much as our heart has been depraved and our will perverted, so our mind has been deceived and darkened by sin as to spiritual things. They have the impression that if God’s Word is heard and read with interest and intelligence, it will work out its own blessing. No mistake can be more fatal. God has said: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” As little therefore as I with my arm can reach to the stars can I with my human reason reach to the spiritual truth and power of God’s thoughts. I can form conceptions, pictures, shadows of what He thinks, and so apprehend them with the mind. But to apprehend the spiritual and substantial reality, this I cannot except as God is pleased by His Holy Spirit to reveal and give it into the heart and life.
We all know how little Jesus’ instructions really profited His disciples while He was on earth with them. What He taught about His death and resurrection, about humility and love, they could not understand. They knew what He said, but it did not enter their hearts; they could not really apprehend it. When He promised the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth to guide into all truth, it was that they might have a divine teacher who would, dwelling within them as their life, give them the actual possession and enjoyment of what the words contained. And it is only as the church of Christ, and the daily life of believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is honored as the only, the absolutely indispensable, the sufficient teacher of God’s Word that the commands of God will be truly understood and come with the power that ensures their obedience. Ordinarily when a teacher or reader of the Bible truth that has been accepted wants to enforce it, he seeks by argument to deepen the impression that has been made. That impression may be a very pleasing one, and apparently deep, but it will not be lasting unless the work of the Holy Spirit is acknowledged and waited on as the one thing needful. It is only and always as the Gospel comes to men “in the Holy Ghost and in power and much assurance” that it will be received, not as the word of man, but as the Word of God, which works effectually in them that believe.
Let us now return to the question: Why is it that Christians have so little sense of their calling to live wholly for God and His work? Why is it that so many touching appeals from the missionary platform and so many solemn consecration addresses do not bear more fruit? Have we not here a sufficient explanation? There is so much speaking and hearing, in which either on the one side or the other, or on both, the Holy Spirit is not honored as alone able in power to make the truth and living in the hearts of God’s children. Plead with men, as you will. But by all that is awful in the fate of the perishing millions and sacred in the honor of God, in the blood and the love and the command of Christ, in the power of the Spirit waiting to work in them, the truths you deal with are so divine, so supernatural, so beyond our mind that without the definite work of the almighty Spirit, little permanent effect is produced. Of all preaching of the cross, of missions, of the entire consecration to God and His work that is in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ has said it is made void by man’s wisdom. The faith that comes by such speaking stands with the wisdom of men, not in the power of God. And the fruit is according to the root.
What a work opens up before us as we speak of prayer for revival! God asks those who intercede to take knowledge of the real state of His church. If they are to feel the burden, to confess the sin, to point out the evil to others, to prepare the way of the Lord in doing their part to show God’s people what they must ask God’s Spirit to do, what they must be ready to part with and put away before He comes, they need a deep, clear conviction that here indeed is one of the great hindrances of blessing.
Because the Holy Spirit is not honored in his teaching, the clearest commands of God’s Word fall powerless, and God is robbed of His due. Let our prayer for a revival, for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, begin by our yielding ourselves to Him to open our eyes to see things in the light of God, to open our hearts to regard them in the faith of Christ’s love and His mighty power to change all. Let us open our mouths wide in persevering supplication to God and in faithful testimony to our brethren to encourage in them the assured hope that deliverance draws nigh.
Ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. The world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world I pray that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
John 15:19; 17:1-16
We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God
1 Corinthians 2:12
In this world there are two kingdoms contending for the mastery. Each kingdom has its animating spirit in which its strength lies, by which all it does is guided, and through which it holds rule among men. Everything we are or do derives its character and its worth in the sight of God from the spirit in which it is done. This spirit is in each kingdom, not a blind force or an unconscious tendency, but an intelligent power working toward a definite goal. The spirit of the world and the god of this world hold rule over every child of Adam. The spirit that is of God is the power of the living God, working as a divine life in the hearts of those who have received Him.
The terrible sin of the Fall consisted in this: that man chose the visible—that which this world offered of beauty, and enjoyment, and wisdom—in preference to the unseen, spiritual good of God’s will and favor. And the ruin and punishment of the Fall is that man became subject to the power of the seen and temporal, that worldliness became a second nature to him so that this world was nearer and dearer to him, and affected him far more than the God of all glory and blessedness, who had created him. However little it may be thought or taught, the greatest danger to a child of God is from the spirit of this world secretly and unconsciously influencing his judgment and conduct. And one of his greatest needs is to have his eyes opened to see what the world and its spirit is, and how nothing can free him from it but being entirely possessed by the Spirit of God.
The great power of the world lies in the very fact of its having and working in us by a spirit. The things of this world—whether we use the expression of what is God’s immediate creation in nature, or of all that complex duty and power, of possession and pleasure which, under the rule of God’s providence, make up life— have their origin from God and their legitimate claim upon us. They in themselves are not sin. But with the Fall we and they alike came under the power of the god of this world. We are made into the kingdom of this world, with its all-pervading spirit breathing in us and leading us, all unconsciously, to act in accordance with its principles. Under the influence of this spirit we are born and bred. Our whole human nature is under its subtle dominion. The whole of society around us, as far as it is not ruled by the Spirit of God, constitutes an environment, an atmosphere from which, at every pore, we breathe in the infection of a life that is estranged from God. And yet, because it is a secret, hidden spirit, because it has accommodated itself to the teaching and the worship of Christ, we may be utterly unconscious of the evil that is hindering and weakening our spiritual life.
It is to conquer and cast out and entirely dispossess the spirit of this world that the Spirit of God is sent into the hearts of God’s children. With Pentecost the kingdom of God came in power, the kingdom of heaven was begun on earth. Men and women were to live an unworldly, an other-worldly, a heavenly life, superior to all the good the world can offer and to all the evil it can threaten, free from all its modes of thought and motives of action. The altogether, even externally, unworldly life of Christ was to perpetuate itself in the inner circle of His chosen disciples and friends. They were to be so wholly given up to fellowship with the heavenly world—to wait and labor patiently and perseveringly to receive the light and leading, the joy and strength their Lord could give—that they might be able to communicate to their brethren about that heavenly life and power which would enable them in their earthly calling to live the unworldly life.
Some of my readers have already been saying: But how can we influence our fellowmen if we withdraw ourselves from them, if we are to live such an unworldly life? Let us remember, the power of this world lies in its deceit. It is a kingdom of darkness. “The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ should shine unto them.” Satan comes as an angel of light; he can hide the spirit of the world under the garb of scriptural truth or Christian duty. It is because of this terrible blinding influence of the world even in believers that they cannot see what God’s Word teaches so clearly—that it is only those who separate themselves most entirely in spirit from the world who will be able to influence it the most. As long as the separation ends in the desire for our own safety, it cannot attain the object for which God calls us. But when we yield to the Spirit of God to cast out the spirit of the world, we shall understand that the deliverance from its self-pleasing and self-seeking, which entire devotion to Christ and the heavenly life give, is the very power that will fit us for sacrificing ourselves to others and gaining power over evil.
When I have spoken to believers, the most advanced will be the first to admit how subtle, how deep, the spirit of the world is—and how utterly beyond our own powers of watchfulness or victory. It is only a heart fully possessed by the Spirit of God that can know its subtlety or escape its power. If it be true that it is difficult to bring home this conviction to individual believers, how much more is it when we speak about the church as a whole? And yet, I am very deeply persuaded that it is the spirit of the world in the church that alone hinders the Spirit of God and makes a revival so absolutely necessary. And such a revival is wholly impossible until the worldly spirit is cast out. Therefore, it will only be by a deep work of the Spirit, convicting the world in the church, that a true revival can come and the church be fitted for doing God’s work in and for the world.
And wherein does this spirit of the world show itself, and wherein does its sinfulness consist? “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” As the great and first commandment is “Love the lord thy God with all thy heart,” so the great and first sin is the love of the world that makes the love of God impossible. It was so with the sin of our first parents. And when John defines what the things of the world are, and what the love of them is, we are at once led to think of that first sin. He speaks of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Man has a body, soul, and spirit. Eve saw that “the tree was good for food.” That was the seed of all the lust of the flesh, the desire for the gratification of the body with its appetites. “And that it was pleasant to the eyes.” That was the beginning of all that delights in the visible world, its God—created beauty and treasures, in which the powers of the soul and mind are occupied and drawn off from God as effectually as by more sensual pleasures. “And to be desired to make one wise.” Man has a spirit capable of knowing and enjoying God. That spiritual nature was turned to the world to seek in it and its wisdom the knowledge of good and evil. And so the wisdom of this world, with its boasted reasoning about God and good, has become the great enemy of the love of God and the chief source of that pride of life in which men content themselves without God.
In our Lord’s temptations we have exactly the same three tendencies illustrated. First came the satisfying of the bodily hunger by His own power without waiting for God’s will. Then there was the lust-of-the-eyes temptation in the kingdoms of the world shown to Him, and then the appeal to the pride of life in the call to prove himself the Son of God.
And how is it now that these three great manifestations of the spirit of the world are in the church? I do not even speak of the power of the flesh as seen in the terrible reign of drink and lust in the midst of our modern Christian civilization. But I do speak of the selfish desire for rich and abundant living, for comfort and luxury, that marks our Christian society as a whole and the great majority of our professing Christians. How it keeps from all true self-denial and spirituality! How it hinders everything like true self-sacrifice for our fellow creatures around us, or God’s kingdom in the world! I do not speak of the lust of the eyes as it is seen in the greed for money that treads down the poor, or in the materialism that measures happiness by riches, or progress only by that which is seen or temporal. But I speak about the subjection to the spirit of the world around Christians that makes them just as keen in the pursuit of the possessions and enjoyment of this world as others are. And this pursuit makes a life of self-renunciation or heavenly-mindedness to be regarded as equally impossible and unnecessary.
I speak of the wisdom constantly sought in this world. Does not the church of Christ give abundant proof that the wisdom of words and Excellency of speech has very largely usurped the place, and received the honor and glory, that belongs only to the wisdom that comes from above? The wisdom, God reveals by His Spirit to men who are heavenly-minded, not worldly-minded? Self-pleasing, whether in its more obvious or more refined forms, whether in those who are wholly given to it or only give it a partial submission, leads inevitably to that, often unconscious, pride of life, which makes the love of God with all the heart impracticable. “If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.”
Our Lord Jesus was not of the world. He knew it and acted under the consciousness of it. He spoke about it to the disciples and the Jews; if they were to know Him aright, they must know this as one of the secrets of His inner life. He said to the disciples that they were as little of the world as He was. He wanted them to know it. Without this knowledge their life could not possibly be what He meant it to be. Without their readiness they could not be prepared for the great revival that came with Pentecost.
Unless in our prayer for revival we are ready to test the church and ourselves by this touchstone, our prayer will be in vain. With Christ His not being of the world meant everything. He proved it by separating himself from its sin, by exposing and reproving it, by accepting the cross it prepared for Him as the proof of the distance between it and Him. The cross-revealed the spirit of the world, its irreconcilable enmity to Him. It revealed the Spirit of Christ—His refusal of its friendship, His endurance of its hate and rejection. The cross is the everlasting symbol of the relation between Christ and the unregenerate world. What it called folly, He counted wisdom. What it called weakness, He proved to be strength. What it despised, He gloried in.
What is law for the head is law for the members: the disciple must be as His master. That is how Paul understood it when he cried: “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” There we have for all time the response of the true disciple to the Master’s call not to be of the world. The cross proves how the world cannot understand the disciple, and how the disciple dare not blot out the difference between the spirit of the Master and the spirit of the world. The disciple dare not please the world or seek to be reconciled to it, nor look upon the world and its spirit in any other light than this: “The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” As it was the separation of Christ from the world by the cross that gave Him the power over the world, and gave Paul his, it is this alone that will give the church of our days its power. Just as far as we enter into the world and please it, so we lose our power. In the measure we are “not of the world even as Christ was not of the world,” we shall be able to bless it.
If it is true that the prince of darkness came as an angel of light, deceiving the very elect, and that the god of this world blinds the eyes, we need to set aside all self-confidence and place ourselves very honestly and persistently in the very light of God. We need to have the Holy Spirit show us the divine meaning of Christ’s ye are not of the world,” and see if there is any of the spirit of the world still in us. The world seeks the gratification of self in the things of the world and according to methods and principles that the wisdom of this world inspires and approves.
In any of those three respects our religion or our church may have the spirit of the world. Our religion may be selfish, seeking our own salvation and happiness alone. Or our religion may be, in a stricter sense, worldly, seeking to have with it just as much as we can of its enjoyments and possessions as possible. Or the worldliness may manifest itself in the modes of thought and action, in the principles and practices that are of the wisdom of this world, being allowed to rule and to guide in the work of Christ and the worship of God. Whatever is not of the love of God and of the Spirit of Christ is of the world and its spirit.
But it is the Spirit alone who can convince of this sin. He is able to lead each believer to see the world not only in others but in himself, possibly in forms of worldliness or worldly conformity he had never suspected. He is able to open our eyes, in the meekness of wisdom and the humility of love, to the state of our own congregation or church, or to the state of the church as a whole. We need both. Nehemiah and Daniel and the saints of old confessed their own sins and the sins of the people. Let us plead with our Lord Jesus, out of whose mouth goes the sharp two-edged sword, to speak His searching word “not of the world” in such a way as to make it go through our whole heart and being. It is one of the root words in the revelation of himself, in His discovery to His disciples of their likeness to himself, in His intercession with the Father. It must be one of the key words in any true revival, in all true prayer and preparation for it. Let us plead with Him to speak it in power until each of us and all His church has heard it.
Every heresy, every neglect or denial of God’s truth, weakens the spiritual life. The rejection of faith in the divinity of Christ, of the atonement through blood, or justification by faith, or regeneration by the Spirit endangers the life of the church. But of all heresies the worst is the heresy of a worldly spirit. It dispossesses the Spirit of God and makes every truth powerless. It brings the church into subjection to the god of this world. If there is one prayer we need it is this: Lord, show us what thou meanest: not of the world. As we see what it is to have a supernatural life and calling, and what a shame to sacrifice this to a worldly spirit, and are able to judge how far this is done in the church, our whole heart will cry out for revival as the only thing that can help the church.
One more word let us believe that deliverance from a worldly spirit is possible. Christ promised it: “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John testified of it: “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world.” The new life — the life of the Holy Spirit — can overcome the spirit of the world. Just let God’s children set their hearts upon and cry to God for deliverance from the bondage of this subjection to the world that crucified their Lord, and He will give it. They may not know all that is implied in the word world; there may be differences in defining it. But let them give themselves up, in the willingness to let go, and be entirely made free from what God counts “of the world.” Let them surrender to the teaching and filling of that Spirit of God who can dispossess the spirit of the world. God is gracious, God is faithful, God is mighty. And as the answer to prayer comes, we shall have true courage to pray for our brethren.