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 which 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 for ever, 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 for ever? 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 are 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 waggons 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.
2. 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 for ever? 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, 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.
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 HaIl. 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 school-house 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 McQuiIkin 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.