Spurgeon was a great revivalist whose ministry produced thousands of converts.
It is clear that he was a pastor who had a unique gift of evangelism and occasionally saw outbreaks of revival power
He always had a great passion for revival.
"”It is a want of a revived godliness in our church at home which prevents our hoping for any great success abroad. Ah brethren we must till our own vineyards better, or else God will not make us successful in driving the plow across the broad acres of the continents….Just as the anointing oil was first poured on Aaron’s head, and then went to the skirts of the garment, so must the Holy Spirit be poured on us, and then shall it go to the utmost borders of the habitable earth.” - C. H. Spurgeon.
A Sermon Delivered on Lord's Day Evening
November 12, 1876
In the eternal past the Lord alone was exalted. When He dwelt alone of ever the earth was, and when He commenced the mighty works of His creation, and the universe sprang into being at the fiat of His unhindered will, He alone was exalted. He made multitudes of creatures; perhaps we have no idea how many of them there were, and in what varied forms intelligent beings were created; but the Lord alone was exalted. Every angel adored Him: every creature knew its Lord. It was an ill day when there broke out a rival spirit, and when evil began to set up its throne in opposition to the God of good. The leader of the angels-- the light bearer, sought to erect a rival throne. "How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning." Isa 14:v12. Then, by and by, in process of time, upon this world God's glory was dimmed; here, too, another spake and was believed, and God was doubted. Another claimed man's love and gained it, and God was disobeyed; on earth no longer was the Lord alone exalted as He had been in the quiet glades of Eden when our first parents worshipped none but God, and counted it the very cream and flower of their being that they might serve the Most High who had made them what they were. New, look where we may in this poor, fallen world, the Lord alone is not exalted; but there are lords many and gods many-- spiritual wickedness’s and principalities of evil-- which set themselves up in opposition to the great King of kings and Lord of lords. Yet as surely as Jehovah liveth, He will win the victory in this conflict. Ere the drama of the world's history shall come to a close, it shall be known throughout the entire universe that the Lord, He is God; and the Lord alone shall be exalted.
It is a part of the work of grace-- nay, it is the main object of the work of grace, and it is an object also of the work of providence to sub-serve this great end-- that the Lord alone shall be exalted. For your comfort and for your instruction then, first, notice the occasions when my text has been true. I shall take the text out of its connection, not, I hope, unduly, and show that on a large scale there are several days in which the Lord alone has been exalted, and then we will come back to a little quiet meditation and look into our own experience to see whether there have not been days with us when the Lord alone has been exalted.
I. Come Then, First, And Notice When The Lord Alone Has Been Exalted On A Large Scale.
The Lord alone has been exalted among men whenever He has been pleased to reveal Himself in the plenitude of His power. The revelations under the law were mainly revelations girt with terror. Under the Old Testament dispensation you find God coming out of His place to shake terribly the earth. When He bows the heavens and comes down, the mountains flew at His presence. The Lord alone was exalted in those days when He vindicated His justice and displayed His power against His enemies. Remember the flood when, after so many years of warning, the ark being prepared for the salvation of the believing few, God was pleased to draw up the flood-gates of heaven and to bid the cataracts of earth leap upward instead of downward, till over all the face of the world there was nothing but one mighty all-devouring wave. When in majestic silence the ark floated over the bosom of the world, which had become the grave of Jehovah's creatures, then the Lord alone was exalted in that day.
And when men had multiplied again upon the face of the earth, and His people had gone down into Egypt; you know well the story, how proud Pharaoh said, "Who is the Lord that I should obey his voice?" Ex 5:v 2. Then Moses came and with many strokes of his mystic rod he afflicted the fields of Zoan, he turned their waters into blood, and slew their fish. He spake and the flies came, and the frogs and the locusts, and that without number; yea, the Lord smote all the first-born of Egypt, the chief of all their strength, and in that night, when a cry went up from every Egyptian household, and the people of Israel were led forth like sheep by the hands of Moses and Aaron, the Lord alone was exalted. Then the nations knew that Jehovah wrought His will among the sons of men.
Nor was that all. When in their desperation the Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the very depths of the sea, the Lord burned and looked upon them and troubled the host of Pharaoh and took off their chariot wheels so that they drove heavily, when the sea returned in the fullness of its strength, and the depths had covered them until there was not one of them left, then Miriam's song, "Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously" Ex 15:1,21, was but an exposition of our text, "The Lord alone shall be exalted in that day" Isa. 2:11,17. Time would fail me to tell forth all His mighty works, nor is there any need for me to recapitulate the records of the book of the wars of the Lord, "for the Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name" Ex 15:3; and when He cometh forth to battle, then the Lord alone is exalted in that day.
May we never live to see a pestilence sweep through this land! But should such a visitation of God come upon us, then will our houses of prayer be thronged and men will begin to cry unto the Most High. May we never hear the noise of war in our streets! If such a calamity should befall us, and the Lord take the sword of war out of the scabbard, men will begin to learn righteousness. May He be pleased to have mercy upon us and lead us by gentle means to glorify His name. Were He to come in judgement then would the spirit of atheism and of idolatry, which now with brazen faces dare confront the gospel of Christ, betake themselves to darkness in which they were begotten. When the Lord comes forth in terror then is He alone exalted.
Let us change the theme now, and see, too, how whenever God comes forth in his great mercy His name alone is exalted. The day when the infant Church of Christ gathered in an upper room and sat there, all its members being of one heart and of one soul, and the Lord revealed His grace by the baptism of the Holy Spirit - when was heard the sound of the rushing mighty wind, when the tongues of fire sat on the disciples-- when they began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance, and thousands were added to the Church, that was a day when the Lord alone was exalted. Was there any whisper on that day of honour to be given to Peter, or to John, or to James, in the Church of God? Think you there was any trace of the spirit that could say, "I am of Cephas," and "I am of John"? Ah, no. The name of the Lord was very precious to His people that day. They gave glory to the Lord both in the temple and in their own houses, eating their bread with gladness of heart. Only let the Lord show Himself in great blessing, and then He alone is exalted. Behold, His enemies fly before Him because of His grace.
Well, brethren, it will be even so by and by also "in that day" of which we were reading just now with so much delight, when "the mountain of the Lord's house shall be exalted on the top of the mountains, and all nations shall flow unto it" Isa 2:2. There is to come a day when Christ shall be known and loved of every land. When the dwellers in the wilderness shall bow before him and His enemies shall lick the dust. I am not going into any details or prophetic descriptions of the millennium, but we do expect a day when the gospel shall win its way over this whole globe, and the poor world, instead of being swathed in mist and fog, shall come out of the cloud of her unbelief and out of the darkness of her sin, and shine like her sister stars at the feet of her great Creator. In that day the Lord alone shall be exalted. You will hear no more of the name of Pope, or Patriarch, or great religious leader receiving the chief honour; no great name set in the front of a section of the church shall be shouted in that day; the Lord alone shall be exalted.
So again it will be when yet 'farther on in human history the end shall come, when you and I and all of woman born shall stand before the dread tribunal of the last great day; then shall the Lord alone be exalted. There shall be no pomp of kings before that great white throne: there shall be no glare of riches there before the prince of the kings of the earth: honour and fame were so feverishly sought and so highly prized by the sons of men, shall melt away then like the fat of rams. Kings and their serfs, princes and their subjects shall stand together. There shall be no idol gods in that day, nor shall men receive homage of their fellows, but while the earth shall be reeling to its doom, and the heavens themselves dissolving, the Lord alone shall be exalted. Jehovah's great and glorious name shall fill all ears and His majesty shall impress all hearts. May we be found in Christ in that great day! The Lord grant it for His mercy's sake.
II. Now, In The Second Place, I Am Going To Talk To You On Humbler Topics, Endeavouring To Bring Our Subject Down To Our Own Experience And To See When The Lord Alone Has Been Exalted On A Smaller Scale.
When it is written, the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day, we may understand that what is true on a great scale is equally true on a little scale in God's kingdom. He works according to rule, so that if you split up some great crystal of His providence into as small fragments as you please each fragment, shall be found to be crystallised, in the same form. So, if in the grand events of history God is to be exalted, you will also find that in the little world of your own experience - in the history, which is only recorded in your own pocket book-- in the story of your own life-- that God is exalted too. Brothers and sisters, many of you already know, and I pray that others here who as yet do not know it may be brought to know it, that there have been red-letter days in your life when the Lord alone has been exalted.
One of the earliest of these blessed days was when you first had a sense of sin. Ah, I had no thought how black I was until that day. I had never dreamed how corrupt was my heart, how vile my nature, how desperate my condition, how near the borders of hell I stood, till then. There came at length that day, in which the light of God shone into my soul and I saw the evil of my state, the danger of my condition, and the horrible rottenness of my whole nature even to the very core. Do you remember such a day in your experience, beloved brethren? I know you do. Oh, what a withering day it was. Your flesh is grass, and do you not remember when the grass withered, and when the flower thereof faded away because the Spirit of the Lord was blowing upon it? Surely the people are grass. Do you recollect when you perceived in your heart a new rendering of that old passage, "And we all do fade as a leaf and our iniquities like the wind have taken us away, when you found your righteousness to be only a fading leaf and the strength of your passions to be like the wind that took you right away and carried you-- you knew not whither? You seemed to be like a sear leaf blown away in a tempest of sin. Before that, you had thought yourself to be very fine; very few were more respectable or honourable than you; if you had not many glittering virtues, yet you felt you had no degrading vices; there was much about you that others might imitate, and if people did not respect you, you felt very angry; you felt they ought to pay great deference to such a one as you were, But you did not feel like this on that day-- not on that day! No. In that day you threw your idols to the moles and to the bats; you wanted to forget that you ever thought you were righteous; you felt ashamed of even your most precious golden idol-- your self-righteousness; you wanted to disown it, and you were afraid anybody should remind you that you ever worshipped it.
It seemed such a horrible thing that you should ever have talked about acceptance before God by your good works. Good works! The very thought seemed a sarcasm on God, an irony of the devil. Good works indeed! Your prayers, your tears, your church-goings, your chapel-goings, all seemed like so much dung.' You understood Paul's strong language that day, your own righteousness was as offensive to you as his was to him. You put all your old hopes away with abhorrence. Oh, I know what happened to you, the Lord alone was exalted that day. If anybody had preached a sermon that day about the dignity of human nature, you would have been inclined, like Jenny Geddes, to throw a stool at his head. If anybody had talked that day of the great things man is capable of, and of virtue that still remain in him after the slight mischief of the fall, you would have felt indignant at such infamous falsehood, for God had stripped you bare of all your glory. In that day you felt yourself to be cast into a ditch, and your own clothes abhorred you. But, oh! if any one had preached of the splendour of the great God that day, of the infinite majesty of His holiness, and of His justice, you would in silence have bowed your head and shed tears of contrition which would have been the best form of adoption from your penitent heart. If they had begun to preach the amazing mercy and the love of God in Christ, your heart would have leaped to hear the very sound of it, for there are no two things that ever so sweetly meet together as an empty sinner and a full Christ. When a soul sees itself it has got the eye with which to see Jesus. He that can see his own deformities shall not be long before he sees the Lord's unspeakable perfections. In that day of self-humbling, and cutting away, and casting down, I know the Lord alone was exalted in your soul.
Well, then there came another day in your experience which is very sweet to remember, the day when you saw Jesus hanging on the tree; when you put your trust in him and knew that he had taken away your iniquity and blotted out your sin. Oh, I do remember that day, it was my best marriage day and birthday too; the day when I knew that sin was gone and gone forever. How bright the cross-shone that day! How bright were the eyes of Jesus, and how fair his wounds! Ah, the Lord alone was exalted that day. Had anybody preached to me of the power of sacraments and the magic of priests, I had abhorred them in my inmost soul, and I would have spoken my horror of the thought of giving the glory of the Lord to another. When the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth from all sin, where is the dastard that dares ask me to let him wash me and to let him put away my sin for me? The blood, the blood of Jesus hath taken all our guilt away, once and for ever; and woe betide the man that dares to stand up and put himself side by side with the all-cleansing Christ! That was how we felt. The Lord alone was exalted in that day. We fell just the same today. I am sure if people knew the power of the blood of Christ they could never become slaves to the superstitions of men. If they felt the force of being justified by faith in Jesus Christ they would be like Martin Luther when he sprang from his knees on Pilate's staircase, never to go another step in the weary round of man-made ordinances. What have we to do with these beggarly things when Christ our Lord has set us free and saved us forever from the wrath to come? A sight of thy cross, O Jesus, makes the priests topple down like Dagon before the ark, and the sacraments that once were trusted in, to be despised if placed side by side with thee. Thou alone are exalted in that day.
Since then we have had some other very happy days. The life of a Christian has many illuminated letters in it. Our roll is not written within and without with lamentation. We have high days and holidays, and there are times of nearness to Christ, which hardly dare to describe here. I could venture to talk of them to two or three choice friends that know the secret of the Lord, but these things are not for all ears. These are days when we realise the meaning of the Song of Songs, and bless God that ever the book of Canticles was written, else there would have been in the Bible no expression for our ardent love to Christ. On such days we say with rapture, "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" SOS 1:2. "Thy love is better than wine" SOS 1:2. "He brought me to the banqueting house and his banner over me was love" SOS 2:4. "Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love" SOS 2:5. "His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me" SOS 2:6. "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please" SOS 2:7; 3:5. Read Rutheford's letters if you know the secret beforehand; if not, they will be an enigma to you, even as the Song of Solomon must always be. This much we may say, when Christ draweth us near to him, "The Lord alone is exalted in that day." When he wraps us in his crimson vest and shows us all his name and saith, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee. I have graven thee on the palms of my hands" Jer 31:3, O brethren, "the Lord alone is exalted in that day." Then self has gone. We cry, "I am black but comely;" and the blackness strikes us as much as the comeliness that Christ has put upon us. We sink into nothing at his feet. The manifestation of his glorious love makes us cry like Job, "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth thee, wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes" Job 42:5. The Lord alone is exalted in that day.
Well, you know, brothers and sisters, that after some of those high flights, when we have been on the top of the mount of transfiguration, we get exalted above measure, and then we have to be humbled. It is a wretched confession to make, but God's people know how true it is. We wander from the Lord, and for a while He leaves us to ourselves, when we exalt ourselves. But return from our wandering, then the Lord alone is exalted in that day. You know how, perhaps, there have been weeks of estrangement between you and your Lord; He has been jealous of your heart, and you have been cold to him; you have gone perhaps into the world with too worldly a spirit, and the sweetness of His word has departed from you, and His voice is no longer heard in your soul. Then you begin to cry, "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation and uphold me with thy free Spirit" Ps 51:12. You know what it is to cry:
"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still;
But now I find an aching void
The world can never fill."
"Return, O holy dove! Return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn
And drove thee from my breast."
Ah! When you get your prayer answered, then the Lord alone is exalted in that day. Do you know what it is to go creeping to the mercy-seat where once you used to go so boldly; to go there with many tears and with much shame when you used to go with a radiant face, and yet to find your Jesus waiting there? Do you know what it is to turn to the grand old book that once you used to read with sacred glee, and look there for a sinner's promise such as might suit a broken heart, and to find it come home with just the old power, tall the bones which had been broken began to sing again, and your heart once more was joyous in the presence of your Lord? Ah, then I know your own beauty has been turned to ashes and all your comeliness has disappeared, for when the Lord restores a soul that soul also restores the Lord to His proper place, and the Lord alone is exalted in that day.
But at this rate my time will all be gone before I am half through my story. Let me therefore hasten to say, dear brothers and sisters, that the Lord is exalted when a church begins to sigh and cry for the Lord's presence. I hope that the power of the Lord is not forsaking us in any measure here, but it is my fret, my jealousy, lest He should in any wise depart from us-- lest the spirit of prayer should go from us-- lest love to souls should leave us and there should not be abundant conversions in the School and in the ministry, and everywhere around our borders. Should such a time of dearth over come to us, it will be a grand thing when a church can get together and begin to groan and cry for the Lord to return in power. When a church fools it, must get a blessing - I hope we are feeling it now - in proportion as that desire grows into an agony, the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The preacher will feel, indeed he does feel every day more and more, his own unworthiness and inability for such a work; every other worker will, in proportion as the desire for God's glory shall increase, feel himself to be less and less and still less and less in his own esteem. Oh, when we once come to wish for souls, nobody cares about being important, nobody wishes to be in the front; everybody wants to be there if he can serve God, but he does not want any place of honour, or court any badge of distinction by which he shall be known. A church in agony for souls wants only to see men converted, and she does not care how or by whom the work is done so long as the people are but brought to Christ. Then is the Lord alone exalted?
When the blessing comes; and it is a notable day when it comes-- when the word is with power and men are stricken down and begin to cry for mercy-- when the inquirers are many and the converts are multiplied, and God blesses each brother and each sister with success in soul-winning-- oh, then at such times the Lord alone is exalted. I do believe that whenever God sends prosperity to the church and of the members of the church begin to ascribe the success to themselves, the blessing is almost sure to go. God will not bless proud workers. If you are going to have a part of the fish for your self, you may cast the net where you like but you shall take nothing; but when you are fishing for your master he will fill your net to the full.
I often think - and therein am I glad in days of sorrow-- that when God means to bless any one of us, He generally lowers us into the very dust. When we are willing to be nothing, then the Lord alone is exalted in that day. If you that are cooks were about to serve a dinner, you would not use a dish, I am sure, until first of all you had cleansed it. You would first wipe it right out, then you would set it on the shelf, and when you wanted a goodly dish with which to serve up goodly meat, you would reach down the empty dish that you had well wiped, would not you? Some of us do not get quite wiped out of our last success, and so we have no more. We still retain a flavour of our last self-congratulation, and so the Master will not use us. When He puts us in hot water, makes us see our filth, and then wipes us right out, and we perhaps are inclined to say, "Lord, I am good for nothing now," we shall be more likely to be of some service to Him. Perhaps He will put us on the shelf for a while. He can easily do that with some of us; a little twinge of pain and sickness, and we are useless. We seem to say, "Lord, what am I but an empty, cracked dish?" Ah, but then he comes and takes us down and use us, and that is worth waiting for. I always expect a greater blessing when there is greater soul humbling among us. Would not you be glad to be humbled, dear brother, if God would use you more as a consequence? Today I saw as I went home sores old crocks and broken bricks and pieces of all sorts of earthenware put by the side of the road because the road is going to be widened, and I thought to myself, "If the Lord would only use me as an old broken crock to help to make a roadway for Him to ride through London, so that He might be glorified, I would be glad to be thus honoured. Do not you feel so too? Well, perhaps he will take you at your word some of these days. Brother, if God humble you in order to use you, you may not like it as much as you think you will, but still that is how we should demean ourselves. We should be willing to be anything, or to be nothing, according to His will.
When Christian men feel they must live to the glory of God somehow, I know there is a blessing coming-- ay, that the blessing has come, for then the Lord alone is exalted. When the man of God says, "I must not live any longer for saving money or simply to bring up my children respectably, or to get a subsistence for myself," then the Lord is exalted. And when Christian men feel that they cannot live for a party or for a section of the church, but that they must live for God and Christ, and for the pure word of the gospel, and that everything else must go overboard except that which is for the glory of God, then we may be sure that the Lord has amongst us, and that He is working mightily. Behold, these are the signs thereof. When He has insulted all pride, dimmed all human glory, and magnified Himself, then indeed we have times of refreshing from His presence and the Lord alone is exalted in that day.
Now I have almost done. But I want you to notice that there is a day coming; it will come very soon to some of our venerable friends around me: it will come very soon-- perhaps quite as soon-- to some of us in middle life who are still in health, the day when we shall be called to go upstairs, because the Master has a message for us. When we read the message, it will say, "The time has come for thee to gather up thy feet in thy bed and to meet thy father's God." O brothers and sisters, the Lord alone will be exalted in that day if we be indeed His people. I fancy I see the dying minister when they bring up to him his sermons. Can he glory in them? He says, "I bless God that He enabled me to preach his truth. `Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the un-searchable riches of Christ,' but I cannot glory in these." If you shall bring up to him the number of his converts, and shall tell him of the churches that he built up, and the places that he has evangelised; I will tell you what he will say, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" Gal 6:14.
There take the best saint among us and put him on the borders of Emmanuel's land, and let him hear the bells of heaven ring out the never-ending Sabbath: listen whether he will talk about himself or about the little church to which he belongs as if it were the whole Church of God. Oh no, no, no, a thousand times no. On the borders of Emmanuel's land all the glory is to the Lord alone. Redeeming blood, love, effectual calling, persevering grace,-- all these will be sung about, but there will be no songs about ourselves or aught else but God, when we come there. Mother, are you making an idol of that babe? You will not be able to do that when you come near your departing hour. Christian man, are you making an idol of anything you have in this world? It will be utterly abolished then. Anything wherein you are trusting and finding comfort will fail you then. The Lord alone will then be your stay and your song! The Lord alone then! If you feel the bottom as you wade into the river, you will feel that it is good. But, by and by, you will be where there is no bottom; the river will be a river to swim in, and then will you want to know that underneath you are the everlasting arms. If you are sure of this you will take that mighty plunge as when a swimmer stretcheth out his hand to swim, and you will be in glory in a moment.
And, beloved, when we get into the glory, the Lord alone will be exalted there. What a difference will come over us in the matter of those little things wherein we glory now. Petty trifles sometimes lift us up very high. Oh, how loftily we carry our heads sometimes, poor fools that we are, because of this thing in which we are superior to some fellow worm, or that thing in which we have not erred as some other man has done. But oh, up there, up there, up there, all harps will be for Jesus! All the vials shall be full of odours for Jesus, harps and tongues, voices and strings, all for the three one God, all for the Lord alone. Free grace begins to teach us here that God alone mush be exalted, and when we have learnt that lesson, well then, glory will come in to cap the whole and make us feel that it were absurd even to imagine that any person or any thing could share the glory with the infinite majesty of God.
There, now, I have done. Only I would ask you this-- Is there one here that will not give God all the glory? If so, dear brother, you cannot be saved. Salvation may almost hinge upon this question, -- Art thou willing to be saved so that the Lord alone shall be exalted in thy salvation? Art thou willing no more to trust in thy good works, thy prayers, thy tears, thy feelings, or anything else of thine own, but to come and trust in the finished work of Jesus, and give thyself up absolutely and entirely to be his. Art thou willing to be his servant, his property for ever, that henceforth thy only glory may be in his dear name, thy only boasting in his cross? If so, he accepts thee and he will save thee, but if thou must have the glory then thou shalt not have the salvation. Where then will thy glory be? He that glorieth in himself shall perish, but he that will glory only in the Lord shall live forever. God bless you, for Christ's sake.
"O Lord, revive thy work."Hab., iii. 2
ALL true religion is the work of God: it is pre-eminently so. If he should select out of his works that which he esteems most of all, he would select true religion. He regards the work of grace as being even more glorious than the works of nature; and he is, therefore, especially careful that it shall always be known, so that if any one dare to deny it, they shall do so in the teeth of repeated testimonies to the contrary, that God is indeed the author of salvation in the world and in the hearts of men, and that religion is the effect of grace, and is the work of God. I believe the Eternal might sooner forgive the sin of ascribing the creation of the heavens and of the earth to an idol, than that of ascribing the works of grace to the efforts of the flesh, or to any thing else but God. It is a sin of the greatest magnitude to suppose that there is aught in the heart which can be acceptable unto God, save that which God himself has first created there.
When I deny God's work in creating the sun, I deny one truth; but when I deny that he works grace in the heart, I deny a hundred truths in one; for in the denial of that one great truth, that God is the author of good in the souls of men, I have denied all the doctrines which make up the great articles of faith, and have run in the very teeth of the whole testimony of sacred Scripture I trust, beloved, that many of us have been taught, that if there be any thing in our souls which can carry us to heaven 'tis God's work, and, moreover, that if there be might that is good and excellent found in his church, it is entirely God's work, from first to last. We firmly believe that it is God who quickens the soul which was dead, positively "dead in trespasses and sins;" that it is God who maintains the life of that soul, and God who consummates and perfects that life in the borne of the blessed, in the land of the hereafter. We ascribe nothing to man, but all to God. We dare not for a moment think that the conversion of the soul is effected either by its own effort or by the efforts of others; we conceive that there are means and agencies employed, but that the work is, both alpha and omega, wholly the Lord's. We think, therefore, that we are right in applying the text to the work of divine grace, both in the heart and in the church at large; and we think we can have no subject more appropriate for our consideration than the text. " O Lord, revive thy work!"
First, beloved, trusting that the Spirit of God will help me I shall endeavor to apply the text to our own soul personally, and then to the state of the church at large, for it well needs that the Lord should revive his work in its midst.
I. First, then, to OURSELVES.
We should begin at home. We too often flog the church, when the whip should be laid on our own shoulders. We drag the church, like a colossal culprit, to the altar; we bind her, and try to execute her at once; we bind her hands fast, and tear off thongfull after thongfull of her quivering flesh-finding fault with her where there is none, and magnifying her little errors; while we too often forget ourselves. Let us, therefore, commence with ourselves, remembering that we are part of the church, and that our own want of revival is in some measure the cause of that want in the church at large.
Now, I directly charge the great majority of professing Christians-and I take the charge to myself also-with a need of a revival of piety in these days. I shall lay the charge before you very peremptorily, because I think I have abundant grounds to prove it. I believe that the mass of Christian men in this age need a revival, and my reasons are these:
In the first place, look at the conduct and conversation of too many who profess to be the children of God. It ill becomes any man who occupies the sacred place of a pulpit to flatter his hearers, and I shall not attempt to do so. The evidence lies with too many of you who unite yourselves with Christian churches, and in practically protesting against your profession.
It has become very common now-a-days to join a church; go where you may you find professing Christians who sit down at some Lord's table or another; but are there fewer cheats than there used to be? Are there less frauds committed? Do we find morality more extensive? Do we find vice entirely at an end? No, we do not. The age is as immoral as any that preceded it; there is still as much sin, although it is more cloaked and hidden. The outside of the sepulchre may be whiter; but within, the bones are just as rotten as before. Society is not one whit improved. Those men who, in our popular magazines, give us a true picture of the state of London life, are to be believed and credited, for they do not stretch the truth-they have no motive for so doing; and the picture which they give of the morality of this great city is certainly appalling. It is a huge criminal, full of sin; and I say this, that if all the profession in London were true profession, it would not be nearly such a wicked place as it is; it could not be, by any manner of means.
My brethren, it is well known and who dares deny it that is not too partial, and who will not speak wilful falsehood? It is well known that it is not these days a sufficient guaranty even of a man's honesty, that he is a member of a church. It is a hard thing for Christian ministers to say, but we must say it, and if friends say it not, enemies will; and better that the truth should be spoken in our midst, that men may see that we are ashamed of it, than that they should hear us impudently deny what we must confess to be true! O sirs, the lives of too many members of Christian churches give us grave cause to suspect that there is none of the life of godliness in them all! Why that reaching after money, why that covetousness, why that following of the crafts and devices of a wicked world, why that clutching here and clutching there, that grinding of the faces of the poor, that stamping down of the workman, and such like things, if men are truly what they profess to be? God in heaven knows that what I speak is true, and too many here know it themselves. If they be Christians, at least they want revival; if there be life in them, it is but a spark that is covered up with heaps of ashes; it needs to be fanned, ay, and it needs to be stirred also, that, haply, some of the ashes may be removed and the spark may have place to live. The church wants revival in the persons of its members. The members of Christian churches are not what once they were. It is fashionable to be religious now; persecution is taken away; and ah! I had almost said, the gates of the church were taken away with it.
The church has, with few exceptions, no gates now; her sons come in, and go out of it, just as they would march through St. Paul's cathedral, and make it a very place of traffic, instead of regarding it as a select and sacred spot, to be apportioned to the holy of the Lord, and to the excellent of the earth, in whom is God's delight. If this be not true, you know how to treat it; you need not confess to sin you have not committed; but if it be true, and true in your case, O humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God; ask him to search and try you, that if you be not his child you may be helped to renounce your profession, lest it should be to you but the gaudy pageantry of death, and mere tinsel and gew-gaw in which to go to hell. If you be his, ask that he may give you more grace, that you may renounce these faults and follies, and turn unto him with full purpose of heart, as the effect of a revived godliness in your soul.
Again: where the conduct of professing Christians is consistent, let me ask the question, Does not the conversation of many a professor lead us either to doubt the truthfulness of his piety, or else to pray that his piety may be revived? Have you noticed the conversation of too many who think themselves Christians? You might live with them from the first of January to the end of December, and you would never be tired of their religion for what you would hear of it. They scarcely mention the name of Jesus Christ at all. On Sabbath afternoon all the ministers are talked over, faults are found with this one and the other, and all kinds of conversation take place, which they call religious, because it is concerning religious places. But do they ever talk of what be said and did, and what he suffered for us here below? Do you often hear the salutation addressed to you by your brother Christian, "Friend, how doth thy soul prosper?" When we step into each other's houses, do we begin to talk concerning the cause and truth of God? Do you think that God would now stoop from heaven to listen to the conversation of his church, as once he did, when it was said, "The Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written for them that feared the Lord and that thought upon his name?"
I solemnly declare, as the result of thorough, and, I trust, impartial observation, that the conversation of Christians, while it cannot be condemned on the score of morality, must almost invariably be condemned on the score of Christianity. We talk too little about our Lord and Master. That word sectarianism has crept into our midst, and we must say nothing about Christ, because we are afraid of being called sectarians. I am a sectarian, and hope to be so until I die, and to glory in it; for I can not see, now-a-days, that a man can be a Christian, thoroughly in earnest, without winning for himself the title. Why, we must not talk of this doctrine, because perhaps such a one disbelieves it; we must not notice such and such a truth in Scripture, because such and such a friend doubts or denies it; and so we drop all the great and grand topics which used to be the staple commodities of godly talk, and begin to speak of any thing else, because we feel that we can agree better on worldly things than we can on spiritual. Is not that the truth? and is it not a sad sin with some of us, that we have need to pray unto God, "O Lord, revive thy work in my soul, that my conversation may be more Christ-like, seasoned with salt, and kept by the Holy Spirit?"
And yet a third remark here. There are some whose conduct is all that we could wish, whose conversation is for the most part unctuous with the gospel, mid savory of truth ; but even they will confess to a third charge, which I must now sorrowfully bring against them and against myself; namely, that there is too little real communion with Jesus Christ. If thanks to divine grace, we are enabled to keep our conduct tolerably consistent, and our lives unblemished, yet how much have we to cry out against ourselves, from a lack of that holy fellowship with Jesus which is the high mark of the true child of God Brethren, let me ask some of you how long it is since you have had a love-visit from Jesus Christ-how long since you could say, "My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies?" How long is it since "he brought you into his banqueting house, and his banner over you was love?" Perhaps some of you will be able to say, "It was but this morning that I saw him; I beheld his face with joy, and was ravished with his countenance." But I fear the greatest part of you will have to say, "Ah, sir, for months I have been without the shinings of his countenance." What have you been doing, then, and what has been your way of life? Have you been groaning every day? Have you been weeping every minute? "No!" Then you ought to have been.
I can not understand how your piety can be of any very brilliant order, if you can live without the sunlight of Christ, and yet be happy. Christians will lose sometimes the society of Jesus; the connection between themselves and Christ will be at times severed, as to their own feeling of it; but they will always groan and cry when they lose their Jesus. What! is Christ thy Brother, and does he live in thine house, and yet thou hast not spoken to him for a month? I fear there is little love between thee and thy Brother, for thou hast had no conversation with him for so long. What! is Christ the Husband of his church, and has she had no fellowship with him for all this time? Brethren, let me not condemn you, let me not even judge you, but let your conscience speak. Mine shall, and so shall yours. Have we not too much forgotten Christ? Have we not lived too much without him? Have we not been contented with the world, instead of desiring Christ? Have we been, all of us, like that little ewe lamb that did drink out of the master's cup, and feed from his table? Have we not rather been content to stray upon the mountains, feeding anywhere but at home?
I fear many of the troubles of our heart spring from want of communion with Jesus. Not many of us are the kind of men who, living with Jesus, his secrets must know. O! no; we live too much without the light of his countenance; and are too happy when he is gone from us. Let us, each of us, then, for I am sure we have each of us need, in some measure, put up the prayer, "O Lord, revive thy work!" Ah! methinks I hear one professor saying, "Sir, I need no revival in my heart; I am everything I wish to be." Down on your knees, my brethren! down on your knees for him! He is the man that most needs to be prayed for. He says that he needs no revival in his soul; but he needs a revival of his humility, at any rate. If he supposes that he is all that he ought to be, and if he knows that he is all he wishes to be, he has very mean notions of what a Christian is, or of what a Christian should be, and very unjust ideas of himself. Those are in the best condition who, while they know they want reviving, yet feel their condition and groan under it.
Now, I think I have in some degree substantiated my charge, I fear with too strong arguments; and now let me notice, that the text has something in it which I trust that each of us has. Here is not only an evil implied in these word-"O Lord, revive thy work;" but there is an evil evidently felt. You see Habakkuk knew how to groan about it. O Lord," said he, "revive thy work!" Ah! we many of us want revival, but few of us feel that we want it. It is a blessed sign of life within, when we know how to groan over our departures from the living God. It is easy to find by hundreds those that have departed, but you must count those by ones who know how to groan over their departure. The true believer, however, when he discovers that he needs revival, will not be happy; he will begin at once that incessant and continuous strain of cries and groans which will at last prevail with God, and bring the blessing of revival down. He will, days and nights in succession, cry, "O Lord, revive thy work!"
Let me mention some groaning times, which will always occur to the Christian who needs revival. I am sure he will always groan, when he looks upon what the Lord did for him of old. When he recollects the Mizars and the Hermons, and those places where the Lord appeared of old to him, saying, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love," I know he will never look back to them without tears. If he is what he should be as a Christian, or if he thinks he is not in a right condition, he will always weep when he remembers God's lovingkindness of old. O! whenever the soul has lost fellowship with Jesus, it can not bear to think of the "chariots of Aminadab;" it can not endure to think of "the banqueting house," for it hath not been there so long; and when it does think of it, it says,
"The peaceful hours I then enjoyed,
How sweet their memory still.
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill."
When he hears a sermon which relates the glorious experience of the believer who is in a healthy state, he will put his hand upon his heart, and say, "Ah! such was my experience once; but those happy days are gone. My sun is set; those stars which once lit up my darkness are all quenched;
O! that I might again behold him; O! that I might once more see his face;
O! for those sweet visits from on high; O! for the grapes of Eschol once more." And by the rivers of Babylon you will sit down and weep. You will weep, when you remember your goings up to Zion-when the Lord was precious to you, when he laid bare his heart, and was pleased also to fill your heart with the fullness of his love. Such times will be groaning times, when you remember "the years of the right hand of the Most High."
Again, to a Christian who wants revival, ordinances will be also groaning times. He will go up to the house of God; but he will say of himself when he comes away, "Ah! how changed! When I once went with the multitude that kept holy day every word was precious. When the song ascended my soul had wings, and up it flew to its nest among the stars; when the prayer was offered, I could devoutly say, 'Amen;' but now the preacher preaches as he did before; my brethren are as profited as once they were; but the sermon is dry to me, and dull. I find no fault with the preacher; I know the fault is in myself. The song is just the same-as sweet the melody, as pure the harmony; but ah! my heart is heavy; my harp strings are broken, and I can not sing;" and the Christian will return from those blessed means of grace, sighing and sobbing, because he knows he wants revival. More especially at the Lord's Supper he will think, when he sits at the table, "O! what seasons I once had here! In breaking the bread and drinking the wine my Master was present." He will bethink himself how his soul was even carried to the seventh heaven, and the house was made "the very house of God and the gate of heaven." "But now," he says, "it is bread, dry bread to me; it is wine, tasteless wine, with none of the sweetness of paradise in it; I drink, but all in vain. No thoughts of Christ. My heart will not rise; my soul can not heave a thought half way to him!" And then the Christian will begin to groan again - "O Lord revive thy work!"
But I shall not detain you upon that subject. Those of you who know that you are in Christ, but feel that you are not in a desirable condition, because you do not love him enough, and have not that faith in him which you desire to have, I would just ask you this: Do you groan over it? Can you groan now? When you feel your heart is empty, is it "an aching void?" When you feel that your garments are stained, can you wash those garments with tears? When you think your Lord is gone, can you hang out the black flag of sorrow, and cry, "O my Jesus! O my Jesus! art thou gone?" If thou canst, then I bid thee do it. Do it, do it; and may God be pleased to give thee grace to continue to do it, until a happier era shall dawn in the reviving of thy soul!
And remark, in the last place, upon this point, that the soul, when it is really brought to feel its own sad estate, because of its declension and departure from God, is never content without turning its groanings into prayer, and without addressing the prayer to the right quarter: "O Lord, revive thy work!" Some of you, perhaps, will say, "Sir, I feel my need of revival; I intend to set to work this very afternoon, as soon as I shall retire from this place, to revive my soul." Do not say it; and, above all things, do not try to do it, for you never will do it. Make no resolutions as to what you will do; your resolutions will as certainly be broken as they are made, and your broken resolutions will but increase the number of your sins. I exhort you, instead of trying to revive yourself, to offer prayers. Say not, "I will revive myself," but cry, "O Lord, revive thy work!"
And let me solemnly tell thee, thou hast not yet felt what it is to decline, thou dost not yet know how sad is thine estate, otherwise thou wouldest not talk of reviving thyself. If thou didst know thy own position, thou wouldest as soon expect to see the wounded soldier on the battle-field heal himself without medicine, or convey himself to the hospital when his limbs are shot away, as thou wouldest expect to revive thyself without the help of God. I bid thee not do anything, nor seek to do any thing, until first of all thou hast addressed Jehovah himself by mighty prayer-until thou hast cried out, "O Lord, revive thy work!" Remember, he that first made you must keep you alive; and he that has kept you alive must restore more life to you. He that has preserved you from going down to the pit, when your feet have been sliding, can alone set you again upon a rock, and establish your goings. Begin, then, by humbling yourself-giving up all hope of reviving yourself as a Christian, but beginning at once with firm prayer and earnest supplication to God: "O Lord, what I cannot do, do thou! O Lord, revive thy work!"
Christian brethren, I leave these matters with you. Give them the attention they deserve. If I have erred, and in aught judged you too harshly, God shall forgive me, for I have meant it honestly. But if I have spoken truly, lay it to your hearts, and turn your houses into a "Bochim." Weep men apart, and women apart, husbands apart, and wives apart. Weep, weep, my brethren: "It is a sad thing to depart from the living God." Weep, and may he bring you back to Zion, that you may one day return like Israel, not with weeping, but with songs of everlasting joy!
And now I come to the second part of the subject, upon which I must be more brief. In THE CHURCH ITSELF, taken as a body, this prayer ought to be one incessant and solemn litany: "O Lord, revive thy work!"
In the present era there is a sad decline of the vitality of godliness. This age has become too much the age of form, instead of the age of life. I date the hour of life from this day one hundred years ago when the first stone was laid of this building in which we now worship God. Then was the day of life divine, and of power, sent down from on high. God had clothed Whitefield with power: he was preaching with a majesty and a might of which one could scarcely think mortals could ever be capable; not because he was anything in himself, but because his Master girded him with might. After Whitefield there was a succession of great and holy men. But now, sirs, we have fallen upon the dregs of time. Men are the rarest things in all this world; we have not many left now. We have no men in government, to conduct our politics, and scarcely any men in religion. We have the things that perform their duties, as they are called; we have the good, and, perhaps, the honest things, who in the regular routine go on like pack-horses with their bells, for ever in the old style; but men who dare to be singular, because to be singular is generally to be right in a wicked world, are not very many in this age. Compared with the puritanic times even, where are our divines! Could we marshal together our Howes and our Charnocks? Could we gather together such names as I could mention about fifty at a time? I trow not. Nor could we bring together such a galaxy of grace and talent as that which immediately followed Whitefield. Think of Rowland Hill, Newton, Toplady, Doddridge, and numbers of others whom time would fail me to mention. They are gone, they are gone; their venerated dust sleeps in the earth, and where are their successors? Ask where, and echo will reply, "Where?" There are none. Successors of them, where are they? God hath not yet raised them up, or, if he have, you have not yet found out where they are.
There is preaching, and what is it? "O Lord, help thy servant to preach, and teach him by thy Spirit what to say." Then out comes the manuscript, and they read it. A pure insult to Almighty God! We have preaching, but it is of this order. It is not preaching at all. It is speaking very beautifully and very finely, possibly eloquently, in some sense of the word but where is the right down preaching, such as Whitefield's? Have you ever read one of his sermons? You will not think him eloquent; you cannot think him so. His expressions were rough, frequently very coarse and unconnected; there was very much declamation about him; it was a great part, indeed, of his speech. But where lay his eloquence? Not in the words you read, but in the tone in which he delivered them, and in the earnestness with which he felt them, and in the tears which ran down his cheeks, and in the pouring out of his soul. The reason why he was eloquent was just what the word means. He was eloquent, because he spoke right out from his heart-from the innermost depths of the man. You could see when he spoke that he meant what he said. He did not speak as a trade, or as a mere machine, but he preached what he felt to be the truth, and what he could not help preaching. When you heard him preach, you could not help feeling that he was a man who would die if he could not preach, and with all his might call to men and say, "Come! come! come to Jesus Christ, and believe on him!"
Now, that is just the lack of these times. Where, where is earnestness now? It is neither in pulpit nor yet in pew, in such a measure as we desire it; and it is a sad, sad age, when earnestness is scoffed at, and when that very zeal which ought to be the prominent characteristic of the pulpit is regarded as enthusiasm and fanaticism. I ask God to make us all such fanatics as most men laugh at-to make us all just such enthusiasts as many despise. We reckon it the greatest fanaticism in the world to go to hell, the greatest enthusiasm upon earth to love sin better than righteousness; and we think those neither fanatics nor enthusiasts who seek to obey God rather than man, and follow Christ in all his ways. We repeat, that one sad proof that the church wants revival is the absence of that death-like, solemn earnestness which was once seen in Christian pulpits.
The absence of sound doctrine is another proof of our want of revival. Do you know who are called Antinomians now, who are called "hypers," who are laughed at, who are rejected as being unsound in the faith? Why, the men that once were the orthodox are now the heretics. We can turn back to the records of our Puritan fathers, to the articles of the Church of England, to the preaching of Whitefield, and we can say of that preaching, it is the very thing we love; and the doctrines which were then uttered are and we dare to say it everywhere the very self-same doctrines that he proclaimed. But because we choose to proclaim them, we are thought singular and strange; and the reason is, because sound doctrine hath to a great degree ceased. It began in this way.
First of all the truths were fully believed, but the angles were a little taken off. The minister believed election, but he did not use the word, for fear it should in some degree disturb the equanimity of the deacon in the green pew in the corner. He believed that all men were depraved, but he did not say it positively because if he did, there was a lady who had subscribed so much to the chapel-she would not come again; so that while he did believe it, and did say it in some sense, he rounded it a little. Afterward it came to this. Ministers said, "We believe these doctrines, but we do not think them profitable to preach to the people. They are quite true: free grace is true; the great doctrines of grace that were preached by Christ, by Paul, by Augustine, by Calvin, and down to this age by their successors, are true; but they had better be kept back-they must be very cautiously dealt with; they are very high and dreadful doctrines, and they must not be preached; we believe them, but we dare not speak them out." After that it came to something worse. They said within themselves, "Well, if these doctrines will not do for us to preach, perhaps they are not true at all;" and going one step further, they said they dare not preach them. They did not actually say it, perhaps, but they began just to hint that they were not true; then they went one step further, giving us something which they said was the truth; and then they would cast us out of the synagogue, as if they were the rightful owners of it, and we were the intruders. So they have passed on from bad to worse; and if you read the standard divinity of this age, and the standard divinity of Whitefleld's day, you will find that the two cannot by any possibility stand together. We have got a "new theology." New theology? Why, it is anything but a Theology; it is a theology which hath cast out God utterly and entirely, and enthroned man, as it is the doctrine of man, and not the doctrine of the everlasting God. We want a revival of sound doctrine once more in the midst of the land.
And the church at large, may be, wants a revival of downright earnestness in its members. Ye are not the men to fight the Lord's battles yet. Ye have not the earnestness, the zeal, which once the children of God had. Your forefathers were oaken men; ye are willow men. Our people, what are they many of them? Strong in doctrine when they are with strong doctrine men ; but they waver when they get with others, and they change as often as they change their company; they say sometimes one thing, and sometimes another. They are not the men to go to the stake and die; they are not the men that know how to die daily, and so are ready for death when it comes. Look at our prayer-meetings, with here and there a bright exception. Go in. There are six women; scarcely ever enough members come to pray four times. Look at them. Prayer-meetings they are called ; spare meetings they ought to be called, for sparely enough they are attended. And very few there be that go to our fellowship-meetings, or to any other meetings that we have to help one another in the fear of the Lord. Are they attended at all?
I would like to see a newspaper printed somewhere, containing a list of all the persons that went to those meetings during the week in any of our chapels. Ah! my friends, if they should comprise all the Christians in London, you might find that a chapel or two would hold them all. There are few enough that go. We have not earnestness, we have not life, as we once had; if we had, we should be called worse names than we are; we should have viler epithets thrown at us, if we were more true to our Master; we should not have all things quite so comfortable, if we served God better. We are getting the church to be an institution of our land-an honorable institution. Ah! some think it a grand thing when the church becomes an honorable institution! Methinks it shows the church has swerved, when she begins to be very honorable in the eyes of the world. She must still be cast out, she must still be called evil, and still be despised, until that day shall come, when her Lord shall honor her because she has honored him-shall honor her, even in this world, in the day of his appearing.
Beloved, do you think it is true that the church wants reviving? Yes, or no? "No," you say, "not to the extent that you suppose. We think the church is in a good condition. We are not among those who cry, 'The former days were better than these.'" Perhaps you are not: you may be wiser than we are, and therefore you are able to see those various signs of goodness which are to us so small that we are not able to discover them. You may suppose that the church is in a good condition; if so, of course you can not sympathize with me in preaching from such a text, and urging you to use such a prayer. But there are others of you who are frequently prone to cry, "The church wants reviving." Let me bid you, instead of grumbling at your minister, instead of finding fault with the different parts of the church, to cry, "O Lord revive thy work!" "O!" says one, "if we had another minister. O! if we had another kind of worship. O! if we had a different sort of preaching." Just as if that were all! It is, "O! if the Lord would come into the hearts of the men you have got. O! if he would make the forms you do use full of power." You do not want fresh ways or fresh machinery; you want the life in what you have.
There is an engine on a railway; a train has to be moved. "Bring another engine," says one, "and another, and another." The engines are brought, but the train does not move at all. Light the fire, and get the steam up, that is what you want; not fresh engines. We do not want fresh ministers, or fresh plans, or fresh ways, though many might be invented, to make the church better; we only want life in what we have got. Given, the very man who has emptied your chapel; given, the selfsame person that brought your prayer-meeting low; God can make the chapel crowded, open the doors yet, and give thousands of souls to that very man. It is not a new man that is wanted; it is the life of God in him. Do not be crying out for something new; it will no more succeed, of itself than what you have. Cry, "O Lord, revive thy work!" I have noticed in different churches, that the minister has thought first of this contrivance, then of that. He tried one plan, and thought that would succeed; then he tried another; that was not it. Keep to the old plan, but get life in it. We do not want anything new; "the old is better"-let us keep to it. But we want the life in the old. "O!" men cry, "we have nothing but the shell; they are going to give us a new shell." No, sirs, we will keep the old one, but we will have the life in the shell too; we will have the old thing; but we must, or else we will throw the old away, have the life in the old. O! that God would give us life.
The church wants fresh revivals O! for the days of Cambuslang again, when Whitefield preached with power. O! for the days when in this place hundreds were converted sometimes under Whitefield's sermons. It has been known that two thousand credible cases of conversion have happened under one solitary discourse. O! for the age when eyes should be strained, and ears should be ready to receive the word of God, and when men should drink in the word of life, as it is indeed, the very water of life, which God gives to dying souls! O! for the age of deep feeling-the age of deep, thorough-going earnestness! Let us ask God for it; let us plead with him for it. Perhaps he has the man, or the men, somewhere, who will shake the world yet; perhaps even now he is about to pour forth a mighty influence upon men, which shall make the church as wonderful in this age, as it ever was in any age that has passed.
This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 17th, 1859,
In the Surrey Gardens Music Hall
The use of this building was necessary in order to
Accommodate the regular congregations
Of between 5,000 and 9,000 people.
References are made in the sermon
To the revivals then being experienced
In the United States, and Northern Ireland
“We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old.” Psalm 44 :1.
PERHAPS there are no stories that stick by us so long as those, which we hear in our childhood, those tales who are told us by our fathers, and in our nurseries. It is a sad reflection that too many of these stories are idle and vain, so that our minds in early infancy are tinctured with fables, and inoculated with strange and lying narratives.
Among the early Christians and the old believers in the far-off times, nursery tales were far different from what they are now, and the stories with which their children were amused were of a far different class from those, which fascinated us in the days of our childhood. No doubt Abraham would talk to young children about the flood, and tell them how the waters overspread the earth, and how Noah alone was saved in the ark. The ancient Israelites, when they dwelt in their own land, would all of them tell their children about the Red Sea, and the plagues which God wrought in Egypt when He brought His people out of the house of bondage. Among the early Christians we know that it was the custom of parents to recount to their children everything concerning the life of Christ, the Acts of the Apostles and the like interesting narratives. And among our puritan ancestors such were the stories that regaled their childhood. Sitting down by the fireside, before those Old Dutch tiles with the quaint eccentric drawings upon them of the history of Christ, mothers would teach their children about Jesus walking on the water, or of His multiplying the loaves of bread, or of His marvellous transfiguration, or of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Oh, how I would that these were the tales of the present age, that the stories of our childhood would be again the stories of Christ, and that we would each of us believe that, after all, there can be nothing so interesting as that which is true, and nothing more striking than those stories which are written in sacred writ; nothing that can more truly move the heart of a child than the marvellous works of God which He did in the olden times. It seems that the psalmist who wrote this most musical ode had heard from his father, handed to him by tradition, the stories of the wondrous things which God had done in his day; and afterwards, this sweet singer in Israel taught it to his children, and so was one generation after another led to call God blessed, remembering His mighty acts.
Now, I intend to recall to your minds some of the wondrous things, which God has done in the olden time. My aim and object will be to excite your minds to seek after the like; that looking back upon what God has done, you may be induced to look forward with the eye of expectation, hoping that He will again stretch forth His potent hand and His holy arm, and repeat those mighty acts He performed in ancient days.
I. The Wonderful Stories We Have Heard Of The Lord’s Ancient Doings.
We have heard that God has at times done very mighty acts. The plain everyday course of the world has been disturbed with wonders at which men have been exceedingly amazed. God has not always permitted His church to go on climbing by slow degrees to victory, but He has been pleased at times to smite one terrible blow, and lay His enemies down upon the earth, and bid His children march over their prostrate bodies.
Turn back then, to ancient records, and remember what God has done. Will you not remember what He did at the Red Sea, how He smote Egypt and all its chivalry, and covered Pharaoh’s chariot and horse in the Red Sea? Have you not heard tell how God smote Og, king of Bashan, and Sihon, king of the Amorites, because they withstood the progress of His people? Have you not learned how He proved that His mercy endures forever, when He slew those great kings and cast the mighty ones down from their thrones? Have you not read, too, how God smote the children of Canaan, and drove out the inhabitants thereof, and gave the land to His people, to be their possession forever? Have you not heard how when the hosts of Jabin came against them, the stars in their courses fought against Sisera? The river of Kishon swept them away, “that ancient river, the river Kishon”, and there was none of them left. Has it not been told you too, how, by the hand of David, God smote the Philistines, and how by His right hand He smote the children of Ammon? Have you not heard how Midian was put to confusion, and the myriads of Arabia were scattered by Asa in the day of his faith? And have you not heard, too, how the Lord sent a blast upon the hosts of Sennacherib, so that in the morning they were all dead men? Tell—tell ye these, His wonders! Speak of them in your streets! Teach them to your children! Let them not be forgotten, for the right hand of the Lord has done marvellous things, His name is known in all the earth.
The wonders however which most concern us are those of the Christian era; and surely these are not second to those under the Old Testament. Have you never read how God won to Himself great renown on the day of Pentecost? Turn to this book of the record of the wonders of the Lord and read. Peter the fisherman stood up and preached in the name of the Lord his God. A multitude assembled and the Spirit of God fell upon them; and it came to pass that three thousand in one day were pricked in their heart by the hand of God, and believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. And know you not how the twelve apostles with the disciples went everywhere preaching the Word, and the idols fell from their thrones? The cities opened wide their gates, and the messengers of Christ walked through the streets and preached. It is true that at first they were driven hither and thither, and hunted like partridges upon the mountains; but do you not remember how the Lord did get unto Himself a victory, so that in a hundred years after the nailing of Christ to the cross, the gospel had been preached in every nation, and the isles of the sea had heard the sound thereof? And have you forgotten how the heathen were baptised, thousands at a time, in every river? What stream is there in Europe that cannot testify to the majesty of the gospel? What city is there in the land that cannot tell how God’s truth has triumphed, and how the heathen has forsaken his false gods, and bowed his knee to Jesus the crucified? The first spread of the gospel is a miracle never to be eclipsed. Whatever God may have done at the Red Sea, He has done still more within a hundred years after the time when Christ first came into the world. It seemed as if a fire from heaven ran along the ground. Nothing could resist its force. The lightning shaft of truth shivered every pinnacle of the idol temple, and Jesus was worshipped from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same. This is one of the things we have heard of the olden times.
And have you never heard of the mighty things which God did by preachers some hundreds of years from that date? Has it not been told you concerning Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed, how, whenever he preached, the church was thronged with attentive hearers; and there, standing and lifting up holy hands, he spake with a majesty unparalleled, the word of God in truth and righteousness; the people listening, hanging forward to catch every word, and then breaking the silence with the clapping of their hands and the stamping of their feet; then silent again for a while, spell-bound by the mighty orator; and again carried away with enthusiasm, springing to their feet, clapping their hands, and shouting for joy? Numberless were the conversions in his day. God was exceedingly magnified, for sinners were abundantly saved.
And have your fathers never told you of the wondrous things that were done afterwards when the black darkness of superstition covered the earth, when Popery sat upon her throne and stretched her iron rod across the nations and shut the windows of heaven, and quenched the very stars of God and made thick darkness cover the people? Have you never heard how Martin Luther arose and preached the gospel of the grace of God, and how the nations trembled, and the world heard the voice of God and lived? Have you not heard of Zwingle among the Swiss, and of Calvin in the city of Geneva, and of the mighty works that God did by them? As Britons have you forgotten the mighty preachers of the truth — have your ears ceased to tingle with the wondrous tale of the preachers that Wycliffe sent forth into every market town and every hamlet of England, preaching the gospel of God? Oh, does not history tell us that these men were like firebrands in the midst of the dry stubble; that their voice was as the roaring of a lion, and their going forth like the springing of a young lion. They did push the nation before them, and as for the enemies, they said, “Destroy them”. None could stand before them, for the Lord their God had girded them with might.
To come down a little nearer to our own times, truly our fathers have told us the wondrous things, which God did in the days of Wesley and of Whitefield. The churches were all asleep. Irreligion was the rule of the day. The very streets seemed to run with iniquity, and the gutters were filled full with the iniquity of sin. Up rose Whitefield and Wesley, men whose hearts the Lord had touched, and they dared to preach the gospel of the grace of God. Suddenly, as in a moment, there was heard the rush as of wings, and the church said: “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” They come! They come! Numberless as the birds of heaven, with a rushing like mighty winds, that is not to be withstood. Within a few years, from the preaching of these two men, England was permeated with evangelical truth. The Word of God was known in every town, and there was scarcely a hamlet into which the Methodists had not penetrated. In those days of the slow-coach, when Christianity seemed to have bought up the old wagons in which our fathers once travelled—where business runs with steam, there oftentimes religion creeps along with its belly on the earth—we are astonished at these tales, and we think them wonders. Yet let us believe them; they come to us as substantial matters of history. And the wondrous things, which God did in, the olden times, by His grace He will yet, do again. “He that is mighty hath done great things and holy is his name.”
There is a special feature to which I would call your attention with regard to the works of God in the olden time; they derive increasing interest and wonder from the fact that they were all sudden things. The old-stagers in our churches believe that things must grow, gently, by degrees; we must go step by step onward. Concentrated action and continued labour, they say, will ultimately bring success. But the marvel is, all God’s works have been sudden. When Peter stood up to preach, it did not take six weeks to convert the three thousand. They were converted at once and baptised that very day; they were that hour turned to God, and became as truly Disciples of Christ as they could have been if their conversions had taken seventy years.
So was it in the day of Martin Luther: it did not take Luther centuries to break through the thick darkness of Rome. God lit the candle and the candle burned, and there was the light in an instant — God works suddenly. If anyone could have stood in Wurtemburg, and have said: “Can Popery be made to quail, can the Vatican be made to shake?” the answer would have been: “No; it will take at least a thousand years to do it. Popery, the great serpent, has so twisted itself about the nations, and bound them so fast in its coil, that they cannot be delivered except by a long process”. “Not so,” however, did God say. He smote the dragon sorely, and the nations went free; He cut the gates of brass, and broke in sunder the bars of iron, and the people were delivered in an hour. Freedom came not in the course of years, but in an instant. The people that walked in darkness saw a great light, and upon them that dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, did the light shine.
So was it in Whitefield’s day. The rebuking of a slumbering church was not the work of ages; it was done at once. Have you never heard of the great revival under Whitefield? Take as an instance that at Cambuslang. He was preaching in the churchyard to a great congregation, that could not get into any edifice; and while preaching, the power of God came upon the people, and one after another fell down as if they were smitten; and it was estimated that not less than three thousand persons were crying Out at one time under the conviction of sin. He preached on, now thundering like Boanerges, and then comforting like Barnabas, and the work spread, and no tongue can tell the great things that God did under that one sermon of Whitefield.
So has it been in all revivals; God’s work has been done suddenly. As with a clap of thunder has God descended from on high; not slowly, but on cherubim right royally does He ride; on the wings of the mighty wind does He fly. Sudden has been the work; men could scarce believe it true, it was done in so short a space of time.
Witness the great revival, which is going on in and around Belfast. After carefully looking at the matter, and after seeing a trusty and well-beloved brother who lived in that neighbourhood, I am convinced, notwithstanding what enemies may say, that it is a genuine work of grace, and that God is doing wonders there. A friend who called to see me yesterday, tells me that the lowest and vilest men, the most depraved females in Belfast, have been visited with this extraordinary epilepsy, as the world calls it; but with this strange rushing of the Spirit, as we have it. Men who have been drunkards have suddenly felt an impulse compelling them to pray. They have resisted; they have sought to their drink in order to put it out; but when they have been swearing, seeking to quench the Spirit by their blasphemy, God has at last brought them on their knees, and they have been compelled to cry for mercy with piercing shrieks, and to agonise in prayer. Then after a time, the evil one seems to have been cast out of them, and in a quiet, holy, happy frame of mind, they have made a profession of their faith in Christ, and have walked in His fear and love.
Roman Catholics have been converted. I thought that an extraordinary thing; but they have been converted very frequently indeed in Ballymena and in Belfast. In fact, I am told the priests are now selling small bottles of holy water for people to take, in order that they may be preserved from this desperate contagion of the Holy Spirit. This holy water is said to have such efficacy, that those who do not attend any of the meetings are not likely to be meddled with by the Holy Spirit—so the priests tell them. But if they go to the meetings, even this holy water cannot preserve them — they are as liable to fall a prey to the Divine influence. I think they are just as likely to do so without as with it.
All this has been brought about suddenly, and although we may expect to find some portion of natural excitement, yet I am persuaded it is in the main a real, spiritual, and abiding work. There is a little froth on the surface, but there is a deep running current that is not to be resisted, sweeping underneath, and carrying everything before it. At least there is something to awaken our interest, when we understand that in the small town of Ballymena on market day, the publicans have always taken one hundred pounds for whisky, and now they cannot take a sovereign all day Icing in all the public houses. Men who were once drunkards now meet for prayer, and people after hearing one sermon will not go until the minister has preached another, and sometimes a third; and at last he is obliged to say: “You must go, I am exhausted.” Then they will break up into groups in their streets and in their houses, crying out to God to let this mighty work spread, that sinners may be converted unto Him. “Well,” says one, “we cannot believe it.” Very likely you cannot, but some of us can, for we have heard it with our ears, and our fathers have told us the mighty works that God did in their days, and we are prepared to believe that God can do the same works now.
I must here remark that, in all these old stories, there is one very plain feature. Whenever God has done a mighty work it has been by some very insignificant instrument. When He slew Goliath it was by little David, who was but a ruddy youth. Lay not up the sword of Goliath — I always thought that a mistake of David — lay up, not Goliath’s sword, but lay up the stone, and treasure up the sling in God’s armoury for ever. When God would slay Sisera, it was a woman that must do it with a hammer and a nail. God has done His mightiest works by the meanest instruments: that is a fact most true of all God’s works — Peter the fisherman at Pentecost, Luther the humble monk at the Reformation. Whitefield the potboy; of the Old Bell Inn at Gloucester, in the time of the last century’s revival—and so it must be to the end. God works not by Pharaoh’s horses or chariot, but He works by Moses’ rod; His wonders are not done with the whirlwind and the storm; He does them by the still small voice, that the glory may be His and the honour all His own. Does not this open a field of encouragement to you and to me? Why may not we be employed in doing some mighty work for God here?
Moreover, we have noticed in all these stories of God’s mighty works in the olden time, that wherever He has done any great thing it has been by someone who has had very great faith. I do verily believe at this moment that, if God willed it, every soul in this hall would be converted now. If God chose to put forth the operations of His own mighty Spirit, not the most obdurate heart would be able to stand against it. “He will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy.” He will do as He pleases; none can stay His hand. “Well,” says one, “but I do not expect to see any great things.” Then, my dear friend, you will not be disappointed, for you will not see them; but those that expect them shall see them. Men of great faith do great things. It was Elijah’s faith that slew the priests of Baal. If he had had the little heart that some of you have, Baal’s priests had still ruled over the people, and would never have been smitten with the sword. It was Elijah’s faith that bade him say: “If the Lord be God, follow Him, but if Baal, then follow him.” And again: “Choose one bullock for yourselves, cut it in pieces, lay it on wood and put no fire under, call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the name of Jehovah.” It was his noble faith that bade him say: “Take the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape”; and he brought them down to the brook Kishon, and slew them there—a holocaust to God. The reason why God’s name was so magnified was because Elijah’s faith in God was so mighty and heroic.
When the Pope sent his bull to Luther, Luther burned it. Standing up in the midst of the crowd with the blazing paper in his hand he said: “See here, this is the Pope’s bull.” What cared he for all the Popes that were ever in or out of hell? And when he went to Worms to meet the grand Diet, his followers said: “You are in danger, stand back.” “No,” said Luther, “if there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles on the roofs of the houses, I would not fear; I will go”—and into Worms he went, confident in the Lord his God. It was the same with Whitefield; he believed and he expected that God would do great things. When he went into his pulpit he believed that God would bless the people, and God did do so. Little faith may do little things, but great faith shall be greatly honoured. O God! Our fathers have told us this that whenever they had great faith Thou hast always honoured it by doing mighty works.
I will detain you no longer on this point, except to make one observation. All the mighty works of God have been attended with great prayer, as well as with great faith. Have you ever heard of the commencement of the great American revival? A man unknown and obscure laid it up in his heart to pray that God would bless his country. After praying and wrestling and making the soul-stirring enquiry: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” he hired a room, and put up an announcement that there would be a prayer meeting held there at such-and-such an hour of the day. He went at the proper hour, and there was not a single person there; he began to pray, and prayed for half an hour alone. One came in at the end of the half-hour, and then two more, and I think he closed with six. The next week came round, and there might have been fifty dropped in at different times; at last the prayer-meeting grew to a hundred, then others began to start prayer-meetings; at last there was scarcely a street in New York that was without a prayer-meeting. Merchants found time to run in, in the middle of the day, to pray. The prayer meetings became daily ones, lasting for about an hour; petitions and requests were sent up, these were simply asked and offered before God, and the answers came; and many were the happy hearts that stood up and testified that the prayer offered last week had been already fulfilled. Then it was when they were all earnest in prayer, suddenly the Spirit of God fell upon the people, and it was rumoured that in a certain village a preacher had been preaching in thorough earnest, and there had been hundreds converted in a week. The matter spread into and through the Northern States — these revivals of religion became universal, and it has been sometimes said that a quarter of a million people were converted to God through the short space of two or three months.
The same effect was produced in Ballymena and Belfast by the same means. The brother thought that it lay at his heart to pray, and he did pray; then he held a regular prayer meeting; day after day they met together to entreat the blessing, and the fire descended and the work was done. Sinners were converted, not by ones or twos, but by hundreds and thousands, and the Lord’s name was greatly magnified by the progress of His gospel. Beloved, I am only telling you facts. Make each of you your own estimate of them.
II. Disadvantages Under Which These Old Stories Frequently Labour.
When people hear about what God used to do, one of the things they say is: “Oh, that was a very long while ago.” They imagine that times have altered since then. Says one: “I can believe anything about the Reformation—the largest accounts that can possibly be given, I can take in.” “And so could I concerning Whitefield and Wesley,” says another, “all that is quite true, they did labour vigorously and successfully, but that was many years ago. Things were in a different state then from what they are now.” Granted; but I want to know what the things have to do with it. I thought it was God that did it. Has God changed? Is He not an immutable God, the same yesterday, to day and forever? Does not that furnish an argument to prove that what God has done at one time He can do at another? I think I may push it a little further, and say what He has done once, is a prophecy of what He intends to do again—that the mighty works which have been accomplished in the olden time shall all be repeated, and the Lord’s song shall be sung again in Zion, and He shall again be greatly glorified.
Others among you say, “Oh, well I look upon these things as great wonders and miracles. We are not to expect them every day.” That is the very reason why we do not get them. If we had learnt to expect them, we should no doubt obtain them, but we put them up on the shelf, as being out of the common order of our moderate religion, as being mere curiosities of Scripture history. We imagine such things, however true, to be wonders of providence; we cannot imagine them to be according to the ordinary working of His mighty power. I beseech you, my friends, abjure that idea, and put it out of your mind. Whatever God has done in the way of converting sinners is to be looked upon as a precedent, for “His arm is not shortened that He cannot save, nor is His ear heavy that He cannot hear.” If we are straitened at all, we are not straitened in Him we are straitened in ourselves. Let us take the blame of it upon ourselves, and with earnestness seek that God would restore to us the faith of the men of old, that we may richly enjoy His grace as in the days of old.
There is yet another disadvantage under which these old stories labour. The fact is, we have not seen them. Why, I may talk to you ever so long about revivals, but you won’t believe them half so much, nor half so truly, as if one were to occur in your very midst. If you saw it with your own eyes, then you would see the power of it. If you had lived in Whitefield’s day, or had heard Grimshaw preach, you would believe anything. Grimshaw would preach twenty-four times a week: he would preach many times in the course of a sultry day, going from place to place on horseback. That man did preach. It seemed as if heaven would come down to earth to listen to him. He spoke with a real earnestness, with all the fire of zeal that ever burned in mortal breast, and the people trembled while they listened to him, and said, “Certainly this is the voice of God.” It was the same with Whitefield. The people would seem to move to and fro while he spoke, even as the harvest field is moved with the wind. So mighty was the energy of God that after hearing such a sermon the hardest-hearted men would go away and say: “There must be something in it, I never heard the like.”
Can you not realise these are literal facts? Do they stand up in all their brightness before your eyes? Then I think the stories you have heard with your ears should have a true and proper effect upon your own lives.
Chapter III. Proper Inferences That Are To Be Drawn From The Old Stories Of God’s Mighty Deeds
I would that I could speak with the fire of some of those men whose names I have mentioned. Pray for me, that the Spirit of God may rest upon me, that I may plead with you for a little time with all my might, seeking to exhort and stir you up, that you may get a like revival in your midst.
My dear friends, the first effect which the reading of the history of God’s mighty works should have upon us, is that of gratitude and praise. Have we nothing to sing about to day? —Then let us sing concerning days of yore. If we cannot sing to our well-beloved a song concerning what He is doing in our midst, let us, nevertheless, take down our harps from the willows, and sing an old song, and bless and praise His holy name for the things which He did to His ancient church, for the wonders which He wrought in Egypt, and in all the lands wherein He led His people, and from which He brought them out with a high hand and with an outstretched arm.
When we have thus begun to praise God for what He has done, I think I may venture to impress upon you one other great duty. Let what God has done suggest to you the prayer that He would repeat the like signs and wonders among us. Oh! Men and brethren, what would this heart feel if I could but believe that there were some among you who would go home and pray for a revival of religion—men whose faith is large enough, and their love fiery enough to lead them from this moment to exercise unceasing intercessions that God would appear among us and do wondrous things here, as in the times of former generations.
Why, here in this present assembly what objects there are for our compassion. Glancing round, I observe one and another whose history I may happen to know, but how many are there still unconverted—men who have trembled and who know they have, but have shaken off their fears, and once more are daring their destiny, determined to be suicides to their own souls and to put away from them that grace which once seemed as if it were striving in their hearts. They are turning away from the gates of heaven, and running post-haste to the doors of hell; and will not you stretch out your hands to God to stop them in this desperate resolve? If in this congregation there were but one unconverted man and I could point him out and say: “There he sits, one soul that has never felt the love of God, and never has been moved to repentance,” with what anxious curiosity would every eye regard him? I think out of thousands of Christians here, there is not one who would refuse to go home and pray for that solitary, unconverted individual. But, oh! My brethren, it is not one that is in danger of hell fire; here are hundreds and thousands of our fellow-creatures.
Shall I give you yet another reason why you should pray? Hitherto all other means have been used without effect. God is my witness how often I have striven in this pulpit to be the means of the conversion of men. I have preached my very heart out. I could say no more than I have said, and I hope that my private room is a witness to the fact that I do not cease to feel when I cease to speak; but I have a heart to pray for those of you who are never affected, or who, if affected, still quench the Spirit of God. I have done my utmost. Will not you come to the help of the Lord against the mighty? Will not your prayers accomplish that which my preaching fails to do? Here they are; I commend them to you: men and women whose hearts refuse to melt, whose stubborn knees will not bend; I give them up to you and ask you to pray for them. Carry their cases on your knees before God. Wife: Never cease to pray for your unconverted husband. Husband: Never stop your supplication till you see your wife converted. Fathers and mothers: Have you no unconverted children? Have you not brought them here many and many a Sunday, and they remain just as they have been? You have sent them first to one chapel and then to another, and they are just what they were. The wrath of God abides on them. Die they must; and should they die now, to a certainty you are aware that the flames of hell must engulf them. And do you refuse to pray for them? Hard hearts, brutish souls, if knowing Christ yourself ye will not pray for those who come of your own loins — your children according to the flesh.
We do not know what God may do for us if we do but pray for a blessing. Look at the movement we have already seen; we have witnessed Exeter Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey crammed to the doors, but we have seen no effect as yet of all these mighty gatherings. Have we not tried to preach without trying to pray? Is it not likely that the church has been putting forth its preaching hand but not its praying hand? O dear friends! Let us agonise in prayer, and it shall come to pass that this Music Hall shall witness the sighs and groans of the penitent and the songs of the converted. It shall yet happen that this vast host shall not come and go as now it does, but little the better; but men shall go out of this hall, praising God and saying: “It was good to be there; it was none other than the house of God, and the very gate of heaven,” thus much to stir you up to prayer.
Another inference we should draw is that all the stories we have heard should correct any self-dependence, which may have crept into our treacherous hearts. Perhaps we as a congregation have begun to depend upon our numbers and so forth. We may have thought: “Surely God must bless us through the ministry.” Now let the stories which our fathers have told us remind you, and remind me, that God saves not by many nor by few; that it is not in us to do this but God must do it all; it may be that some hidden preacher, whose name has never been known, will yet start up in this city of London and preach the Lord with greater power than bishops or ministers have ever know before. I will welcome him; God be with him, let him come from where he may, only let God speed him, and let the work be done. Maybe, however, God intends to bless the agency used in this place for your good and for your conversion. If so, I am thrice happy to think such should be the case. But place no dependence upon the instrument. No, when men laughed at us and mocked us most, God blessed us most; and now it is not a disreputable thing to attend the Music Hall. We are not so much despised as we once were, but I question whether we have so great a blessing as once we had. We would be willing to endure another pelting in the pillory, to go through another ordeal with every newspaper against us, and with every man hissing and abusing us, if God so pleases, if He will but give us a blessing. But let Him cast out of us any idea that our own bow and our own sword will get us the victory. We shall never get a revival here unless we believe that it is the Lord, and the Lord alone, that can do it.
Having made this statement, I will endeavour to stir you up with confidence that the result that I have pictured may be obtained, and that the stories we have heard of the olden times may become true in our day. Why should not every one of my hearers be converted? Is there any limitation in the Spirit of God? Why should not the feeblest minister become the means of salvation to thousands? Is God’s arm shortened? When I bid you pray that God would make the ministry quick and powerful, like a two-edged sword, for the salvation of sinners, I am not setting you a hard, much less an impossible, task. We have but to ask and to get. Before we call. God will answer; and while we are yet speaking He will hear. God alone can know what may come of this sermon, if He chooses to bless it. From this moment you may pray more; from this moment God may bless the ministry more. From this hour other pulpits may become more full of life and vigour than before. From this same moment the Word of God may flow, and run, and rush, and get to itself an amazing and boundless victory.
Only wrestle in prayer, meet together in your houses, go to your private room, be instant, be earnest in season and out of season, agonise for souls, and all that you have heard shall be forgotten in what you shall see; and all that others have told you shall be as nothing compared with what you shall hear with your ears and behold with your eyes in your own midst.
This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 17th, 1859, in the Surrey Gardens Music Hall. The use of this building was necessary in order to accommodate the regular congregations of between 5,000 and 9,000 people. References are made in the sermon to the revivals then being experienced in the United States and Northern Ireland. The following extract from the Narrative of George Müller outlines the beginnings of the awakening in Ireland.
The Beginning Of The Irish Awakening
IN November 1856,a young Irishman, Mr. James McQuilkin, was brought to the knowledge of the Lord. Soon after his conversion he saw my Narrative advertised, viz, the first two volumes of this book. He had a great desire to read it, and procured it accordingly, about January 1857. God blessed it greatly to his soul, especially in showing to him, what could be obtained by prayer. He said to himself something like this: “See what Mr. Müller obtains simply by prayer. Thus I may obtain blessing by prayer.”
He now set himself to pray, that the Lord would give him a spiritual companion, one who knew the Lord. Soon after he became acquainted with a young man who was a believer. These two began a prayer meeting in one of the Sunday Schools in the parish of Connor. Having his prayer answered in obtaining a spiritual companion, Mr. James McQuilkin asked the Lord to lead him to become acquainted with some more of His hidden ones, soon after the Lord gave him two more young men, who were believers previously, as far as he could judge.
In autumn, 1857, Mr. James McQuilkin stated to these three young men, given him in answer to believing prayer, what blessing he had derived from my Narrative, how it had led him to see the power of believing prayer; and he proposed that they should meet for prayer to seek the Lord’s blessing upon their various labours in the Sunday Schools, prayer meetings, and preaching of the gospel. Accordingly in autumn, 1857, these four young men met together for prayer in a small schoolhouse near the village of Kells, in the parish of Connor, every Friday evening.
By this time the great and mighty working of the Spirit, in 1857, in the United States, had become known, and Mr. James McQuilkin said to himself, “Why may not we have such a blessed work here, seeing that God did such great things for Mr. Müller, simply in answer to prayer.” On January 1, 1858, the Lord gave them the first remarkable answer to prayer in the conversion of a farm servant. He was taken into the number, and thus there were five who gave themselves to prayer. Shortly after, another young man, about 20 years old, was converted; there were now six. This greatly encouraged the other three who first had met with Mr. James McQuilkin. Others now were converted, who were also taken into the number; but only believers were admitted to these fellowship meetings, in which they read, prayed, and offered to each other a few thoughts from the Scriptures.
These meetings and others for the preaching of the gospel were held in the parish of Connor, Antrim, N. Ireland. Up to this time all was going on most quietly, though many souls were converted. There were no physical prostrations, as afterwards. About Christmas, 1858, a young man from Ahoghill, who had come to live at Connor, and who had been converted through this little company of believers, went to see his friends at Ahoghill, and spoke to them about their own souls, and the work of God at Connor. His friends desired to see some of these converts.
Accordingly Mr. James McQuilkin, with two of the first who met for prayer, went on February 2, 1859, and held a meeting at Ahoghill in one of the Presbyterian churches. Some believed, some mocked, and others thought there was a great deal of presumption in these young converts; yet many wished to have another meeting. This was held by the same three young men on February 16, 1859; and now the Spirit of God began to work, and to work mightily. Souls were converted, and from that time conversions multiplied rapidly. Some of these converts went to other places, and carried the spiritual fire, so to speak, with them. The blessed work of the Spirit of God spread in many places.
Such was the beginning of that mighty work of the Holy Spirit, which has led to the conversion of hundreds of thousands. Some of my readers will remember how in 1859 this fire was kindled in England, Wales and Scotland; how it spread through Ireland, England, Wales and Scotland; how the continent of Europe was more or less partaking of this mighty working of the Holy Spirit; how it led thousands to give themselves to the work of evangelists; and how up to the year 1874 not only the effects of this work, first begun in Ireland, are felt, but that still more or less this blessed work is going on in Europe generally.
It is almost needless to add, that in no degree is the honour due to the instruments, but to the Holy Spirit alone; yet these facts are recorded in order that it may be seen what delights God has in answering abundantly the believing prayer of His children.
Narrative of the Lord’s Dealings with George Muller, Vol. III
From the December 1866 Sword and Trowel
THE word "revival" is as familiar in our mouths as a household word. We are constantly speaking about and praying for a "revival;" would it not be as well to know what we mean by it? Of the Samaritans our Lord said, "Ye worship ye know not what," let him not have to say to us, "Ye know not what ye ask." The word "revive" wears its meaning upon its forehead; it is from the Latin, and may be interpreted thus—to live again, to receive again a life which has almost expired; to rekindle into a flame the vital spark which was nearly extinguished.
When a person has been dragged out of a pond nearly drowned, the bystanders are afraid that he is dead, and are anxious to ascertain if life still lingers. The proper means are used to restore animation; the body is rubbed, stimulants are administered, and if by God's providence life still tarries in the poor clay, the rescued man opens his eyes, sits up, and speaks, and those around him rejoice that he has revived. A young girl is in a fainting fit, but after a while she returns to consciousness, and we say, "she revives." The flickering lamp of life in dying men suddenly flames up with unusual brightness at intervals, and those who are watching around the sick bed say of the patient, "he revives."
In these days, when the dead are not miraculously restored, we do not expect to see the revival of a person who is totally dead, and we could not speak of the re-vival of a thing which never lived before. It is clear that the, term "revival" can only be applied to a living soul, or to that which once lived. To be revived is a blessing which can only be enjoyed by those who have some degree of life. Those who have no spiritual life are not, and cannot be, in the strictest sense of the term, the subjects of a revival. Many blessings may come to the unconverted in consequence of a revival among Christians, but the revival itself has to do only with those who already possess spiritual life. There must be vitality in some degree before there can be a quickening of vitality, or, in other words, a revival.
A true revival is to be looked for in the church of God. Only in the river of gracious life can the pearl of revival be found. It has been said that a revival must begin with God's people; this is very true, but it is not all the truth, for the revival itself must end as well as begin there. The results of the revival will extend to the outside world, but the revival, strictly speaking, must be within the circle of life, and must therefore essentially be enjoyed by the possessors of vital godliness, and by them only. Is not this quite a different view of revival from that; which is common in society; but is it not manifestly the correct one?
It is a sorrowful fact that many who are spiritually alive greatly need reviving. It is sorrowful because it is a proof of the existence of much spiritual evil. A man in sound health with every part of his body in a vigorous condition does not need reviving. He requires daily sustenance, but reviving would be quite out of place. If he has not yet attained maturity growth will be most desirable, but a hale hearty young man wants no reviving, it would be thrown away upon him. Who thinks of reviving the noonday sun, the ocean at its flood, or the year at its prime? The tree planted by the rivers of water loaded with fruit needs not excite our anxiety for its revival, for its fruitfulness and beauty charm every one. Such should be the constant condition of the sons of God. Feeding and lying down in green pastures and led by the still waters they ought not always to be crying, "my leanness, my leanness, woe unto me." Sustained by gracious promises and enriched out of the fullness which God has treasured up in his dear Son, their souls should prosper and be in health, and their piety ought to need no reviving. They should aspire to a higher blessing, a richer mercy, than a mere revival. They have the nether springs already; they should earnestly cover the upper springs. They should be asking for growth in grace, for increase of strength, for greater success; they should have out-climbed and out-soared the period in which they need to be constantly crying, "Wilt thou not revive us again?" For a church to be constantly needing revival is the indication of much sin, for if it were sound before the Lord it would remain in the condition into which a revival would uplift its members. A church should be a camp of soldiers, not an hospital of invalids. But there is exceedingly much difference between what ought be and what is, and consequently many of God's people are in so sad a state that the very fittest prayer for them is for revival. Some Christians are, spiritually, but barely alive. When a man has been let down into a vat or into a well full of bad air, yea do not wonder when he is drawn up again that he is half-dead, and urgently requires to be revived. Some Christians—to their shame be it spoken!—descend into such worldly company, not upon such unhallowed principles, and become so carnal, that when they are drawn up by God's grace from their backsliding position they want reviving, and even need that their spiritual breath should as it were be breathed into their nostrils afresh by God's Spirit.
When a man starves himself, continuing for a long time without food, when he is day after day without a morsel of bread between his lips, we do not marvel that the surgeon, finding him in extremities, says, "This man has weakened his system, he is too low, and wants reviving." Of course he does, for he has brought himself by low diet into a state of weakness. Are there not hundreds of Christians—shame that it should be so!—who live day after day without feeding upon Bible truth? shall it be added without real spiritual communion with God? they do not even attend the week-night services, and they are indifferent hearers on the Lord's day. Is it remarkable that they want reviving? Is not the fact that they do so greatly need it most dishonorable to themselves and distressing to their truly spiritual brethren?
There is, a condition of mind which is even more sad than either of the two above mentioned; it is a thorough, gradual, but certain decline of all the spiritual powers. Look at that consumptive man whose lungs are decaying, and in whom the vital energy is ebbing; it is painful to see the faintness which suffuses him after exertion, and the general languor which overspreads his weakened frame. Far more sad to the spiritual eye is the spectacle presented by spiritual consumptives who in some quarters meet us on all hands. The eye of faith is dim and overcast, and seldom flashes with holy joy; the spiritual countenance is hollow and sunken with doubts and fears; the tongue of praise is partially paralyzed, and has little to say for Jesus; the spiritual frame is lethargic, and its movements are far from vigorous; the man is not anxious to be doing anything for Christ; a horrible numbness, a dreadful insensibility has come over him; he is in soul like a sluggard in the dog-days, who finds it hard labor to lie in bed and brush away the flies from his face. If these spiritual consumptives hate sin they do it so weakly that one might fear that they loved it still. If they love Jesus, it is so coldly that it is a point of question whether they love at all. If they sing Jehovah's praises it is very sadly, as if hallelujahs were dirges. If they mourn for sin it is only with half-broken hearts, and their grief is shallow and unpractical. If they hear the Word of God they are never stirred by it; enthusiasm is an unknown luxury. If they come across a precious truth they perceive nothing particular in it, any more than the cock in the fable, in the jewel which he found in the farmyard. They throw themselves back upon the enchanted couch of sloth, and while they are covered with rags they dream of riches and great increase of goods. It is a sad, sad thing when Christians fall into this state; then indeed they need reviving, and they must have it, for "the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint." Every lover of souls should intercede for declining professors that the visitations of God may restore them; that the Sun of righteousness may arise upon them with healing beneath his wings.
When revival comes to a people who are in the state thus briefly described, it simply brings them to the condition in which they ought always to have been; it quickens them, gives them new life, stirs the coals of the expiring fire, and puts heavenly breath into the languid lungs. The sickly soul which before was insensible, weak, and sorrowful, grows earnest, vigorous, and happy in the Lord. This is the immediate fruit of revival, and it becomes all of us who are believers to seek this blessing for backsliders, and for ourselves if we are declining in grace.
If revival is confined to living men we may further notice that it must result from the proclamation and the receiving of living truth. We speak of "vital godliness," and vital godliness must subsist upon vital truth. Vital godliness is not revived in Christians by mere excitement, by crowded meetings, by the stamping of the foot, or the knocking of the pulpit cushion, or the delirious bawlings of ignorant zeal; these are the stock in trade of revivals among dead souls, but to revive living saints other means are needed. Intense excitement may produce a revival of the animal, but how can it operate upon the spiritual, for the spiritual demands other food than that which stews in the fleshpots of mere carnal enthusiasm. The Holy Ghost must come into the living heart through living truth, and so bring nutriment and stimulant to the pining spirit, for so only can it be revived. This, then, leads us to the conclusion that if we are to obtain a revival we must go directly to the Holy Ghost for it, and not resort to the machinery of the professional revival-maker. The true vital spark of heavenly flame comes from the Holy Ghost, and the priests of the Lord must beware of strange fire. There is no spiritual vitality in anything except as the Holy Spirit is all in all in the work; and if our vitality has fallen near to zero, we can only have it renewed by him who first kindled it in us. We must go to the cross and look up to the dying Savior, and expect that the Holy Spirit will renew our faith and quicken all our graces. We must feed anew by faith upon the flesh and blood of the Lord Jesus, and so the Holy Ghost will recruit our strength and give us a revival. When men in India sicken in the plains, they climb the hills and breathe the more bracing air of the upper regions; we need to get nearer to God, and to bathe ourselves in heaven, and revived piety will be the sure result.
When a minister obtains this revival he preaches very differently from his former manner. It is very hard work to preach when the head aches and when the body is languid, but it is a much harder task when the soul is unfeeling and lifeless. It is sad, sad work—painfully, dolorously, horribly sad, but saddest of all if we do not feel it to be sad, if we can go on preaching and remain careless concerning the truths we preach, indifferent as to whether men are saved or lost! May God deliver every minister from abiding in such a state! Can there be a more wretched object than a man who preaches in God's name truths which he does not feel, and which he is conscious have never impressed his own heart? To be a mere sign-post, pointing out the road but never moving in it, is a lot against which every tame heart may plead night and day.
Should this revival be granted to deacons and elders what different men it would make of them! Lifeless, lukewarm church officers are of no more value to a church, than a crew of sailors would be to a vessel if they were all fainting and if in their berths when they were wanted to hoist the sails or lower the boats. Church officers who need reviving must be fearful dead weights upon a Christian community. It is incumbent upon all Christians to be thoroughly awake to the interests of Zion, but upon the leaders most of all. Special supplication should be made for beloved brethren in office that they may be full of the Holy Ghost.
Workers in the Sunday-schools, tract distributors, and other laborers for Christ, what different people they become when grace is vigorous from what they are when their life flickers in the socket! Like sickly vegetation in a cellar, all blanched and unhealthy, are workers who have little grace; like willows by the water-courses, like grease with reeds and rushes in well-watered valleys, are the servants of God who live in his presence. It is no wonder that our Lord said, "Because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth," for when the earnest Christian's heart is full of fire it is sickening to talk with lukewarm people. Have not warm-hearted lovers of Jesus felt when they have been discouraged by doubtful sluggish people, who could see a lion in the way, as if they could put on express speed and run over them? Every earnest minister has known times when he has felt cold hearts to be as intolerable as the drones in the hive are to the working bees. Careless professors are as much out of place as snow in harvest among truly living Christians. As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes are these sluggards. As well be bound to a dead body as forced into union with lifeless professors; they are a burden, a plague, and an abomination. You turn to one of these cold brethren after a graciously earnest prayer-meeting, and say with holy joy, "What a delightful meeting we have had!" "Yes," he says carelessly and deliberately, as if it were an effort to say so much, "there was a good number of people." How his frostbitten words grate on one's ear! You ask yourself, "Where has the man been? Is he not conscious that the Holy Ghost has been with us?" Does not our Lord speak of these people as being cast out of his mouth, just because he himself is altogether in earnest, and consequently, when he meets with lukewarm people he will not endure them? He says, "I would thou wert cold or hot," either utterly averse to good or in earnest concerning it. It is easy to see his meaning. If you heard an ungodly man blaspheme after an earnest meeting, you would lament it, but you would feel that from such a man it was not a thing to make you vexed, for he has only spoken after his kind, but when you meet with a child of God who is lukewarm, how can you stand that? It is sickening, and makes the inmost spirit feel the horrors of mental nausea.
While a true revival in its essence belongs only to God's people, it always brings with it a blessing for the other sheep who are not yet of the fold. If you drop a stone into a lake the ring widens continually, till the farthest corner of the lake feels the influence. Let the Lord revive a believer and very soon his family, his friends, his neighbors, receive a share of the benefit; for when a Christian is revived, he prays more fervently for sinners. Longing, loving prayer for sinners, is one of the marks of a revival in the renewed heart. Since the blessing is asked for sinners, the blessing comes from him who hears the prayers of his people; and thus the world gains by revival. Soon the revived Christian speaks concerning Jesus and the gospel; he sows good seed, and God's good seed is never lost, for he has said, "It shall not return unto me void." The good seed is sown in the furrows, and in some sinners' hearts God prepares the soil, so that the seed springs up in a glorious harvest. Thus by the zealous conversation of believers another door of mercy opens to men.
When Christians are revived they live more consistently, they make their homes more holy and more happy, and this leads the ungodly to envy them, and to enquire after their secret. Sinners by God's grace long to be like such cheerful happy saints; their mouths water to feast with them upon their hidden manna, and this is another blessing, for it leads men to seek the Savior. If an ungodly man steps into a congregation where all the saints are revived he does not go to sleep under the sermon. The minister will not let him do that, for the hearer perceives that the preacher feels what he is preaching, and has a right to be heard. This is a clear gain, for now the man listens with deep emotion; and above all, the Holy Spirit's power, which the preacher has received in answer to prayer comes upon the hearer's mind; he is convinced of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come, and Christians who are on the watch around him hasten to tell him of the Savior, and point him to the redeeming blood, so that though the revival, strictly speaking, is with the people of God, yet the result of it no man can limit. Brethren, let us seek a revival during the present month, that the year may close with showers of blessing, and that the new year may open with abundant benediction. Let us pledge ourselves to form a prayer-union, a sacred band of suppliants, and may God do unto us according to our faith.
"Blessed earnests thou hast given,
But in these we would not rest,
Blessings still with thee are hidden,
Pour them forth, and make us blest.
"Wake thy siren bering children, wake them,
Bid them to thy harvest go;
Blessings, O our Father, make them;
Round their steps let blessing flow.
"Let no hamlet be forgotten,
Let thy showers on all descend;
That in one loud blessed anthem,
Myriads may in triumph blend."
Date and place unknown
IT is good for us to draw nigh unto God in prayer. Our minds are grieved to see so little attention given to united prayer by many churches.
How can we expect a blessing if we are too idle to ask for it? How can we look for a Pentecost if we never meet with one another, in one place, to wait upon the Lord? Brethren, we shall never see much change for the better in our churches till the prayer meeting occupies a higher place in the esteem of Christians.
But now that we have come together, how shall we pray? Let us not degenerate into formality, or we shall be dead while we think we live. Let us not waiver through unbelief, or we shall pray in vain. Oh, for great faith with which to offer great prayers!
We have been mingling praise and prayer together as a delicious compound of spices, fit to be presented upon the altar of incense through Christ our Lord; may we not at this time offer some special far-reaching petition? It is suggested to me that we pray for a true and genuine revival of religion throughout the world.
I am glad of any signs of life, even if they should be feverish and transient, and I am slow to judge any well intended movement, but I am very fearful that many so called revivals in the long run wrought more harm than good. A species of religious gambling has fascinated many men, and given them a distaste for the sober business of true godliness.
But if I would nail down counterfeits upon the counter, I do not therefore undervalue true gold. Far from it. It is to be desired beyond measure that the Lord would send a real and lasting revival of spiritual life.
We need a work of the Holy Spirit of a supernatural kind, putting power into the preaching of the Word, inspiring all believers with heavenly energy, and solemnly affecting the hearts of the careless, so that they turn to God and live. We would not be drunk with the wine of carnal excitement, but we would be filled with the Spirit. We would behold the fire descending from heaven in answer to the effectual fervent prayers of righteous men. Can we not entreat the Lord our God to make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the people in this day of declension and vanity?
We want a revival of old-fashioned doctrine. I know not a single doctrine which is not at this hour studiously undermined by those who ought to be its defenders. There is not a truth that is precious to the soul which is not now denied by those whose profession it is to proclaim it. To me it is clear that we need a revival of old-fashioned gospel preaching like that of Whitefield and Wesley.
The Scriptures must be made the infallible foundation of all teaching; the ruin, redemption and regeneration of mankind must be set forth in unmistakable terms.
Urgently do we need a revival of personal godliness. This is, indeed, the secret of church prosperity. When individuals fall from their steadfastness, the church is tossed to and fro; when personal faith is steadfast, the church abides true to her Lord.
It is upon the truly godly and spiritual that the future of religion depends in the hand of God. Oh, for more truly holy men, quickened and filled with the Holy Spirit, consecrated to the Lord and sanctified by His truth.
Brethren, we must each one live if the church is to be alive; we must live unto God if we expect to see the pleasure of the Lord prospering in our hands. Sanctified men are the salt of society and the saviours of the race.
We deeply want a revival of domestic religion. The Christian family was the bulwark of godliness in the days of the puritans, but in these evil times hundreds of families of so-called Christians have no family worship, no restraint upon growing sons, and no wholesome instruction or discipline. How can we hope to see the kingdom of our Lord advance when His own disciples do not teach His gospel to their own children?
Oh, Christian men and women, be thorough in what you do and know and teach! Let your families be trained in the fear of God and be yourselves "holiness unto the Lord"; so shall you stand like a rock amid the surging waves of error and ungodliness which rage around us.
We want also a revival of vigorous, consecrated strength. I have pleaded for true piety; I now beg for one of the highest results of it. We need saints. We need gracious minds trained to a high form of spiritual life by much converse with God in solitude.
Saints acquire nobility from their constant resort to the place where the Lord meets with them. There they also acquire that power in prayer which we so greatly need. Oh, that we had more men like John Knox, whose prayers were more terrible to Queen Mary than 10,000 men! Oh, that we had more Elijahs by whose faith the windows of heavens should be shut or opened!
This power comes not by a sudden effort; it is the outcome of a life devoted to the God of Israel! If our life is all in public, it will be a frothy, vapoury ineffectual existence; but if we hold high converse with God in secret, we shall be mighty for good. He that is a prince with God will take high rank with men, after the true measure of nobility.
Beware of being a lean-to; endeavour to rest on your own walls of real faith in the Lord Jesus. May none of us fall into a mean, poverty-stricken dependence on man! We want among us believers like those solid, substantial family mansions which stand from generation to generation as landmarks of the country; no lath-and-plaster fabrics, but edifices solidly constructed to bear all weathers, and defy time itself.
Given a host of men who are steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, the glory of God's grace will be clearly manifested, not only in them, but in those round about them. The Lord send us a revival of consecrated strength, and heavenly energy!
Preach by your hands if you cannot preach by your tongues. When our church members show the fruits of true godliness, we shall soon have inquiries for the tree which bears such a crop.
Oh the coming together of the saints is the first part of Pentecost, and the ingathering of sinners is the second. It began with "only a prayer meeting", but it ended with a grand baptism of thousands of converts. Oh that the prayers of believers may act as lode stones to sinners! Oh that every gathering of faithful men might be a lure to attract others to Jesus! May many souls fly to Him because they see others speeding in that direction.
"Lord, we turn from these poor foolish procrastinators to thyself, and we plead for them with thine all-wise and gracious spirit! Lord, turn them and they shall be turned! By their conversion, pray that a true revival has commenced tonight! Let it spread through all our households, and then run from church to church till the whole of christendom shall be ablaze with a heaven-descended fire!"
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, March 28th, 1858, by the
REV. C. H. Spurgeon
at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens
"The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God."—Isaiah 52:10.
WHEN the heroesof old prepared for the fight they put on their armour; but when God prepares for battle he makes bare his arm. Man has to look two ways—to his own defence, as well as to the offence of his enemy; God hath but one direction in which to cast his eye—the overthrow of his foeman, and he disregards all measures of defence, and scorns all armour. He makes bare his arm in the sight of all the people. When men would do their work in earnest, too, they sometimes strip themselves, like that warrior of old, who, when he went to battle with the Turks, would never fight them except with the bare arm. "Such things as they," said he, "I need not fear; they have more reason to fear my bare arm than I their scimitar." Men feel that they are prepared for a work when they have cast away their cumbrous garments. And so the prophet represents the Lord as laying aside for awhile the garments of his dignity, and making bare his arm, that he may do his work in earnest, and accomplish his purpose for the establishment of his church.
Now, leaving the figure, which is a very great one, I would remind you that its meaning is fully carried out, whenever God is pleased to send a great revival of religion. My heart is glad within me this day, for I am the bearer of good tidings. My soul has been made exceedingly full of happiness, by the tidings of a great revival of religion throughout the United States. Some hundred years, or more, ago, it pleased the Lord to send one of the most marvellous religious awakenings that was ever known; the whole of the United States seemed shaken from end to end with enthusiasm for hearing the Word of God; and now, after the lapse of a century, the like has occurred again. The monetary pressure has at length departed; but it has left behind it the wreck of many mighty fortunes. Many men, who were once princes, have now become beggars, and in America. more than in England, men have learned the instability of all human things. The minds of men, thus weaned from the earth by terrible and unexpected panic, seem prepared to receive tidings from a better land, and to turn their exertions in a heavenly direction. You will be told by any one—who is conversant with the present state of America, that wherever you go there are the most remarkable signs that religion is progressing with majestic strides.
The great revival, as it is now called, has become the common market talk of merchants; it is the theme of every newspaper; even the secular press remark it, for it has become so astonishing that all ranks and classes of men seem to have been affected by it. Apparently without any cause whatever, fear has taken hold of the hearts of men; a thrill seems to be shot through every breast at once; and it is affirmed by men of good repute, that there are, at this time, towns in New England where you could not, even if you searched, find one solitary unconverted person. So marvellous—I had almost said, so miraculous—has been the sudden and instantaneous spread of religion throughout the great empire, that it is scarcely possible for us to believe the half of it, even though it should be told us. Now, as you are aware, I have at all times been peculiarly jealous and suspicious of revivals. Whenever I see a man who is called a revivalist, I always set him down for a cipher. I would scorn the taking of such a title as that to myself. If God pleases to make use of a man for the promoting of a revival, well and good; but for any man to assume the title and office of a revivalist, and go about the country, believing that wherever he goes he is the vessel of mercy appointed to convey a revival of religion, is, I think, an assumption far too arrogant for any man who has the slightest degree of modesty. And again, there are a large number of revivals, which occur every now and then in our towns, and sometimes in our city, which I believe to be spurious and worthless.
I have heard of the people crowding in the morning, the afternoon, and the evening, to hear some noted revivalist, and under his preaching some have screamed, have shrieked, have fallen down on the floor, have rolled themselves in convulsions, and afterwards, when he has set a form for penitents, employing one or two decoy ducks to run out from the rest and make a confession of sin, hundreds have come forward, impressed by that one sermon, and declared that they were, there and then, turned from the error of their ways; and it was only last week I saw a record of a certain place, in our own country, giving an account, that on such a day, under the preaching of the Rev. Mr. So-and-so, seventeen persons were thoroughly sanctified, twenty-eight were convinced of sin, and twenty-nine received the blessing of justification. Then comes the next day, so many more; the following day, so many more; and afterwards they are all cast up together, making a grand total of some hundreds, who have been blessed during three services, under the ministry of Mr. So-and-so. All that I call farce! There may be something very good in it; but the outside looks to me to be so rotten, that I should scarcely trust myself to think that the good within comes to any very great amount. When people go to work to calculate so exactly by arithmetic, it always strikes me they have mistaken what they are at. We may easily say that so many were added to the church on a certain occasion, but to take a separate census of the convinced, the justified, and the sanctified, is absurd. You will, therefore, be surprised at finding me speaking of revival; but you will, perhaps, not be quite so surprised when I endeavour to explain what I mean by an earnest and intense desire, which I feel in my heart, that God would be pleased to send throughout this country a revival like that which has just commenced in America, and which, we trust, will long continue there.
I should endeavour to mark, in the first place, the cause of every revival of true religion; secondly,the consequences of such revival; then, thirdly, I shall give a caution or two, that we make not mistakes in this matter, and conceive that to be God's work which is only man's; and then I shall conclude by making an exhortation to all my brethren in the faith of Christ, to labour and pray for a revival of religion in the midst of our churches.
I. First, then, THE CAUSE: OF A TRUE REVIVAL. The mere worldly man does not understand a revival; he cannot make it out. Why is it, that a sudden fit of godliness, as he would call it, a kind of sacred epidemic, should seize upon a mass of people all at once? What can be the cause of it? It frequently occurs in the absence of all great evangelists; it cannot be traced to any particular means. There have been no special agencies used in order to bring it about—no machinery supplied, no societies established; and yet it has come, just like a heavenly hurricane, sweeping everything before it. It has rushed across the land, and of it men have said, "The wind bloweth, where it listeth; we hear the sound thereof, but we cannot tell whence it cometh or whither it goeth." What is then, the cause? Our answer is, If a revival be true and real, it is caused by the Holy Spirit, and by him alone. When Peter stood up on the day of Pentecost, and preached that memorable sermon by which three thousand persons were converted, can we attribute the remarkable success of his ministry to anything else but the ministry of the Holy Spirit? I read the notes of Peter's discourse; it was certainly very simple; it was a plain narration of facts; it was certainly very bold, very cutting, and pointed, and personal, for he did not blush to tell them that they had put to death the Lord of life and glory, and were guilty of his blood; but on the mere surface of the thing, I should be apt to say that I had read many a sermon far more likely to be effective than Peter's; and I believe there have been many preachers who have lived, whose sermons when read would have been far more notable and far more regarded, at least by the critic, than the sermon of Peter. It seems to have been exceedingly simple and suitable, and extremely earnest, but none of these things are so eminently remarkable as to be the cause of such extraordinary success.
What, then, was the reason? And we reply, once more, the same word which the Holy Spirit blesses to the conversion of one, he might, if he pleased, bless to the conversion of a thousand: and I am persuaded that the meanest preacher in Christendom might come into this pulpit this morning, and preach the most simple sermon, in the most uneducated style, and the Holy Spirit, if so he willed it, might bless that sermon to the conversion of every man, woman, and child, within this place: for his arm is not shortened, his power is not straitened, and as long as he is Omnipotent, it is ours to believe that he can do whatsoever seemeth him good. Do not imagine, when you hear of a sermon being made useful, that it was the sermon itself that did the work. Conceive not, because a certain preacher may have been greatly blessed in the conversion of souls, that there is anything in the preacher. God forbid that any preacher should arrogate such a thing to himself. Any other preacher, blessed in the same manner, would be as useful, and any other sermon, provided it be truthful and earnest, might be as much blessed as that particular sermon which has become notable by reason of the multitudes who by it have been brought to Christ. The Spirit of God, when he pleaseth, blows upon the sons of men. He finds a people hard and careless; he casts a desire into their minds—he sows it broadcast in their spirits—a thought towards the house of the Lord, and straightway, they know not why, they flock in multitudes to hear the Word preached. He casts the seed, the same seed, into the preacher's mind, and he knows not how, but he feels more earnest than he did before. When he goes to his pulpit, he goes to it as to a solemn sacrifice, and there he preaches, believing that great things will be the effect of his ministry. The time of prayer cometh round; Christians are found meeting together in large numbers; they cannot tell what it is that influences them, but they feel they must go up to the house of the Lord to pray. There are earnest prayers lifted up; there are earnest sermons preached, and there are earnest hearers. Then God the Almighty One is pleased to, soften hard hearts, and subdue the stout-hearted, and bring them to know the truth. The only real cause is, his Spirit working in the minds of men.
But while this is the only actual cause, yet there are instrumental causes; and the main instrumental cause of a great revival must be the bold, faithful, fearless preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus. Why, brethren, we want every now and then a reformation. One reformation will never serve the church; she needs continually to be wound up, and set a-going afresh; for her works run down, and she does not act as she used to do. The bold, bald doctrines that Luther brought out, began to be a little modified, until layer after layer was deposited upon them, and at last the old rocky truth was covered up, and there grew upon the superficial subsoil an abundance of green and flowery errors, that looked fair and beautiful, but were in no way whatever related to the truth, except as they were the products of its decay. Then there came bold men who brought the truth out again, and said, "Clear away this rubbish; let the blast light upon these deceitful beauties; we want them not; bring out the old truth once more!" And it came out. But the tendency of the church perpetually is, to be covering up its own naked simplicity, forgetting that the truth is never so beautiful as when it stands in its own unadorned, God-given glory. And now, at this time, we want to have the old truths restored to their places. The subtleties and the refinements of the preacher must be laid aside. We must give up the grand distinctions of the school-men, and all the lettered technicalities of men who have studied theology as a system, but have not felt the power of it in their hearts; and when the good old truth is once more preached by men whose lips are touched as with a live coal from off the altar, this shall be the instrument, in the hand of the Spirit, for bringing about a great and thorough revival of religion in the land.
But added to this, there must be the earnest prayers of the church. All in vain the most indefatigable ministry, unless the church waters the seed sown, with her abundant tears. Every revival has been commenced and attended by a large amount of prayer. In the city of New York at the present moment, there is not, I believe, one single hour of the day, wherein Christians are not gathered together for prayer. One church opens its doors from five o'clock till six, for prayer; another church opens from six to seven, and summons its praying men to offer the sacrifice of supplication. Six o'clock is past, and men are gone to their labour. Another class find it then convenient—such as those, perhaps, who go to business at eight or nine-and from seven to eight there is another prayer meeting. From eight to nine there is another, in another part of the city, and what is most marvellous, at high noon, from twelve to one, in the midst of the city of New York, there is held a prayer meeting in a large room, which is crammed to the doors every day, with hundreds standing outside. This prayer meeting is made up of merchants of the city, who can spare a quarter of an hour to go in and say a word of prayer, and then leave again; and then a fresh company come in to fill up the ranks, so that it is supposed that many hundreds assemble in that one place for prayer during the appointed hour. This is the explanation of the revival. If this were done in London-if we for once would outvie old Rome, who kept her monks in her sanctuaries, always at prayer, both by night and by day,—if we together could keep up one golden chain of prayer, link after link of holy brotherhood being joined together in supplication, then might we expect an abundant outpouring of the Divine Spirit from the Lord our God. The Holy Spirit, as the actual agent—the Word preached, and the prayers of the people, as the instruments—and we have thus explained the cause of a true revival of religion.
II. But now what are THE CONSEQUENCES OF A REVIVAL OF RELIGION? Why, the consequences are everything that our hearts could desire for the church's good. When the revival of religion comes into a nation, the minister begins to be warmed. It is said that in America the most sleepy preachers have begun to wake up; they have warmed themselves at the general fire, and men who could not preach without notes, and could not preach with them to any purpose at all, have found it in their hearts to speak right out, and speak with all their might to the people. When there comes a revival, the minister all of a sudden finds that the usual forms and conventionalities of the pulpit are not exactly suitable to the times. He breaks through one hedge; then he finds himself in an awkward position, and he has to break through another. He finds himself perhaps on a Sunday morning, though a Doctor of Divinity, actually telling an anecdote—lowering the dignity of the pulpit by actually using a simile or metaphor—sometimes perhaps accidentally making his people smile, and what is also a great sin in these solid theologians, now and then dropping a tear. He does not exactly know how it is, but the people catch up his words. "I must have something good for them," he says. He just burns that old lot of sermons; or he puts them under the bed, and gets some new ones, or gets none at all, but just gets his text, and begins to cry, "Men and brethren, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved." The old deacons say, "What is the matter with our minister?" The old ladies, who have heard him for many years, and slept in the front of the gallery so regularly, begin to rouse, and say, "I wonder what has happened to him; how can it be?" Why, he preaches like a man on fire. The tear runs over at his eye; his soul is full of love for souls." They cannot make it out; they have often said he was dull and dreary and drowsy. How is it all this is changed? Why, it is the revival. The revival has touched the minister; the sun, shining so brightly, has melted some of the snow on the mountain-top, and it is running down in fertilizing streams, to bless the valleys; and the people down below are refreshed by the ministrations of the man of God who has awakened himself up from his sleep, and finds himself, like another Elijah, made strong for forty days of labour. Well, then, directly after that the revival begins to touch the people at large. The congregation was once numbered by the empty seats, rather than by the full ones. But on a sudden—the minister does not understand it—he finds the people coming to hear him. He never was popular, never hoped to be. All at once he wakes up and finds himself famous, so far as a large congregation can make him so. There are the people, and how they listen! They are all awake, all in earnest; they lean their heads forward, they put their hands to their ears. His voice is feeble; they try to help him; they are doing anything so that they may hear the Word of Life. And then the members of the church open their eyes and see the chapel full, and they say, "How has this come about? We ought to pray." A prayer-meeting is summoned. There had been five or six in the vestry: now there are five or six hundred, and they turn into the chapel. And Oh! how they pray! That old stager, who used to pray for twenty minutes, finds it now convenient to confine himself to five; and that good old man, who always used to repeat the same form of prayer when he stood up, and talked about the horse that rushed into the battle, and the oil from vessel to vessel, and all that, leaves all these things at home, and just prays, "O Lord, save sinners, for Jesus Christ's sake." And there are sobs and groans heard in the prayer meetings. It is evident that not one, but all, are praying; the whole mass seems moved to supplication. How is this again? Why, it Is just the effect of the revival, for when the revival truly comes, the minister and the congregation and the church will receive good by it.
But it does not end here. The members of the church grow more solemn, more serious. Family duties are better attended to; the home circle is brought under better culture. Those who could not spare time for family prayer, find they can do so now; those who had no opportunity for teaching their children, now dare not go a day without doing it; for they hear that there are children converted in the Sunday school. There are twice as many in the Sunday school now as there used to be; and, what is wonderful, the little children meet together to pray; their little hearts are touched, and many of them show signs of a work of grace begun; and fathers and mothers think they must try what they can do for their families: if God is blessing little children, why should he not bless theirs?
And then, when you see the members of the church going up to the house of God, you mark with what a steady and sober air they go. Perhaps they talk on the way, but they talk of Jesus; and if they whisper together at the gates of the sanctuary, it is no longer idle gossip; it is no remark about, "how do you like the preacher? What did you think of him? Did you notice So-and-so?" Oh, no! "I pray the Lord that he might bless the word of his servant, that he might send an unction from on high, that the dying flame may be kindled, and that where there is life, it may be promoted and strengthened, and receive fresh vigour." This is their whole conversation.
And then comes the great result. There is an inquirers' meeting held: the good brother who presides over it is astonished; he never saw so many coming in his life before. "Why," says he, "there is a hundred, at least, come to confess what the Lord has done for their souls! Here are fifty come all at once to say that under such a sermon they were brought to the knowledge of the truth. Who hath begotten me these? How hath it come about? How can it be? Is not the Lord a great God that hath wrought such a work as this?" And then the converts who are thus brought into the church, if the revival continues, are very earnest ones. You never saw such a people. The outsiders call them fanatics. It is a blessed fanaticism. Others say, they are nothing but enthusiasts. It is a heavenly enthusiasm. Everything that is done is done with such spirit. If they sing, it is like the crashing thunder; if they pray, it is like the swift, sharp flash of lightning, lighting up the darkness of the cold hearted, and making them for a moment feel that there is something in prayer. When the minister preaches, he preaches like a Boanerges, and when the church is gathered together, it is with a hearty good will. When they give, they give with enlarged liberality; when they visit the sick, they do it with gentleness, meekness, and love. Everything is done with a single eye to God's glory; not of men, but by the power of God. Oh! that we might see such a revival as this!
But, blessed be God, it does not end here. The revival of the church then touches the rest of society. Men, who do not come forward and profess religion, are more punctual in attending the means of grace. Men that used to swear, give it up; they find it is not suitable for the times. Men that profaned the Sabbath, and that despised God, find it will not do; they give it all up. Times get changed; morality prevails; the lower ranks are affected. They buy a sermon where they used to buy some penny tract of nonsense. The higher orders are also touched; they too are brought to hear the word. Her ladyship, in her carriage, who never would have thought of going to so mean a place as a conventicle, does not now care where she goes so long as she is blessed. She wants to hear the truth; and a drayman pulls his horses up by the side of her ladyship's pair of grays, and they both go in and bend together before the throne of sovereign grace. All classes are affected. Even the senate feels it; the statesman himself is surprised at it, and wonders what all these things mean. Even the monarch on the throne feels she has become the monarch of a people better than she knew before, and that God is doing something in her realms past all her thought—that a great King is swaying a better sceptre and exerting a better influence than even her excellent example. Nor does it even end there. Heaven is filled. One by one the converts die, and heaven gets fuller; the harps of heaven are louder, the songs of angels are inspired with new melody, for they rejoice to see the sons of men prostrate before the throne. The universe is made glad: it is God's own summer; it is the universal spring. The time of the singing of birds is come; the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. Oh! that God might send us such a revival of religion as this!
I thank God, that we, as a people, have had great cause to thank him that we had great measure of revival of this kind, but nothing compared with what we desire. I have heard of revivals, where twenties, and thirties, and forties, and fifties, were gathered in; but, tell it to the honour of our God, there is never a month passes, but our baptismal pool is opened, and never a communion Sabbath, but we receive many into the fold of the Lord. As many as three hundred in one year have we added to the church, and still the cry is, "They come! they come!" and were but our new sanctuary built, I am persuaded, that in six months from its erection, instead of having twelve hundred members, I should be the pastor of at least two thousand. For I believe there are many of you who attend this hall in the morning, who find it quite impossible to crowd into the chapel in the evening, and are only waiting and anxious, that you may tell to me and to the brethren, what God has done for your souls. This I know, the Lord hath been very gracious to us, and to him be the honour of it. But we want more. Our souls are greedy—covetous for God. Oh! that we might be all converted!
And we have to thank God, too, that it has not ended there; for we had last Sabbath evening, Exeter Hall full, Westminster Abbey full, and this place full too; and though we may not altogether agree in sentiment with all that preach, yet God bless them all! So long as Christ is preached, I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice; and I would to God that every large building in London were crowded too, and that every man who preached the Word were followed by tens of thousands, who would hear the truth. May that day soon come! and there is one heart which will rejoice in such a day more than any of you—a heart that shall always beat the highest when it sees God glorified, though our own honour should decrease.
III. Now we shall have to turn to the third point, which was A CAUTION. When Christmas Evans preached in Wales, during a time of revival, he used to make the people dance; the congregation were so excited under his ministry that they positively danced. Now I do not believe that dancing was the work of the Spirit. Their being stirred in their hearts might be the Holy Spirit's work, but the Holy Spirit does not care to make people dance under sermons; no good comes of it. Now and then among our Methodist friends there is a great break out, and we hear of a young woman in the middle of a sermon getting on the top of a form and turning round and round in ecstacy, till she falls down in a fainting fit, and they cry, "Glory be to God." Now we do not believe that is the work of the Spirit; we believe it is ridiculous nonsense, and nothing more. In the old revivals in America a hundred years ago, commonly called "the great awakening," there were many strange things, such as continual shrieks and screams, and knockings, and twitchings, under the services. We cannot call that the work of the Spirit. Even the great Whitfield's revival at Cambuslang, one of the greatest and most remarkable revivals that were ever known, was attended by some things that we cannot but regard as superstitious wonders. People were so excited, that they did not know what they did. Now, if in any revival you see any of these strange contortions of the body, always distinguish between things that differ. The Holy Spirit's work is with the mind, not with the body in that way. It is not the will of God that such things should disgrace the proceedings. I believe that such things are the result of Satanic malice. The devil sees that there is a great deal of good doing; "Now," says he, "I'll spoil it all. I'll put my hoof in there, and do a world of mischief. There are souls being converted; I will let them get so excited that they will do ludicrous things, and then it will all be brought into contempt." Now, if you see any of these strange things arising look out. There is that old Apollyon busy, trying to mar the work. Put such vagaries down as soon as you can, for where the Spirit works, he never works against his own precept, and his precept is, "Let all things be done decently and in order." It is neither decent nor orderly for people to dance under the sermon, nor howl, nor scream, while the gospel is being preached to them, and therefore it is not 'the Spirit's work at all, but mere human excitement.
And again, remember that you must always distinguish between man and men in the work of revival. While, during a revival of religion, a very large number of people will be really converted, there will be a very considerable portion who will be merely excited with animal excitement, and whose conversion will not be genuine. Always expect that, and do not be surprised if you see it. It is but a law of the mind that men should imitate one another, and it seems but reasonable, that when one person is truly converted, there should be a kind of desire to imitate it in another, who yet is not a possessor of true and sovereign grace. Be not discouraged, then, if you should meet with this in the midst of a revival. It is no proof that it is not a true revival; it is only a proof that it is not true in that particular case.
I must say, once more, that if God should send us a great revival of religion, it will be our duty not to relax the bonds of discipline. Some churches, when they increase very largely, are apt to take people into their number by wholesale, without due and proper examination. We ought to be just as strict in the paroxysms of a revival as in the cooler times of a gradual increase, and if the Lord sends his Spirit like a hurricane, it is ours to deal with skill with the sails, lest the hurricane should wreck us by driving us upon some fell rock that may do us serious injury. Take care, ye that are officers in the church, when ye see the people stirred up, that ye exercise still a holy caution, lest the church become lowered in its standard of piety by the admission of persons not truly saved.
IV. With these words of caution, I shall now gather up my strength, and with all my might labour to stir you up to seek of God a great revival of religion throughout the length and breadth of this land.
Men, brethren and fathers, the Lord God hath sent us a blessing. One blessing is the earnest of many. Drops precede the April showers. The mercies which he has already bestowed upon us are but the forerunners and the preludes of something greater and better yet to come. He has given us the former, let us seek of him the latter rain, that his grace may be multiplied among us, and his glory may be increased. There are some of you to whom I address myself this morning who stand in the way of any revival of religion. I would affectionately admonish you, and beseech you, not to impede the Lord's own work. There be some of you, perhaps, here present to-day who are not consistent in your living. And yet you are professors of religion; you take the sacramental cup into your hand and drink its sacred wine, but still you live as worldlings live, and are as carnal and as covetous as they. Oh, my brother, you are a serious drawback to the church's increase. God will never bless an unholy people, and in proportion to our unholiness, he will withhold the blessing from us. Tell me of a church that is inconsistent, you shall tell me of a church that is unblest. God will first sweep the house before be will come to dwell in it. He will have his church pure before he will bless it with all the blessings of his grace. Remember that, ye inconsistent ones, and turn unto God, and ask to be rendered holy. There are others of you that are so cold-hearted, that you stand in the way of all progress. You are a skid upon the wheels of the church. It cannot move for you. If we would be earnest, you put your cold band on everything that is bold and daring. You are not prudent and zealous; if you were so, we would bless God for giving you that prudence, which is a jewel for which we ought ever to thank God, if we have a prudent man among us. But there are some of you to whom I allude, who are prudent, but you are cold. You have no earnestness, you do not labour for Christ, you do not serve him with all your strength. And there are others of you who are imprudent enough to push others on, but never go forward yourselves. O ye Laodiceans, ye that are neither hot nor cold, remember what the Lord hath said of you—"So then, because thou art neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." And so will he do with you. Take heed, take heed, you are not only hurting yourselves, but you are injuring the church. And then there are others of you who are such sticklers for order, so given to everything that has been, that you do not care for any revival, for fear we should hurt you. You would not have the church repaired, lest we should touch one piece of the venerable moss that coats it. You would not cleanse your own garment, because there is ancient dirt upon it. You think that because a thing is ancient, therefore it must be venerable. You are lovers of the antique. You would not have a road mended, because your grandfather drove his waggon along the rut that is there. "Let it always be there," you say; "Let it always be knee-deep." Did not your grandfather go through it when it was knee deep with mud, and why should not you do the same? It was good enough for him, and it is good enough for you. You always have taken an easy seat in the chapel. You never saw a revival; you do not want to see it. You believe it is all nonsense, and that it is not to be desired. You look back; you find no precedent for it. Doctor So-and-so did not talk about it. Your venerable minister who is dead did not talk so, you say; therefore it is not needed. We need not tell you it is scriptural; that you do not care for. It is not orderly, you say. We need not tell you the thing is right; you care more about the thing being ancient than being good. Ah, you will have to get out of the way now, it isn't any good; you may try to stop us, but we will run over you if you do not get out of the way. With a little warning we shall have to run over your prejudices and incur your anger. But your prejudices must not, cannot, restrain us. The chain may be never so rusty with age, and ever so stamped with authority, the prisoner is always happy to break it, and however your fetters may shackle us, we will dash them in pieces if they stand in the way of the progress of the kingdom of Christ.
Having thus spoken to those who hinder, I want to speak to you who love Jesus with all your hearts, and want to promote it. Dear friends, I beseech you remember that men are dying around you by thousands. Will you let your eye follow them into the world of shades? Myriads of them die without God, without Christ, without hope. My brother, does not their fearful fate awake your sympathy. You believe, from Scriptural warrant, that those who die without faith go to that place where "their worm dieth not and their fire is not quenched." Believing this, is not your soul stirred within you in pity for their fate? Look around you to-day. You see a vast host gathered together, professedly for the service of God. You know also how many there are here who fear him not, but are strangers to themselves and strangers to the cross. What! Do you know yourself what a solemn thing it is to be under the curse, and will you not pray and labour for those around you that are under the curse to-day? Remember your Master's cross. He died for sinners; will not you weep for them?
Did he give his whole life for them, and will not you stir up your life to wrestle with God, that his purposes may be accomplished on their behalf? You have unconverted children—do you not want them saved? You have brothers, husbands, wives, fathers, that are this day in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity; do you not want a revival, even if it were only for their sakes? Behold, how much of robbery, of murder, of crime, stains this poor land. Do you not want a revival of religion, if it were merely for quenching the flames of crime? See how God's name every day is blasphemed. Mark how, this day, trades are carried on, as if it were man's day, and not God's. Mark how multitudes are going the downward course, merry on their way to destruction. Do you not feel for them? Are your hearts hard and stolid? Has your soul become steeled? Has it become frozen like an iceberg? O sun of righteousness arise, and melt the icy heart, and make us all feel how fearful it is for immortal souls to perish; for men to be hurried into eternity without God, and without hope. Oh, will you not now, from this time forth, begin to pray that God may send forth his Word and save them, that his own name may be glorified?
As for you that fear not God, see how much ado we are making about you. Your souls are worth more than you think for. O that ye would believe in Christ, to the salvation of your souls!
Delivered on Sunday October 30th, 1864 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington
"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"—Amos 3:3.
THE BELIEVER IS AGREED with God.
The war between the most holy God and his offending creatures is over in the case of bloodwashed sinners; not suspended by a truce, but ended for ever by a peace which passeth all understanding. The believer is fully agreed with God concerning the divine law: he confesses that "the law is holy, and just, and good": he would not have it altered if he could. He rejoices in the way of God's testimonies more than in all riches; yea, in his precepts doth he take delight, praying evermore, "O let me not wander from thy commandments." He joyfully acknowledges that the Judge of all the earth rules mankind by a law in which there is no injustice, by statutes which subserve the best interests of the governed, while they secure the glory of the great Governor. The Christian "consents unto the law that it is good." He is agreed with God, moreover, that a breach of the law should be visited with penalty: he would be unwilling that sin should go unpunished. He feels that the sanctions of law, however terrible, are absolutely necessary, and required to be severe. Above all, he is agreed with God in that great atonement for sin which God himself has ordained and provided in the person of Jesus Christ. Gazing upon the matchless sacrifice of Calvary, while the Lord is content, the believer is satisfied; where God finds satisfaction for his injured honour, the believer finds the noblest object of admiration and adoration. Thou lovest Golgotha, O thou Judge of the earth; and thy people are perfectly agreed with thee in this. Henceforth the Christian is at one with God in his love of holiness: he delights in the law of God after the inward man. Sin, which is abhorrent to the Most High, is obnoxious to the Christian in that measure in which he is enlightened and conformed unto the image of Christ. Great God, thou hast unsheathed thy sword, and bathed it in heaven, for the destruction of all evil, and thy redeemed are on thy side, abhorring that which is evil, and resolving to fight under thy command till the last sin shall be cut off. Thou hast uplifted thy banner because of the truth, and around thy standard the soldiers of the cross are rallying; for thy battle, O Most High, is the battle of the Church; thy foes are our foes, and thy friends are the excellent of the earth, in whom is all our delight.
I trust that most of us who are here met in the name of Jesus, feel a deep, sincere, and constant agreement with God. We have been guilty of murmuring at his will; but yet our newborn nature evermore at its core and center knoweth that the will of the Lord is wise and good; and we therefore bow our heads with reverent agreement, and say, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt." "The will of the Lord be done." Our soul, when through infirmity she is tempted to rebellion, nevertheless struggles after complete resignation of her wishes and desires to the will of the Most High. We do not covet the life of self-will, but we sigh after the spirit of self-denial; yea, of self-annihilation, that Christ may live in us, and that the old Ego, the carnal I, may be altogether slain. I would be as obedient to my God as are those firstborn sons of light, his messengers of flaming fire. As the mercury feels the mysterious changes of the air, and sensitively moves in accordance with the atmosphere, so would I being surrounded by my God, evermore perceive his wish and will, and move at once in obedience thereto. Our strength shall be perfect when we have no independent will, but move and act only as we are moved and acted on by our gracious God. I hope that at this hour we can truly say, that notwithstanding our many sins, we do love the Lord our God; and if we could have our will this morning, we would follow his commands without the slightest departure from the narrow path. We are in heart agreed with God.
The text reminds us that this agreement gives us power to walk with God. May we be enabled to claim this privilege which divine grace has bestowed on us: power to walk with God in daily, habitual, friendly, intimate, joyous communion. Believer, you can walk with God this very day. He is as near to thee as he was to Abraham beneath the oak at Mamre, or Moses at the back of the desert. He is as willing to show thee his love as he was to reveal himself to Daniel on the banks of Ulai, or to Ezekiel by the streams of Chebar. Thou hast no greater distance this day between thee and thy God, than Jacob had when he laid hold upon the angel and prevailed. He is thy father, as truly as he was the father of the people whom he covered by day with a cloud, and cheered by night with a pillar of fire; and though no Shekinah lights up a golden mercy-seat, yet the throne of grace is quite as glorious and even more accessible than in the days of old. He shall hide thee in his pavilion, as he did his servant David; yea, in the secret of the tabernacle shall be thy hiding-place. Enoch's privilege was not peculiar to him; it is thy birthright: claim it. Noah's high honour of walking with God was not reserved for him alone; it belongs to thee also, shut in as thou art in the ark of the covenant, and saved from the deluge of divine wrath. It should be the Christian's delight to be always with his God; walking with him in unbroken fellowship. Enoch did not take a turn or two with God, as Matthew Henry observes, but he walked with him four hundred years. O that we might cease to be with our God as wayfaring men who tarry but for a night: may we dwell in God, and may he dwell in us. Walking implies action; and our actions should always be in the Lord. The Christian, whatsoever he eateth, or drinketh, or doeth, should do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks unto God and the Father by him. Walking has in it the thought of progress; but all our progress should be with God. As we are rooted and grounded in Christ, so we must ask to grow up in him; ever abiding in our highest moments with God, and never imagining or conceiving any progress which shall remove us from humble confidence in him. Beloved brother in the Lord, it may be that thy heart is agreed with God, and yet thou hast lost for a time thy walking with him; be not at ease in thy soul till thou hast regained it. Search thine own heart by the light of the Word and of the Holy Spirit; and when thou knowest thyself to be agreed with God, through Him who is our peace, hesitate not to draw near with holy confidence to thy Father and thy God, notwithstanding all thy past wanderings; for he welcomes thee to walk with him, seeing that thou art agreed.
At this season we, as a Church, have had our hearts set upon a revival of religion in our midst. Many of us will be greatly and grievously disappointed if such a revival shall not take place. We have felt moved to cry for it; I think I may say we have been almost unanimously thus moved. Already there are signs that God is visiting us in a very remarkable manner, but our souls are set upon a greater work than we have ever seen. Now, dear friends, we need as the first and most essential thing in this matter, that God should walk with us. In vain we shall struggle after revival unless we have his presence. If, then, we desire to have his presence with us, we must see to it that we are perfectly agreed with him both in the design of the work, and in the method of it; and I desire this morning to stir up your pure minds to heart-searching and vigilant self-examination, that every false way may be purged from us, since God will not walk with us as a Church, unless we be agreed with him.
The first remark, then, of this morning, is simply this,—we desire in this matter to walk together with God; but, in the second place, if we would have him with us we must be agreed with him; and therefore, thirdly, we desire to purge ourselves of everything which would mar our perfect agreement with God, and so prevent his coming to our aid. I do ask the prayers of God's people that he may enable me to speak to profit this morning, for if ever I felt my own unfitness to edify the saints, I do so just now: I will even confess that if I could have had my own choice, I should have left it to some one else to address you this morning. My harp is out of tune, and the strings are all loosened, but the chief musician understands his instruments, and knows how to get music out of us, and in answer to prayer he will doubtless sustain us and give you a blessing.
I. Let us, first, AVOW OUR DESIRE THAT IN OUR PRESENT EFFORT WE MAY WALK WITH GOD; otherwise our strivings after revival will be very wearisome.
I know of nothing more saddening than to attend a prayer-meeting where the devotion is forced, and the fervour laborious; where brethren puff and strain like engines with a load behind them too heavy for them to drag. It is painful to detect an evident design to get up an excitement, and wind up the people to the proper pitch; when the addresses are adapted to foster hotheadedness, and the prayers to beget superstition. God's true saints cannot but feel that to gain the graces of the Spirit by fleshly vehemence is sad work. They retire from such a meeting, and they say, "How different is this from occasions when God's Spirit has been really at work with us!" Then, like a ship with her sails filled with a fair wind, floating majestically along without tugging and straining, the Church, borne onward with the breath of the divine Spirit, with a full tide of heaven's grace, speeds on her glorious way. "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence," was the request of Moses; and I think we may rather deprecate than desire a revival if God's presence be not in it. Lord, let us stay as we are, crying and groaning to see better days, rather than permit us to be puffed up with the notion of revival without thine own power in it; let us have no special prayer-meetings merely for the sake of them; but let us, O let us receive special blessings as the result of prayer: if thou dost not intend to help us now let us weep in secret, but let us not rejoice in a mere name if the substance be lacking. During a course of meetings by which we desire to excite the hearts of believers to a deeper interest in spiritual things; if there be not a gracious power in them, you will soon perceive a dulness, a flagging, a heaviness, a weariness stealing over the assembly; the numbers will decline, the prayers will become less fervent, and the whole thing will degenerate into a hollow sham or a mournful monotony. To come up from the wilderness is hard climbing unless we lean on our beloved. O thou who art our beloved and adorable Lord, lest our souls grow weary in well-doing, and faint for heaviness, be pleased to let us enjoy communion with thyself.
Not only is there weariness in our own attempts, but they always end in disappointment, unless God walketh with us. Ye may pray, and pray, and pray, but there shall be no conversions, no sense of quickening, until the Spirit's working be distinctly recognized. The minister shall be just as much a preacher of the mere letter as ever he was; the Church officers shall be as formal and official as ever they were; the Church members shall be as inconsistent and as indifferent as they were wont to be; the congregation shall be as uninterested and as unmoved as they were in the worst times, except the Spirit of God work with us. In this thing we may quote the words of the psalmist, "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep." O friends, it is well to have a holy industry and a devout perseverance; it is well to strain every nerve, and put forth every effort; but all this must end in the most sorry, heart-sickening failure, unless the Lord rend the heavens and come down. I am telling you what you all do know, and what I trust you feel, but it is what we are constantly forgetting; for many are they that go a warfare at their own charges, and so become both bankrupt and defeated; and many be they who would build God's house simply by stress of human effort, but they fail, because God is not there to give them success.
Yet more; supposing that in this our attempt at revival, we should not be favoured with the presence of God; then prayer will be greatly dishonoured. I take it, that when a Church draws near to God in special prayer, asking any mercy, if she does not receive that mercy on account of some disagreement with God, then her belief in prayer is, for the future, greatly weakened; and this is a most serious evil, for it loosens the girdle of the loins of God's saints. Anything which makes men doubt the efficacy of prayer, is an injury to their spirituality; and thus upon the largest scale God's Church will suffer loss if her prayers shall remain unanswered. We must go on; it would be ruin to forbear or to turn our backs. As a Church, we must now conquer or die. How can I again stir you up to supplication, if on this occasion your prayers should be in vain? I shall come into this pulpit with but a faint heart to speak of my Master's faithfulness if he does not give you evidences of it. Ah! my brethren, when you are lifting up your voices in intercession, I cannot expect to mark your earnestness nor to behold your faith, unless that faith shall be confirmed just now by a shower of divine mercy. To the world at large the non-hearing of prayer would be a ready argument, either against the existence of God, or else against the reality of his promise. I hope such a thing as this will not occur. "Aha! aha!" saith the enemy, "see what has come of it all! The people cried, but they cried in vain. They met in large numbers; they approached the mercy-seat with tears and groans, but no result has come of it; there have been no more conversions than before, and God's strength has not been put forth." Would you desire that such a calamity as this should occur. The true soldiers of the cross in our Israel would almost as soon lay down their necks, as that God's honour should thus be attainted in the presence of his foes.
Moreover, every attempt at revival of religion which proves a failure,—and fail it must without the presence of God,—leaves the Church in a worse condition than it was before; because, if it should prove a failure, from the want of any stir at all; then God's people fall back into their former lethargy, with an excuse for continuing in it; or if a false stir be made, a reaction follows of a most injurious character. I suppose the worst time in the Christian Church is generally that which follows the excitement of a revival; and if that revival has had no reality in it, the mischief which is done is awful and incalulable. If no excitement shall come at all, the mischief is still as great; God's people, being disappointed, have little heart to listen to further exhortations to future zealous action, become contented with their Laodicean lukewarmness, and it becomes impossible to bestir them again. If a revival should apparently have success and yet God be not in it, perhaps this is even worse. The wild-fire and madness of some revivals have been a perfect disgrace to the common sense of the age, let alone the spirituality of the Church. I know, and speak not without book, when I declare that some churches have been seriously deteriorated and permanently injured by large admissions of excited but unconverted persons; so that the only thing a fresh pastor could do was to begin afresh, and purge the church book throughout, sweeping off scores of carnal persons; the beginning anew being almost hopeless, because, after the paroxysm of passion about religion has passed, there follows a season in which religion is treated with indifference, if not with disdain. I had rather see a Church asleep, than see it awake into the fever of fanaticism: better that she should lie still than do mischief. O dear friends, we have felt in our souls, not that we may have revival, but that we must have it; and when we think of the incalculable damage that shall be done to us all if the Lord does not visit us, I am sure we must again draw near to the angel and wrestle afresh, with this determination, that we will not let him go unless he bless us.
We may be confirmed in our anxious desire to have the Lord walking with us in this thing, when we consider the blessings which are sure to flow from his presence. Ah! what holy quickening shall come upon every one of us. The preacher will not have to lament that he has so little power in prayer; both alone and in your presence he shall be strengthened to intercede as an angel of God. You shall not have to mourn that the service lacks its former sweetness. You will feel the blessedness you knew when first you saw the Lord. You will not have to mourn that you are cold and dead, that your songs languish, and that your prayers expire; instead thereof, every action shall be fraught with vigour, every thought shall glow with earnestness, every word shall be clothed with divine power. Let God arise; and doubts and fears shall betake themselves to their hiding-places, as the bats conceal themselves at the rising of the dawn. Let the Lord visit you; and difficulties which frown like Alps, will sink to plains. Let him arise; and all your enemies shall flee before you, as the smoke before the wind; the heavens shall drop with showers of mercy; and even your sins and all the guilt thereof, shall shake as Sinai shook at the presence of the God of Israel. A Church with God's presence in it is holy, happy, united, earnest, laborious, successful; fair as the moon before the Lord, and clear as the sun in the eyes of men, she is terrible as an army with banners to her enemies.
If God shall be pleased to be with his Church, then direct good shall visit our congregation. We used to say at Park Street, that there were not many seat-holders unconverted. The like is to a great extent true here. The immense increase of our Church gives us the hope that the day will come when there will not be a single seat unoccupied by a believer: but it is not the case yet. I suppose the Church is about half the congregation now. There are some, however, that from the very first have listened; but so far as salvation is concerned, they have listened in vain: they have been moved to tears, they have made good resolutions; but after ten or eleven years of ministry, they are just where they were, except that they have accumulated fresh guilt. Some desire to be Christians, but they harbour some darling lust. We know some who used to feel under the Word, but do not feel now. The voice which once was like a trumpet, now lulls them to sleep. Some have made a compromise; and one day they will serve God and another day they will serve their sins; like the Samaritans who feared the Lord and served other gods. Now let our cries be heard for the Master's presence, and we shall soon see these brought in; hearts of stone shall be turned to flesh; the iron of the Word shall break the northern iron and steel; Jehovah Jesus shall ride victoriously through those gates which have been barred against him, and there shall be shouting in heaven because the Lord hath gotten him the victory.
Wider blessings will follow. A Church is never blessed alone. If any one Church shall stand in the vigour of piety, other Churches shall take example therefrom, and make an advance towards a better state. Here we have around us many Churches, hills which God has blessed; but they, like ourselves, have a tendency to slumber. Let God pour out his Spirit here, and the shower will not be confined to these fields, but will drop upon other pastures, and they shall rejoice on every side. Our testimony for God rings through this land; from one end of it to the other. Our ministry is not hidden under a bushel nor confined to a few. Tens of thousands listen every week to our word; and if the Lord shall be pleased to bless it, then shall it be as ointment poured forth, to load the moral atmosphere with a savour of Christ crucified. One nation cannot feel the power of God without communicating some of its blessing to another. The Atlantic cannot divide: no tongue or language can separate us. If God bless France or Switzerland, the influence shall be felt upon the Continent; if he should bless our island, all the whole earth must feel the power thereof. Therefore do we feel encouraged mightily to pray. O, my brethren, the world grows old; man's faith is getting weary of long waiting; the false prophets begin again to appear, and cry lo here, and lo there; but the Lord must come; of this are we confident: in such an hour as we think not, he may appear. How would we have him find us at his coming? Would we have him find his servants sleeping? his stewards wasting his goods? his vinedressers with neglected vines? his soldiers with swords rusted into their scabbards? No, we would have him find us watching, standing upon the watch-tower, feeding his sheep, tending his lambs, succouring the needy, comforting the weary, helping the oppressed. Gird up your loins then, I pray you, as men that watch for their Lord. If my words could have the power in them which I feel they lack, I would stir you up, dear brethren and sisters, to seek unto the mighty God of Jacob, that when the Son of Man cometh, if he find no faith upon the earth elsewhere, at least he may find it in you: if zeal shall be extinct in every other place, at least may he find one live coal yet glowing in your bosom. For this we want his presence, for without it we can do nothing.
II. This brings me, in the second place, to observe, that IF WE WOULD HAVE THE PRESENCE OF GOD, IT IS NECESSARY THAT WE SHOULD BE AGREED WITH HIM.
We must be agreed with God as to the end of our Christian existence. God hath formed us for himself, that we may show forth his praise. The main end of a Christian man is, that having been bought with precious blood, he may live unto Christ, and not unto himself. O brethren! I am afraid we are not agreed with God in this. I must say it, painful though it be, there are many professors, and there are some in this Church, who at least appear to believe that the main end of their Christian existence is to get to heaven, to get as much money as they can on earth, and to leave as much as they can to their children when they die; I say, "to get to heaven," for they selfishly include that as one of the designs of divine grace; but I question, if it were not for their happiness to go to heaven, whether they would care much about going, if it were only for God's glory; for their way of living upon earth is always thus: "What shall I eat? what shall I drink? wherewithal shall I be clothed?" Religion never calls out their thoughtfulness. They can judge, and weigh, and plot, and plan to get money, but they have no plans as to how they can serve God. The cause of God is scarcely in their thoughts. They will pinch and screw to see how little they can contribute in any way to the maintenance of the cause of truth, or to the spread of the Redeemer's kingdom; they will so far condescend to consider religion, as to think how they can profess it in the most economical manner, but nothing more. You will not hear me speak so foolishly and madly, as if I thought that it were not just and laudable in a man to seek to make money to supply the wants of his family, or even to provide for them on his own decease; such a thing is just and right: but whenever this gets to be the main thought; and I am persuaded it is the leading thought of too many professors, such men forget whose they are, and whom they serve; they are living to themselves; they have forgotten who it is that has said, "Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as with silver and gold." Oh! I pray God that I may feel that I am God's man, that I have not a hair on my head which is not consecrated, nor a drop of my blood which is not dedicated to his cause; and I pray, brethren and sisters, that you may feel the same; that selfishness may clean die out of you; that you may be able to say without any straining of the truth, "I have nothing to care for, nor to live for in this world, but that I may glorify God, and spread forth the savour of my Saviour's name." We cannot expect the Master's blessing till we are agreed about this. This is God's will: is it our will to-day? I know I have around me many faithful hearts, who will say, "My desire is, that whether I live or die, Christ may be glorified in me": if we be all of that mind, God will walk with us; but every one who is of another mind, and of a divided heart, is a hindrance and an injury to us in our progress. It would be no loss to lose such persons, but a spiritual benefit to the entire cause, if this dead lumber were cast out. When the body gets a piece of rotten bone into it, it never rests, till, with pain, it casts out the dead thing: and so with the Church; the Church may be increased by dead members, but when she begins to get vigorous and full of life, her first effort is with much pain, perhaps with much marring of her present beauty, to cause the dead substance to come forth; and if this should be the case, though we shall pity those who are cast forth, yet for our own health's sake, we may thank God and take courage.
If we would have God with us we must be agreed as to the real desirableness and necessity of the conversion of souls. God thinks souls to be very precious, and his own words are, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but had rather that he should turn unto me and live." Are we agreed with God in that? Our God thinks souls to be so precious, that if a man could gain the whole world and lose his soul, he would be a loser. Are we agreed with him there? In the person of Christ, our God wept over Jerusalem; watered with tears that city which must be given up to the flames. Have we tears, too? have we compassion, too? When God thinks of sinners it is in this wise: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim?" Can we bemoan sinners in that way? Do we stir our souls to an agony of grief because men will turn from God and will wilfully perish in their sin? If, on the contrary, you and I selfishly say, "We are safe, it does not matter to us whether others are brought to know Christ," we are not agreed, God will not work with us; and such of you as feel this indifferentism, this cursed lethargy, are our bane, our burden, our hindrance. God forgive you, and stir you up to feel that your heart will not rest unless poor sinners are plucked as brands from the burning. Are we agreed here?
If we would have the Lord with us, in the next place, we must be agreed as to the means to be used in revival. We are agreed that the first means is the preaching of Christ. We do not want any other doctrine than that we have received— Christ lifted up upon his cross, as the serpent was lifted up upon the pole. This is the remedy which we, in this house of prayer, believe in. Let others choose sweet music, or pictures, or vestments, or baptismal water, or confirmation, or human rites; we abhor them, and pour contempt upon them; as for us, our only hope lies in the doctrine of a substitute for sinners, the great fact of the atonement, the glorious truth that Christ Jesus came into the world to seek and to save sinners. I think we are agreed with God in this, that the preaching of Christ is the way by which believers shall be saved. God's great agency is the Holy Spirit. We are agreed, brethren, that we do not want sinners to be converted by our persuasion, we do not want them brought into the Church by excitement; we want the Spirit's work, and the Spirit's work alone. I would not bend my knee once in prayer, much less day by day, to win a mere excitement; we have done without it, and we shall do without it by the grace of God; but I would give mine eyes, if I might but know that the Holy Spirit himself would come forth, and show what divinity can do in turning hearts of stone to flesh. In this thing, I think, that we are agreed with God. But God's way of blessing the Church is by the instrumentality of all her members. The multitude must be fed, but it must not be by Christ's hand alone, "He gave the bread to the disciples, and the disciples, to the multitude." Are you all agreed here? I am afraid not. Many of you are engaged in works of usefulness, and I will make this my boast this day, that I had never thought that I should meet with a people so apostolic in their zeal as the most of you have been. I have marvelled, and my heart has rejoiced when I have seen what self-sacrifice some of the poorest among you have made for Christ; what zeal, what enthusiasm you have manifested in the spreading abroad of the Saviour's name. But still there are some of you who are doing nothing whatever, you have a name to live, but I fear that you are dead; you are very seldom at a prayer-meeting—even some Church members and persons whom I know are not kept at home by business, but by sheer indifference to the cause of God. Some of you are never provoked to zeal and to good works. That you come and listen to us, is something; and for what you do we are grateful; but for what you do not do, over this we mourn, because we fear that we are restrained in our efforts for the spread of the Saviour's kingdom, because as a Church we are not agreed in God's plan; and we shall be restrained until every man in the Church can say, "I will consecrate myself this day unto the Lord of hosts; if there is anything to be done, be it to be a door-keeper in the house of God, here am I.
"There's not a lamb among his flock,
I would disdain to feed;
There's not a foe before whose face
I'd fear his cause to plead."
Yet again, dear friends, are we agreed this day as to our utter helplessness in this work? I caught a good sentence the other day. Speaking with a Wesleyan minister, I said to him, "Your denomination during the past year did not increase: you have usually had a large increase to your numbers. You were never so rich as now; your ministers were never so well educated; you never had such good chapels as now, and yet you never had so little success. What are you doing?—knowing this to be the fact, what are you doing? How are the minds of your brethren exercised with regard to this?" He comforted me much by the reply. He said, "It has driven us to our knees: we thank God that we know our state and are not content with it. We have had a day of humiliation, and I hope," he said, "some of us have gone low enough to be blessed." There is a great truth in that last sentence, "low enough to be blessed," I do fear me that some of us never do go low enough to be blessed. When a man says, "Oh! yes, we are getting on very well, we do not want any revival that I know of," I fear me he is not low enough to be blessed; and when you and I pray to God with pride in us, with self-exaltation, with a confidence in our own zeal, or even in the prevalence of our own prayers of themselves, we have not come low enough to be blessed. An humble Church will be a blessed Church; a Church that is willing to confess its own errors and failures, and to lie at the foot of Christ's cross, is in a position to be favoured of the Lord. I hope we are agreed, then, with God, as to our utter unworthiness and helplessness, so that we look to him alone.
I charge you all to be agreed with God in this thing, that if any good shall be done, any conversions shall occur, all the glory must be given to him. Revivals have often been spoiled, either by persons boasting that such-and-such a minister was the means of them, or else, as in the case of the North of Ireland, by boasting that the work was done without ministers. That revival, mark you, was stopped in its very midst and seriously damaged by being made a kind of curiosity, and a thing to be gazed at and to be wondered at by persons both at home and abroad. God does not care to work for the honour of men, either of ministers or of laymen, or of Churches either; and if we should say, "Ah! well, I should like to see the presence of God with us that we may have many conversions, and put it in the Magazine, and say, that is how things are done at the Tabernacle," why we should not have a blessing that way. Crowns! crowns! crowns! but all for thy head Jesu! laurels and wreaths! but none for man, all for him whose own right hand and whose holy arm hath gotten him the victory. We must all be agreed on this point, and I hope we are.
3. And now to conclude. LET US PUT AWAY ALL THOSE THINGS WHICH OFFEND OUR GOD.
Before God appeared upon Mount Sinai, the children of Israel had to cleanse themselves for three days. Before Israel could take possession of the promised rest of Canaan, Joshua had to see to it that they were purified by the rite of circumcision. Whenever God would visit his people, he always demands of them some preparatory purging, that they may be fit to behold his presence; for two cannot walk together, unless that which would make them disagree be purged out. A few suggestions then, as to whether there is anything in us with which God cannot agree. Here I cannot preach to you indiscriminately, but put the task into the hand of each man to preach to himself. In the days of the great weeping, we read that every man wept apart and his wife apart, the son apart, and the daughter apart, all the families apart. So it must be here. Is there pride in me? Am I puffed up with my talent, my substance, my character, my success? Lord purge this out of me, or else thou canst not walk with me, for none shall ever say that God and the proud soul are friends: he giveth grace to the humble; as for the proud, he knoweth them afar off, and will not let them come near to him. Am I slothful? do I waste hours which I might usefully employ? Have I the levity of the butterfly, which flits from flower to flower, but drinks no honey from any of them? or have I the industry of the bee, which, wherever it lights, would find some sweet store for the hive? Lord, thou knowest my soul, thou understandest me. Am I doing little where I might do much? Hast thou had but little reaping for much sowing? Have I hid my talent in a napkin? Have I spent that talent for myself, instead of spending it for thee? Slothful souls cannot walk with God. "My Father worketh," saith Jesus, "and I work"; and you who stand in the market-place idle, may stand there with the devil, but you cannot stand there with God. Let every brother who is guilty of this, purge away his sloth.
Or am I guilty of worldliness. This is the crying sin of many in the Christian Church. Do I put myself into association with men who cannot by any possibility profit me? Am I seen where my Master would not go? Do I love amusements which cannot afford me comfort when I reflect upon them; and which I would never indulge in, if I thought that Christ would come while I was at them? Am I worldly in spirit as to fashion? Am I as showy, as volatile, as frivolous as men and women of the world? If so, if I love the world, the love of the Father is not in me; consequently he cannot walk with me, for we are not agreed.
Again, am I covetous? do I scrape and grind? is my first thought, not how I can honour God, but how I can accumulate wealth? When I gain wealth, do I forget to make use of it as a steward? If so, then God is not agreed with me; I am a thief with his substance; I have set myself up for a master instead of being a servant, and God will not walk with me till I begin to feel that this is not my own, but his; and that I must use it in his fear.
Again, am I of an angry spirit? Am I harsh towards my brethren? Do I cherish envy towards those who are better than myself, or contempt towards those who are worse off? If so, God cannot walk with me, for he hates envy, and all contempt of the poor is abhorrent to him. Is there any lust in me? Do I indulge the flesh? Am I fond of carnal indulgences by which my soul suffers? If so, God will not walk with me; for chambering, and wantonness, and gluttony, and drunkenness, separate between a believer and his God: these things are not convenient to a Christian. Before the great feast of unleavened bread, a Jewish parent would sweep out every piece of leaven from his house; and so anxious would he be, and so anxious is the Jew at the present day, that he take a candle and sweeps out every cupboard, no matter though there may have been no food put in there at any time, he is afraid lest by accident a crumb may be somewhere concealed in the house; and so, from the garret to the cellar, he clears the whole house through, to purge out the old leaven. Let us do so. I cannot think you will do so as the effect of such poor words as mine; but if my soul could speak to you, and God blessed the utterance, you would. For my own part, I cry unto my Master, that if there be anything that can make me more fit to be the messenger of God to you and to the sons of men, however painful might be the preparatory process, he would graciously be pleased not to spare me of it. If by sickness, if by serious calamities, if by slander and rebuke, more honour can be brought to him, then hail! and welcome! all these things; they shall be my joy; and to receive them shall be delight. I pray you, utter the same desire: "Lord, make me fit to be the means of glorifying thee."
"The dearest idol I have known,
Whate'er that idol be;
Help me to tear it from its throne,
And worship only thee."
What! do you demur? Do you want for ever to go on in the old dead-and-alive way in which the Churches are just now? Do you feel no sacred passion stirring your breast to anguish for the present, and to hope for the future? O ye cravens, who dread the battle, slink to your beds; but ye who have your Master's spirit in you, and would long to see brighter and better days, lift up your heads with confidence in him who will walk with us if we be agreed.
My text has a main bearing upon the unconverted: I think of preaching from it this evening to those who are not agreed with God, and who cannot walk with him. I pray that they may be reconciled unto God by the death of his Son; and the most likely means to accomplish this, will be by your earnest and fervent prayers. O Lord, hear and answer for Jesus' sake. Amen.
Delivered on Sabbath Morning, January 26th, 1860, at Exeter Hall, Strand.
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed; and the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt."—Amos 9:13.
GOD'S PROMISES are not exhausted when they are fulfilled, for when once performed they stand just as good as they did before, and we may await a second accomplishment of them. Man's promises even at the best, are like a cistern which holds but a temporary supply; but God's promises are as a fountain, never emptied, ever overflowing, so that you may draw from hem the whole of that which the apparently contain, and they shall be still as full as ever. Hence it is that you will frequently find a promise containing both a literal and spiritual meaning. In the literal meaning it has already been fulfilled to the letter; in the spiritual meaning it shall also be accomplished, and not a jot or tittle of it shall fail. This is rue of the particular promise which is before us. Originally, as you are aware, the land of Canaan was very fertile; it was a land that flowed with milk and honey. Even where no tillage had been exercised upon it the land was so fruitful, that the bees who sucked the sweetness from the wild flowers produced such masses of honey that the very woods were sometimes flooded with it. It was "A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olive, and honey." When, however, the children of Israel thrust in the ploughshare and began to use the divers arts of agriculture, the land became exceedingly fat and fertile, yielding so much corn, that they could export through the Phoenicians both corn, and wine, and oil, even to the pillars of Hercules, so that Palestine became, like Egypt, the granary of the nations. It is somewhat surprising to find that now the land is barren, that its valleys are parched, and that the miserable inhabitants gather miserable harvests from the arid soil. Yet the promise still stands true, that one day in the ver letter Palestine shall be as rich and fruitful as ever it was. There be those who understand the matter, who assert that if once the rigour of the Turkish rule could be removed, if men were safe from robbers, if the man who sowed could reap, and keep the corn which his own industry had sown and gathered, the land might yet again laugh in the midst of the nations, and become the joyous mother of children. There is no reason in the soil for its barrenness. It is simply the neglect that has been brought on, from the fact, that when a man has been industrious, his savings are taken from him by the hand of rapine, and the very harvest for which he toiled is often reaped by another, and his own blood split upon the soil.
But, my dear friends, while this promise will doubtless be carried out, and every word of it shall be verified, so that the hill-tops of that country shall again bear the vine, and the land shall flow with wine, yet, I take it, this is more fully a spiritual than a temporal promise; and I think that the beginning of its fulfilment is now to be discerned, and we shall see the Lord's good hand upon us, so that is ploughman shall overtake the reaper, the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all he hills shall melt.
First, I shall this morning endeavour to explain my text as a promise of revival; secondly, I shall take it as a lesson of doctrine; then as a stimulus for Christian exertion; and I shall conclude with a word of warning to those whose hearts are not given to Christ.
I. First, I take the text as being A GREAT PROMISE OF SPIRITUAL REVIVAL.
And here, in looking attentively at the text, we shall observe several ver pleasant things.
1. In the first place, we notice a promise of surprising ingathering. According to he metaphor here used, the harvest is to be so great that, before the reapers can have fully gathered it in, the ploughman shall begin to plough for the next crop—while the abundance of fruit shall be so surprising that before the treader of grapes can have trodden out all the juice of the vine, the time shall come for sowing seed. One season, by reason of the abundant fertility, shall run into another. Now you all know, beloved, what this means in the church. It prophecies that in the Church of Christ we shall see the most abundant ingathering of souls. Pharaoh's dream has been enacted again in the last century. About a hundred years ago, if I may look back in my dream, I might have seen seven ears of corn upon one stalk, rank and strong; anon, the time of plenty went away, and I have seen, and you have seen, in your own lifetime, the seven ears of corn thin and withered in the east wind. The seven ears of withered corn have eaten up and devoured the seven ears of fat corn, and there has been a sore famine in the land. Lo, I see in Whitfield's time, seven bullocks coming up from the river, fat and well-favoured, and since then we have lived to see seven lean kine come up from the same river; and lo! the seven lean kine have eaten up the seven fat kine, yet have they been none the better for all that they have eaten. We read of such marvellous revivals a hundred years ago, that the music of their news has not ceased to ring in our ears; but we have seen, alas, a season of lethargy, of soul-poverty among the saints, and of neglect among the ministers of God. The product of the seven years has been utterly consumed, and the Church has been none the better. Now, I take it, however, we are about to see the seven fat years again. God is about to send times of surprising fertility to his Church. When a sermon has been preached in these modern times, if one sinner has been converted by it, we have rejoiced with a suspicious joy; for we have thought it something amazing. But, brethren, where we have seen one converted, we may yet see hundreds; where the Word of God has been powerful to scores, it shall be blessed to thousands; and where hundreds in past years have seen it, nations shall be converted to Christ. There is no reason why we should not see all the good that God hath given us multiplied a hundred-fold; for there is sufficient vigour in the seed of the Lord to produce a far more plentiful crop than any we have yet gathered. God the Holy Ghost is not stinted in his power. When the sower went forth to sow his seed, some of it fell on good soil, and it brought forth fruit, some twenty fold, some thirty fold, but it is written, "Some a hundred fold." Now, we have bee sowing this seed, and thanks be to God, I have seen it bring forth twenty and thirty fold; but I do expect to see it bring forth a hundred fold. I do rust that our harvest shall be so heavy, that while we are taking in the harvest, it shall be time to sow again; that prayer meetings shall be succeeded by the enquiry of souls as to what they shall do to be saved, and ere the enquirers' meeting shall be done, it shall be time again to preach, again to pray; and then, ere that is over, there shall be again another influx of souls, the baptismal pool shall be again stirred, and hundreds of converted men shall flock to Christ. Oh! We never can be contented with going on as the churches have been during the last twenty years. I would not be censorious, but solemnly in my own heart I do not believe that the ministers of our churches have been free from the blood of men. I would not say a hard word if I did not feel compelled to do it, but I am constrained to remind our brethren that let God send what revival he may, it will not exonerate them from he awful guilt that rests upon them of having been idle and dilatory during the last twenty years. Let all be saved who live now; what about those that have been damned while we have been sleeping? Let God gather in multitudes of sinners, but who shall answer for the blood of those men who have been swept into eternity while we have been going on in our canonical fashion, content to go along the path of propriety, and walk around the path of dull routine, but never weeping for sinners, never agonizing for souls. All the ministers of Christ are not awake yet; but the most of them are. There has come a glad time of arousing, the trumpet has been set to their ear, and the people have heard the sound also, and times of refreshing are come from the presence of the Lord our God; but they have not come before they were needed, for much did we require them; otherwise surely the Church of Christ would have died away into dead formality, and if her name had been remembered, it would have been as a shame and a hissing upon the face of the earth.
2. The promise then, seems to me to convey the idea of surprising ingatherings; and I think there is also the idea of amazing rapidity. Notice how quickly the crops succeed each other. Between the harvest and the ploughing there is a season even in our country; in the east it is a longer period. But here you find that no sooner has the reaper ceased his work, or scarce has he ceased it, ere the ploughman follows at his heels. This is a rapidity that is contrary to the course of nature; still it is quite consistent with grace. Our old Baptist churches in the country treat young converts with what they call summering and wintering. Any young believer who wants to join the church in summer, must wait till the winter, and he is put off from time to time, till it is sometimes five or six years before they admit him; they want to try him, and see whether he is fit to unite with such pious souls as they are. Indeed among us all there is a tendency to imagine that conversion must be a slow work—that as the snail creeps slowly on its way, so must grace move very leisurely in the heart of man. We have come to believe that there is more true divinity in stagnant pools than in lightning flashes. We cannot believe for a moment in a quick method of travelling to the kingdom of heaven. Every man who goes there must go on crutches and limp all the way; but as for the swift beasts, as for the chariots whose axles are hot with speed, we do not quite understand and comprehend that. Now, mark, here is a promise given of a revival, and when that revival shall be fulfilled this will be one of the signs of it—the marvellous growth in grace of those who are converted. The young convert shall that ver day come forward to make a profession of his faith; perhaps before a week has passed over his head you will hear him publicly defending the cause of Christ, and ere many months have gone you shall see him standing up to tell to others what God has done for his soul. There is no need that the pulse of the Church should for ever be so slow. The Lord can quicken her heart, so that her pulse shall throb as rapidly as the pulse of time itself; her floods shall be as the rushing of the Kishon when it swept the hosts of Sisera in its fury. As the fire from heaven shall the Spirit rush from the skies, and as the sacrifice which instantly blazed to heaven, so shall the Church burn with holy and glorious ardour. She shall no longer drive heavily with her wheels torn away, but as the chariot of Jehu, the son of Nimshi, she shall devour the distance in her haste. That seems to me to be one of the promises of the text—the rapidity of the work of grace, so that the plougher shall overtake the reaper.
3. But a third blessing is very manifest here, and one indeed which is simply given to us. Notice the activity of labour which is mentioned in the text. God does not promise that there shall be fruitful crops without labor; but here we find mention made of ploughmen, reapers, treaders of grapes, and sowers of seed; and all these persons are girt with singular energy. The ploughman does not wait, because saith he, the season has not yet come for me to plough, be seeing that God is blessing the land, he has his plough ready, and no sooner is one harvest shouted home than he is ready to plough again. And so with the sower; he has not to prepare his basket and to collect his seed; but while he hears the shouts of the vintage, he is ready to go out to work.
Now, my brethren, one sign of a true revival, and indeed an essential part of it is the increased activity of God's labourers. Why, time was when our ministers, thought that preaching twice on Sunday was the hardest work to which a man could be exposed. Poor souls, they could not think of preaching on a week-day, or if there was once a lecture, they had bronchitis, were obliged to go to Jerusalem and lay by, for they would soon be dead if they were to work too hard. I never believed in the hard work of preaching yet. We find ourselves able to preach ten or twelve times a week, and find that we are the stronger for it,—that in fact, it is the healthiest and most blessed exercise in the world. But the cry used to be, that our ministers were hardly done by, they were to be pampered and laid by, done up in velvet, and only to be brought out to do a little work occasionally, and then to be pitied when that work was done. I do not hear anything of that talk now-a-days. I meet with my brethren in the ministry who are able to preach day after day, day after day, and are not half so fatigued as the were; and I saw a brother minister this week who has been having meetings in his church every day, and the people have been so earnest that they will keep him ver often from six o'clock in the evening to two in the morning. "Oh!" said one of the members, "our minister will kill himself." "Not he," said I, "that is the kind of work that will kill no man. It is preaching to a sleepy congregation that kills good ministers, but not preaching to earnest people." So when I saw him, his eyes were sparkling, and I said to him, "Brother, you do not look like a man who is being killed," "Killed, my brother," said he, "why I am living twice as much as I did before; I was never so happy, never so hearty, never so well." Said he, "I sometimes lack my rest, and want my sleep, when my people keep me up so late, but it will never hurt me; indeed," he said, "I should like to die of such a disease as that—the disease of being so greatly blessed." There was a specimen before me of the ploughman who overtook the reaper,—of one who sowed seed, who was treading on the heels of the men who were gathering in the vintage. And the like activity we have lived to see in the Church of Christ. Did you ever know so much doing in the Christian world before? There are grey-headed men around me who have known the Church of Christ sixty years, and I think they can bear me witness that they never knew such life, such vigour and activity, as there is at present. Everybody seems to have a mission, and everybody is doing it. There may be a great many sluggards, but they do not come across my path now. I used to e always kicking at them, and always being kicked for doing so. But now there is nothing to kick at—every one is at work—Church of England, Independents, Methodists, and Baptists—there is not a single squadron that is behindhand; they have all their guns ready, and are standing, shoulder to shoulder, ready to make a tremendous charge against the common enemy. This leads me to hope, since I see the activity of God's ploughmen and vine dressers, that there is a great revival coming,—that God will bless us, and that right early.
4. We have not yet, however, exhausted our text. The latter part of it says, "The mountains shall drop sweet wine." It is not a likely place for wine upon the mountains. There may be freshets and cataracts leaping down their sides; but who ever saw fountains of red wine streaming from rocks, or gushing out from he hills. Yet here we are told that, "The mountains shall drop sweet wine;" by which we are to understand that conversions shall take place in unusual quarters. Brethren, this day is this promise literally fulfilled to us. I have this week seen what I never saw before. It has been my lot these last six years to preach to crowded congregations, and to see many, many souls brought to Christ; it has been no unusual thing for us to see the greatest and noblest of the land listening to the word of God; but this week I have seen, I repeat, what mine eyes have never before beheld, used as I am to extraordinary things. I have seen the people of Dublin, without exception, from the highest to the lowest, crowd in to hear the gospel. I have known that my congregation has been constituted in a considerable measure of Roman Catholics, and I have seen them listening to the Word with as much attention as though they had been Protestants. I have seen men who never heard the gospel before, military men, whose tastes and habits were not likely to be those of the Puritanic minister, who have nevertheless sat to listen; nay, they have come again—have made it a point to find the place where they could hear the best—have submitted to be crowded, that the might press in to hear the Word, and I have never before seen such intense eagerness of the people to listen to the Gospel. I have heard, too, cheering news of work going on in the most unlikely quarters—men who could not speak without larding their conversation richly with oaths—have nevertheless come to hear the Word; they have listened, and have been convinced, and if the impression do not die away, there has been something done for them which they will not forget even in eternity. But the most pleasing thing I have seen is this, and I must tell it to you. Hervey once said, "Each floating ship, a floating hell." Of all classes of men, the sailor has been supposed to be the man least likely to be reached by the gospel. In crossing over from Holyhead to Dublin and back—two excessively rough passages-I spent the most pleasant hours that I ever spent. The first vessel that I entered, I found my hands ver heartily shaken by the sailors. I thought, "What can these sailors know of me?" and they were calling me "brother." Of course, I felt that I was their brother too; but I did not know how they came to talk to me in that way. It was not generally the way for sailors to call ministers, brother. There was the most officious attention given, and when I made the enquiry "What makes you so kind?" "Why," said one, "because I love your Master, the Lord Jesus." I enquired, and found that out of the whole crew there were but three unconverted men; that though the most of them had been before without God, and without Christ, yet by a sudden visitation of the Spirit of God they had all been converted. I talked to many of these men, and more spiritual, heavenly-minded men I never yet saw.
They have a prayer-meeting every morning before the boat starts, and another prayer-meeting after she comes to port; and on Sundays, when they lay-to off Kingstown or Holyhead, a minister comes on board and preaches the gospel; the cabins are crowded; service is held on deck when it can be; and said an eyewitness to me, "The minister preaches very earnestly, but I should like you to hear the men pray; I never heard such praying before," said he, "they pray with such power, as only a sailor can pray." My heart was lifted up with joy, to think of a ship being made a floating Church—a very Bethel for God. When I came back by another ship I did not expect to see the like; but it was precisely the same. The same work had been going on. I walked among hem and talked to them. They all knew me. One man took out of his pocket an old leather covered book in Welch—"Do you know the likeness of that man in front?" said he, "Yes," I said, "I think I do: do you read these sermons?" "Yes, sir," replied he, "we have had your sermons on board this ship, and I read hem aloud as often as I can. If we have a fine passage coming over, I get a few around me, and read hem a sermon." Another man old me a story of a gentleman who stood laughing when a hymn was being sung; and one of the men proposed that they should pray for him. They did, and that man was suddenly smitten down, and began on the quay to cry for mercy, and plead with God for pardon. "Ah! Sir," said the sailors, "we have the best proof that there is a God here, for we have seen this crew marvellously brought to a knowledge of the ruth; and here we are, joyful and happy men, serving the Lord."
Now, what shall we say of this, but that the mountains drop sweet wine? The men who were loudest with their oaths, are now loudest with their songs; those who were the most darling children of Satan, have become the most earnest advocates of the truth: for mark you, once get sailors converted, and there is no end to the good they can do. Of all men who can preach well, sailors are the best. The sailor has seen the wonders of God in the deep; the hardy British Tar has got a heart that is not made of such cold stuff as many of the hearts of landsmen; and when that heart is once touched, it gives great big beats; it sends great pulses of energy right through his whole frame; and with his zeal and energy what may he not do, God helping him and blessing him?
5. This seems to be in the text—that a time of revival shall be followed by very extraordinary conversion. But, albeit that in the time of revival, grace is put in extraordinary places, and singular individuals are converted, yet these are not a bit behind the usual converts; for if you notice the text does not say, "the mountains shall drop wine" merely, but they "shall drop sweet wine." It does not say that the hill shall send forth little streams; but all the hills shall melt. When sinners, profligate and debauched persons, are converted to God, we say, "Well, it is a wonderful thing, but I do not suppose they will be very first class Christians." The most wonderful thing is, that these are the best Christians alive; that the wine which God brings from the hills is sweet wine; that when the hills do melt they all melt. The most extraordinary ministers of any time, have been most extratordinary sinners before conversion. We might never have had a John Bunyan, if it had not have been for the profanity of Elstow Green; we might never have heard of a John Newton, if it had not have been for his wickedness on shipboard. I mean he would not have known the depths of Satan, nor the trying experience, nor even the power of divine grace, if he had not been suffered wildly to stray, and then wondrously to be brought back. These great sinners are not a whit behind the Church. Always in revival you will find his to be the case, that the converts are not inferior to the best of the converts of ordinary seasons—that the Romanist, and the men who have never heard the gospel, when they are converted, are as true in their faith, as hearty in their love, as accurate in their knowledge, and as zealous in their efforts, as the est of persons who have ever been brought to Christ. "The mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall melt."
II. I must now go on to the other point very briefly—WHAT IS THE DOCTRINAL LESSON WHICH IS TAUGHT IN OUR TEXT: AND WHAT IS TAUGHT TO US BY A REVIVAL?
I think it is just this,—that God is absolute monarch of the hearts of men. God does not say here if men are willing; but he gives an absolute promise of a blessing. As much as to say, "I have the key of men's hearts; I can induce the ploughman to overtake the reaper; I am master of the soil—however hard and rocky it may be I can break it, and I can make it fruitful." When God promises to bless his Church and to save sinners, he does not add, "if the sinners be willing to be saved?" No, great God! Thou leadest free will in sweet captivity, and thy free grace is all triumphant. Man has a free will, and God does not violate it; but the free will is sweetly bound with fetters of the divine love till it becomes more free than it ever was before. The Lord, when he means to save sinners, does not stop to ask hem whether they mean to be saved, but like a rushing mighty wind the divine influence sweeps away every obstacle; the unwilling heart bends before the potent gale of grace, and sinners that would not yield are made to yield by God. I know this, if the Lord willed it, there is no man so desperately wicked here this morning that he would not be made now to seek for mercy, however infidel he might be; however rooted in his prejudices against the gospel, Jehovah hath but to will it, and it is done. Into thy dark heart, O thou who hast never seen the light, would the light stream; if he did but say, "Let there be light," there would be light. Thou mayest bend thy fist and lift up thy mouth against Jehovah; but he is thy master yet—thy master to destroy thee, if thou goest on in thy wickedness; but thy master to save thee now, to change thy heart and turn thy will, as he turneth the rivers of water.
If it were not for this doctrine, I wonder where the ministry would be. Old Adam is too strong for young Melancthon. The power of our preaching is nought—it can do nothing in the conversion of men by itself; men are hardened, obdurate, indifferent; but the power of grace is greater than the power of eloquence or the power of earnestness, and once let that power be put forth, and what can stand against it? Divine Omnipotence is the doctrine of a revival. We may not see it in ordinary days, by reason of the coldness of our hearts; but we must see it when these extraordinary works of grace are wrought. Have you never heard the Eastern fables of the dervish, who wished to teach to a young prince the fact of the existence of a God! The fable hath it, that the young prince could not see any proof of the Existence of a First Cause: so the dervish brought a little plant and set it before him, and in his sight the little plant grew up, blossomed, brought forth fruit, and became a towering tree in an hour. The young man lifted up his hands in wonder, and he said, "God must have done this." "Oh, but," said the teacher, thou sayst, "God has done this, because it is done in an hour: hath he not done it, when it is accomplished in twenty years?" It was the same work in both cases; it was only the rapidity that astonished his pupil. SO, brethren, when we see the church gradually built up and converted, we lose the sense perhaps of a present God; but when the Lord causes the tree suddenly to grow from a sapling to a strong tall monarch of the forest then we say, "This is God." We are all blind and stupid in a measure, and we want to see sometimes some of these quick upgoings, these extraordinary motions of divine influence, before we will fully understand God's power. Learn, then, O Church of God to-day, this great lesson of the nothingness of man, and the Eternal All of God. Learn, disciples of Jesus, to rest on him: look for your success to his power, and while you make your efforts, trust not in your efforts, but in the Lord Jehovah. If ye have progressed slowly, give him thanks for progress; but if now he pleases to give you a marvellous increase, multiply your songs, and sing unto him that worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.
III. I now desire, with great earnestness, as the Holy Ghost shall help me, to make the text A STIMULUS FOR FURTHER EXERTION.
The duty of the Church is not to be measured by her success. It is as much the minister's duty to preach the gospel in adverse times as in propitious seasons. We are not to think, if God withholds the dew, that we are to withhold the plough. We are not to imagine that, if unfruitful seasons come, we are therefore to cease from sowing our seed. Our business is with act, not with result. The church has to do her duty, even though that duty should bring her no present reward. "If they hear thee not, Son of man, if they perish they shall perish, but their blood will I not require at thine hands." If we sow the seed, and the birds of the air devour it, we have done what we were commanded to do, and the duty is accepted even though the birds devour the seed. We may expect to see a blessed result, but even if it did not come we must not cease from duty. But while this is true so far, it must nevertheless be a divine and holy stimulant to a gospel labourer, to know that God is making him successful. And in the present day we have a better prospect of success than we ever had, and we should consequently work the harder. When a tradesman begins business with a little shop at the corner, he waits a while to see whether he will have any customers. By-and-bye his little shop is crowded; he has a name; he finds he is making money. What does he do? He enlarges his premises; the back yard is taken in and covered over; there are extra men employed; still the business increases, but he will not invest all his capital in it till he sees to what extent it will pay. It still increases, and the next house is taken, and perhaps the next: he says, "This is a paying concern, and therefore I will increase it." My dear friends, I am using commercial maxims, but they are common-sense rules, and I like to talk so. There are, in these days, happy opportunities. There is a noble business to be done for Christ. Where you used to invest a little capital, a little effort, and a little donation, invest more. There never was such heavy interest to be made as now. It shall be paid back in the results cent, per cent; nay, beyond all that you expected you shall see God's work prospering. If a farmer knew that a bad year was coming, he would perhaps only sow an acre or two; but if some prophet could tell him, "Farmer, there will be such a harvest next year as there never was," he would say, "I will plough up my grass lands, I will stub up those hedges: ever inch of round I will sow." So do you. There is a wondrous harvest coming. Plough up your headlands; root up your hedges; break up your fallow ground, and sow, even amongst the thorns. Ye know not which shall prosper, this or that; but ye may hope that they shall be alike good. Enlarged effort should always follow an increased hope of success.
And let me give you another encouragement. Recollect that even when this revival comes, an instrumentality will still be wanted. The ploughman is wanted, even after the harvest, and the treader of grapes is wanted, however plentiful the vintage; the greater the success the more need of instrumentality. They began at first to think in the North of Ireland that they could do without ministers; but now that the gospel is spread, never was there such a demand for the preachers of the gospel as now. Proudly men said in their hearts, "God has done this without the intervention of man." I say, they said it proudly, for there is such a thing as proud humility; but God made them stoop. He made them see that after all he would bless the Word through his servants—that he would make the ministers of God "mighty to the pulling down of strongholds." Brothers and sisters, you need not think that if better times should come, the world will do without you. You will be wanted. "A man shall be precious as the gold of Ophir." They shall take hold of your skirts, and they shall say, "Tell us what we must do to be saved." They shall come to your house; they shall ask your prayers; they shall demand your instructions; and you shall find the meanest of the flock become precious as a wedge of gold. The ploughman shall never be so much esteemed as when he follows after the reaper, and the sower of seed never so much valued as when he comes at the heels of those that tread the grapes. The glory which God puts upon instrumentality should encourage you to use it.
And now I beseech and intreat you, my dear brothers and sisters, inhabitants of this great City of London, let not this auspicious gale pass away without singular effort. I sometimes fear lest the winds should blow on us, and we should have our sails all furled, and therefore the good ship should not speed. Up with the canvas now. Oh! Put on ever stitch of it. Let every effort be used, while God is helping us. Let us be earnest co-workers with him. Methinks I see the clouds floating hither; they have come from the far west, from the shore of America; they have crossed the sea, and the wind has wafted them till the green isle received the showers in its northern extremity. Lo! the clouds are just now passing over Wales, and are refreshing the shires that border on the principality. The rain is falling on Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire; divine grace is distilling, and the clouds are drawing nearer and nearer to us. Mark, my brethren, they tarry not for men, neither stay they for the sons of men. They are floating o'er our heads to-day. Shall they float away, and shall we still be left as dry as ever? 'Tis yours to-day to bring down he rain, though 'tis God's to send the clouds. God has sent this day over this great city a divine cloud of his grace. Now, ye Elijahs, pray it down! To your knees, believers, to your knees. You can bring it down, and only you. "For this thing will I be enquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them." "Prove me now herewith," saith the Lord of hosts, "and see if I will not open the windows of heaven, and give you such a blessing that you shall not have room to contain it." Will you lose the opportunity, Christians? Will you let men be lost for want of effort? Will you suffer this all-blessed time to roll away unimproved? If so, the Church of one thousand eight hundred and sixty is a craven Church, and is unworthy of its time; and he among you, men and brethren, that has not an earnest heart to-day, if he be a Christian, is a disgrace to his Christianity. When there are such times as these, if we do not every man of us trust in the plough, we shall indeed deserve the worst barrenness of soul that can possibly fall upon us. I believe that the Church has often been plagued and vexed by her God, because when God has favoured her she has not made a proper use of the favour. "Then," saith he, "I will make thee like Gilboa; on thy mount there shall be no dew; I will bid the clouds that they rain no more rain upon thee, and thou shalt be barren and desolate, till once again I pour out the Spirit from on high." Let us spend this week ins special prayer. Let us meet together as often as we can, and plead at the throne; and each man of you in private be mighty with your God, and in public be diligent to your efforts to ring your fellow-men to Christ.
IV. I have done, when I have uttered a WORD OF WARNING to those of you who know not Christ.
I am aware that I have many here on Sabbath mornings who never were in the habit of attending a place of worship at all. There is many a gentleman here to-day, who would be ashamed in any society, to confess himself a professor of religion. He has never perhaps, for a long time heard the gospel preached; and now there is a strange sort of fascination that has drawn him here. He came the first time out of curiosity—perhaps to make a joke at the minister's expense; he has found himself enthralled; he does not know how it is, but he has been all this week uneasy, he has been wanting to come again, and when he goes away to-day, he will be watching for next Sabbath. He has not given up his sins, but somehow they are not so pleasurable as they used to be. He cannot swear as he did; if an oath comes out edgeways, it does not roll out in the round form it used to do: he knows better now. Now, it is to such persons that I speak. My dear friends, allow me to express my hearty joy that you are here, and let me also express the hope that you are here for a purpose you do not as yet understand. God has a special favour to you, I do trust, and therefore he has brought you here. I have frequently remarked, that in any revival of religion, it is not often the children of pious parents that are brought in, but those who never knew anything of Christ before. The ordinary means are usually blessed to those who constantly attend hem; but the express effort, and the extraordinary influence of the Spirit, reach those who were outside the pale of nominal Christians, and made no profession of religion. I am I hopes it may meet you. But if you should despise the Word which you have heard; if the impression that has been made—and you know it has been made—should die away, one of the most awful regrets you will ever have when you come to your right sense and reason in another world will be the feeling that you had an opportunity, but that you neglected it. I cannot conceive a more doleful wail than that of the man who cries at last in hell, "The harvest is past—there was a harvest; summer is ended—there was a summer—and I am not saved." To go to perdition in ordinary times is hell; but to go from under the sound of an earnest ministry, where you are bidden to come to Christ, where you are entreated with honest tears to come to Jesus—to go there after you have been warned is to go not to hell merely, but to the ver hell of hell. The core and marrow of damnation is reserved for men who hear the truth, and feel it too, but yet reject it, and are lost. Oh! My dear hearer, this is a solemn time with you. I pray that God the Holy Spirit may remind you that it may be now or never with you. You may never have another warning, or if you have it, you may row so hardened that you may laugh at it and despise it. My brother, I beseech thee, by God, by Christ Jesus, by thine own immortal welfare, stop and think now whether it be worth while to throw away the hallowed opportunity which is now presented to thee. Wilt thou go and dance away thine impressions, or laugh them out of thy soul? Ah! man, thou mayest laugh thyself into hell, but thou canst not laugh thyself out of it.
There is a turning point in each man's life when his character becomes fixed and settled. That turning point may be to-day. It may be that there shall be some solemn seat in this hall, which is a man knew its history he would never sit in it,—a seat in which a man shall sit and hear the Word, and shall say, "I will not yield; I will resist the impression; I will despise it; I will have my sins, even if I am lost for them." Mark your seat, friend, before you go; make a blood-red stain across it, that next time we come here we may say, "Here a soul destroyed itself." But I pray the rather that God the Holy Spirit may sweetly whisper in thy heart—"Man, yield, for Jesus invites thee to come to him." Oh, may my Master smile into your face this morning, and say, "I love thy soul; trust me with it. Give up thy sins; turn to me." O Lord Jesus, do it! And men shall not resist thee. Oh! Show them thy love, and they must yield. Do it, O thou Crucified One, for thy mercy's sake! Send forth thine Holy Spirit now, and bring the strangers home; and in this hall grant thou, O Lord, that many hearts may be fully resigned to thy love, and to thy grace!
From the December 1887 Sword and Trowel
Oh for a great and general revival of true religion! Not a burst of mere excitement, but a real awakening, a work of the Eternal Spirit. This would be a glorious reply to skepticism, and would act like a strong wind in clearing the air, and driving away the miasmata which lurk in the stagnant atmosphere. There would then be small honor paid to men who mar the gospel of our Lord, and truth, which has fallen in our streets, would again ascend her throne. Let us pray for such a visitation of the Holy Ghost with our whole souls. It is not only desirable, it is essential; we must either be revived by the Lord himself, or the churches will descend until error and ungodliness swallow them up. This calamity shall not happen but only divine grace can avert it.
At the same time, we cannot expect a gracious revival till we are clear of complicity with the deadening influences which are all around us. A man of God writes us: "You cannot well overstate the spiritual death and dearth which prevail in the provinces. Where the 'minister is successful' no Unitarian would be offended with the preaching, and where 'not successful,' we see a miserably superficial handling of the Word, without power. Of course there are valuable exceptions. What can be expected as to spirituality in the church when deacons are better acquainted with 'Hamlet,' and Irving's actings, than with the Word of God? And what about the next age, when the children are treated to pantomimes, and a taste is created for these things?" This brother's lamentation is of a piece with hosts of others which load our table. They come from men who are second to none in spiritual weight. Either these brethren are dreaming, or they are located in specially bad places; or else there is grievous cause for humiliation. We will not go deep into this question, it is too painful. The extent to which sheer frivolity and utterly inane amusement have been carried in connection with some places of worship would almost exceed belief. We call the attention of our readers to the fact that doctrine has been the ground of battle in the Down-Grade struggle which has been chosen by our opponents, but on the matter of prayer-meetings and worldliness they have been prudently silent. Certain of them have in this affair exhibited that discretion which is the better part of valor.
If any of our churches have been guilty in this respect, how can they expect the divine Spirit to work with them? Wherever the statement which we have quoted, or a similar one, can be proved, we are at a loss to know how conversions can be looked for. The Lord our God is holy, and he cannot compromise his own glorious name by working with persons whose groveling tastes lead them to go to Egypt—we had almost said to Sodom—for their recreations. Is this walking with God? Is this the manner in which Enochs are produced?
It is a heart-sorrow to have to mention such things, but the work of the Lord must be done faithfully, and this evil must be laid bare. There can be no doubt that all sorts of entertainments, as nearly as possible approximating to stage-plays, have been carried on in connection with places of worship, and are, at this present time, in high favor. Can these things promote holiness, or help in communion with God? Can men come away from such things and plead with God for the salvation of sinners and the sanctification of believers? We loathe to touch the unhallowed subject; it seems so far removed from the walk of faith, and the way of heavenly fellowship. In some cases the follies complained of are even beneath the dignity of manhood, and fitter for the region of the imbecile than for thoughtful men.
Brethren in Christ, in every church let us purge out the things which weaken and pollute. It is clear to every one who is willing to see it that laxity of doctrine is either the parent of worldliness, or is in some other way very near akin to it. The men who give up the old faith are the same persons who plead for latitude as to general conduct. The Puritan is not more notorious for his orthodoxy than for his separateness from the world. Liberal divines do not always command the respect of the public, but they gain a certain popularity by pandering to prevailing tastes. The ungodly world is so far on their side that it commends them for their liberality, and rails at the orthodox as bigots and kill-joys. It is a very suspicious circumstance that very often the less a man knows of the inner life, and the less he even cares to speak of it, the more heartily he is for the new theology, the theory of evolution, and the condemnation of all settled doctrine. Those who would have a blessing from the Lord must avoid all this, and determine to follow the Lord fully. Not only must they quit false doctrine, but they must receive the gospel, not as dogma, but as vital truth. Only as the truth is attended with living faith will it prove its own royal power. Believers must also sweep the house of the leaven of worldliness, and the frivolities of a giddy generation. The evil which is now current eats as doth a canker, and there is no hope for healthy godliness until it is cut out of the body of the church by her again repenting, and doing her first works.
Those who through divine grace have not defiled their garments must not content themselves with censuring others, but must arouse themselves to seek a fuller baptism of the Spirit of God. Perhaps these evils are permitted that they may act as a sieve upon the heap gathered on the Lord's threshing-floor. Possibly they are allowed that our apathetic churches may be aroused. We know already of several cases in which true ministers have gone over the foundation truths again with their people, and have preached the saving Word with clearer emphasis. In other cases churches have been summoned to special prayer about this matter. This is a good beginning: let it be carried out on the widest scale. As one man let us cry mightily unto the Lord our God, that he would arise and plead his own cause. Now, if never before, let those who are loyal to Jesus and his Word be up and doing. A boundless blessing is waiting for the asking. We believe in prayer. LET US PRAY LIKE ELIJAHS.
In reference to the Down-Grade controversy and the Baptist Union, we are urged to further action; but it would be far easier to take a foolish step than to retrace it. We will move when we are moved, and not before. Conferences, societies, and leagues are proposed: all are admirable, no doubt; but which out of many suggestions is the most suitable? We do not see our way. May the Lord himself direct his people! Meanwhile, to redouble our prayers, and to seek a revival in all our churches, cannot possibly be a mistake. Prayer, mighty prayer, can do wonders. This is the work of the present hour. Pray without ceasing, and preach the faithful Word in clearer terms than ever. Such a course of conduct may seem to some to be a sort of standing still and doing nothing, but in very truth it is bringing God into the battle; and when HE comes to avenge the quarrel of his covenant, he will make short work of it. "Arise, O Lord, plead thine own cause!"
1. Infallible Signs of Revival
2. Spiritual revival: The Want of the Church
3. The Story of God's Mighty Acts
4. What is Revival?
5. The Kind of Revival We Need.
6. The Great Revival
7. Preparation for Revival
8. A Revival Sermon
9. Restoration of Truth and Revival