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Sermons from the Psalms, 14 - The Recovered Enthusiasm

By Clovis G. Chappell


      "Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?" Psalm 85:6

      I

      Clovis G. Chappell: MY text is a prayer. It comes out of one of the most beautifully spiritual Psalms of the Bible. Here a patriot and saint is presenting before God a petition that he believes to be of vital importance both to himself and to his people. Devout souls through all the centuries have caught the cadences of his voice and have appreciated the worthfulness of his request. Having done so, they have been constrained to say "Amen." As they have listened to his prayer they have been convinced that he was voicing the deepest hungers as well as the deepest needs of their hearts, and they have eagerly and earnestly made his petition their own.

      And I am wondering how many of us, as we hear his prayer, will feel constrained to mingle our voices with his. Frankly, I am afraid that the number will be none too great; for the petition that this saint is presenting is not vastly popular. There are multitudes to-day, even in the Church, who no longer say "Amen" to this prayer. They rather remain utterly listless, or cry out in protest, "Forbid it, Lord!" For this psalmist is praying for a revival. Here is the petition that he is bringing before God: "Revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee."

      There is nothing more evident than that the revival has fallen upon evil days. What announcement could the average pastor make to his people next Sunday that would create less enthusiasm, less approval, less holy expectancy, than that he was soon to begin a revival? Such an announcement would not guarantee the coming together of an eager and enthusiastic congregation. It would have the very opposite effect. There are many churches in which the announcement of a revival would have about as much drawing power as a notice that a public collection was to be taken, or that the germs of some contagious disease were to be put on exhibition. For them, to be forewarned would be to be forearmed. Many of the best people would be conspicuous by their absence. There would not be a rush to the church, but rather an exodus from it. It would be, "To your tents, O Israel." (1 Kings 12:16)

      Yet it has not always been so. The word revival was once a winsome, thrilling word. It was radiant with life and beauty. But such is not the case any more. This summer I met, for the first time in more than a quarter of a century, a girl with whom I had gone to our village school when I was a lad. I remembered her as a vigorous, vivacious girl of unusual beauty. But how hardly the passing years had dealt with her. They had erased every vestige of her youthful charms. The cruel fists of suffering and sickness had so pounded her once lovely face and figure that it was impossible to see in that charred and tarnished bit of womanhood the slightest resemblance to the girl I had known in the spring time of life. So it is with this word revival. It has lost its charm. "It hath no form nor comeliness; and when we see it, there is no beauty that we should desire it." (Isa. 53:2)

      II

      Why is this the case? It is not because the idea of revival has fallen into disrepute in every department of life. It is only true in the realm of religion. For instance, nobody objects to a revival in nature. We all thrill at the coming of spring. This is especially true of those who live in our more northerly latitudes. How delightful when the first violet appears! How thrilling when the buds begin to swell; when the winter-stripped trees begin to deck themselves in their soft, verdant garments; when the catbird begins to sing among the apple blossoms; when the robin comes back from his sojourn in the far southland! When the spring comes we do not protest against its coming because it does not last all the year. We do not reject it because it is a climactic experience that will not abide. We are glad to welcome it in spite of this, because it means the coming of new life.

      We do not object to revivals in these physical bodies of ours. Were you ever desperately ill, so ill that even to whisper was like lifting a heavy load, so ill that the most dainty dish only nauseated, so ill that life lost its tang and became little more than a wearisome burden? And then did you experience the joy of returning health, the passing of the pain, the coming of new strength, the return of the zest for living? Did you ever witness and rejoice over such a revival in one that you loved? I was in an automobile accident some years ago in which one very dear to me was rendered unconscious. She looked as if she were utterly dead. How welcome was the first quiver of an eyelash! How welcome the first incoherent word that showed that a revival was on and that life was coming back!

      Do you know the most welcome message that I could possibly bring to you this morning? Suppose I could tell you with authority that a revival in business was on the way, that it was just over the rim of the horizon and would be upon us to-morrow. [This was during the Great Depression.] Suppose I could say to you with certainty, "To-morrow your assets will double in value; to-morrow you will get your lost position back; to-morrow your decrease in salary will become an increase." What enthusiasm that would create! It would be flashed from city to city and from continent to continent till almost every nation and tribe would hear the news before nightfall.

      But when we begin to speak of a revival in religion our interest wanes, our minds wander, we slip into a comatose state and wonder how soon the tiresome ordeal will be over. Why are many so indifferent to a revival of religion?

      Why are many even antagonistic? There are a number of reasons. I am going to mention two.

      1. The revival has been rendered unattractive and even odious to some because they have seen only its counterfeit. They do not distinguish the real from the spurious. We confess at once that there have been many so-called revivals that have not really revived. It is not my purpose to say who is most to blame for this. There are those who put the whole weight of responsibility upon the professional evangelist. Part of the blame surely belongs there, but not the whole of it. There is a type of professional evangelist whose ministry, I fear, has been nothing short of a menace to the Church. But there is surely another type whose ministry has been enriching. We cannot, therefore, shift the whole blame upon his shoulders. Part of it rests on us who are pastors, part of it upon our congregations. Too often all of us have undertaken to enter into this spiritual enrichment by some other way rather than by the door. We have demanded the harvest without the necessary cultivation. Therefore there have been many so-called revivals that have brought death rather than life.

      But it is neither fair nor reasonable to discredit a reality because that reality is sometimes counterfeited. By revival, mark you, I am not speaking of any particular form of revival, ancient or modern. No more am I speaking of any certain method. By revival I mean a spiritual awakening. A revival takes place when the heart recaptures its first rapture; when the soul recovers its first love. That the revival in some form has been mightily used for the bringing in of the kingdom of God in the past, no student of Church history can deny. I am unwilling, therefore, to throw the revival away simply because it has been counterfeited. In fact, I am convinced that such climactic experiences are necessary for the highest spiritual attainment, both of the individual and of the Church.

      You are not going to toss aside the diamond that you wear because there are jewels very much like it that are made of paste. I am not going to throw away what little money I have in my pocket because there is such worthless stuff in the world as counterfeit money. Let us remember that no amount of sham can destroy what is real.

      2. My second reason for our widespread indifference and antagonism to the revival is just this: The modern Church is to a great extent an ease-loving Church. Such being the case, too often it is not willing to pay the price that a revival costs. At times we hate our deadness, our lack of spiritual beauty, but we hate still more to be bothered. That may sound a bit pessimistic and unkind, I know, but I am confident that the facts in the case bear witness to its truth. There are many, doubtless, who would like to have a revival, provided it could be had without any serious trouble. But such is not the case. A revival is costly. It always has been. It always will be.

      Some months ago a gentleman drove a beautiful sport model Cadillac up in front of my home and came in and said to me with great enthusiasm: "There is the car you ought to have. You are in the Cadillac class." That was really a word fitly spoken. I had never thought of it after that fashion before. He told me, also, what an honor it would be to have one in my position driving a Cadillac about the city. His final word was that it cost only so many thousand dollars, a mere pittance for one in my position. That quenched all my enthusiasm. I even forgot the warm glow that was created by being reminded that I belonged in the Cadillac class. I said to him frankly: "Thank you, but I do not want your car." Now when I said that I did not mean that his car was undesirable. I did not mean that I would not trade with him under any circumstances. Had he set the price at four thousand cents instead of four thousand dollars, had he promised further to endow the car, possibly we could have traded. But when the price and upkeep were taken into consideration, I had to say frankly and honestly: "I do not desire your car."

      Such is the case with a revival. Even where we desire one, we do not always desire it genuinely enough to pay the price.

      Hosea gives us some idea of the price to be paid as he pleads for a revival in his day. "Break up your fallow ground," (Hosea 10:12, Jer. 4:3) he cries with passionate earnestness. "Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you." That word takes us out on the farm. Springtime has come and we are getting ready for the planting and the sowing. But how do we go about it? We do not plant the seed among the weeds and briers and sprouts that have grown up during the year. True, the ground is fallow. That is, it is not new ground that has never been furrowed by a plow. It is ground that has been under cultivation; but in spite of that, it needs to be plowed again. The farmer only wastes his seed who sows them in unprepared soil.

      So our hearts that have been broken must be broken anew, broken by repentance, before there can be a revival. God is always eager to give, but he cannot give what we refuse to take. He cannot thrust life into hands that are too full of things to receive it. The revival always begins, not by the gathering in of those without the Church, but with the deeper consecration of those within. The Church, therefore, that would experience a revival must repent.

      And by repentance we mean something more than the giving up of our positive wrongdoing. Of course this is included. We surely need to repent of our forgotten vows, our uncharitable judgments, our open transgressions of God's law. But we need even more, if possible, to repent of failure to adequately represent our Lord. We need to repent of our lack of prayer and of our resulting lack of power. We need to repent of the shameful way we have shunted God's cause into second, third, or hundredth place, instead of putting first things first. We need to repent of our listlessness, our cruel indifference, as we have faced the desperate plight of men in need. We need to repent of our spiritual barrenness. "When Zion travaileth she brings forth children." (Isa. 66:8) But just as there are parents that are too selfish to desire children, even so there are churches that are too selfish to desire spiritual children. There are hundreds of churches in our own communion, who, last year, did not report one single addition on profession of faith. Surely this is proof positive that we need to repent with that true repentance that means, not simply to be sorry, but to be so sorry that we shall face about and courageously share with our Lord the burden of a world gone wrong.

      What, then, is the meaning of the cry that we hear on every hand to-day, "The revival is a thing of the past"? Some are saying it gleefully, some listlessly, some wistfully. But if this is true, why is it true? It is certainly not because human nature has changed. The heart of humanity remains the same through all the years. It is not because the Divine Nature has changed. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. It is not because revivals are no longer possible. Let any pastor to-day unite with any group, large or small, in any church, in any city, village, or countryside; and let these say from their hearts, "Give me or I die," (Gen. 30:1) and what will be the result? Then and there a spiritual awakening will take place as surely as night follows day.

      To speak more accurately, a revival has already begun. But such an adventure is rather too exacting for our timid souls. It is easier to talk the commodity down than to pay the price necessary to our possession of it. It is easier to school ourselves to regard it as of little worth than to claim it as our own.

      "Upon a rock stands prone my soul,
      A diver, lean, undressed,
      And looks and fears the shock, and turns,
      And hides his shame in some poor, sorry jest."

      III

      But the fact that so many, both within and without our churches, do not desire a revival to-day is by no means proof positive that a revival is not needed. It is rather an indication of the greater need. One said recently with a glint of humor in his eye, "It is as hard to-day to convict man of sin as it is to convict a bootlegger in the courts of New York for selling liquor [during Prohibition]." But this does not prove in the least that either the sinner or the bootlegger is blameless.

      When Samson waked from his guilty sleep and went out to meet the enemy that he had triumphed over again and again, he was conscious of no great change in himself (Judges 16:19). Had you told him that his strength had departed, that his inner light had failed, that God was no longer with him, he would doubtless have given you a hot denial. But the fact that he did not realize his loss did not in any sense prevent that loss from being a reality. The fact that he was unconscious of his danger did not lessen or destroy his danger; it rather increased it. His lack of any sense of need made his blindness, his shackles, and his slavery inevitable.

      We read of a certain church that passed a resolution with regard to itself that read somewhat after this fashion:

      Whereas we have the best pastor in the city, and whereas we have the best choir and choir leader, and whereas we have the most select congregation, be it resolved that we are rich and increased in goods and have need of nothing. (Rev. 3:17)

      But the fact that they thought themselves rich did not make them rich in reality. As Jesus saw them as they really were, he had to declare broken-heartedly that, in spite of their boasted wealth, they were in reality "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked."

      A few days ago a friend of mine was attending a baseball game. When he was ready to go home his right limb seemed to be asleep, and he walked away with a limp. When he reached home the sense of sleepiness and deadness increased rather than diminished. At last he noticed that his limb had lost all sensitiveness. A pin prick did not cause him the least pain. What did he do? He did not call in his friends to rejoice with him that he had lost his sensitiveness. He rather called in a physician. He knew that such loss did not denote health, but sickness; not life, but partial death.

      And our present loss of spiritual sensitiveness, our lack of that passionate hunger for righteousness that amounts to positive pain, these are not an indication of vigorous spiritual health. They rather indicate the opposite.

      But I am sure that even those who do not believe that we need a revival will agree to this: We are desperately in need of something. No one who is not spiritually blind can be satisfied with present conditions. There is no shutting our eyes to the fact that there is abroad a dreadful decay of idealism, that moral standards that have been the underpinnings of our whole social order are being lightly thrown away.

      The atmosphere in which we move is, as a rule, not spiritually invigorating. It is rather enervating. It tends, to an unusual degree, to weaken our moral fiber. So much is this the case that, again and again, we see men upon whose integrity we would have staked our very lives, proving utterly unworthy of the confidence that their fellows have reposed in them. In great measure we have cast off restraint. There is a veritable orgy of doing as we please.

      The biggest business in our nation is the crime business. Our plight may be most nearly described by that tragic sentence in judges: "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges 17:6) Surely, then, if we do not need a revival, we are in desperate need of something that can meet our needs.

      IV

      What is that something that we need? Bearing in mind that we mean by a revival not a certain form, but a rediscovery of God, it is my firm conviction that the supreme need of this hour is for a revival of religion. This conviction, in spite of widespread indifference, and even antagonism, I am sure I share with many others. We believe in the revival because we believe in God. We are convinced that the revival is an absolute necessity because we believe that God is an absolute necessity.

      When Ezekiel went into the valley of dry bones, (Ezek. 37) it never occurred to him that he could raise up "an exceeding great army" by merely polishing and organizing those bones. He knew that the breath of God must breathe upon those slain before there could be any life.

      "Where there is no vision," said a wise man long ago, "the people cast off restraint." (Prov. 29:18) The one hope then for the cure of this deadly evil is the recovery of our vision of God. Legislation is not enough. Even the preaching of a high standard of ethics is not enough. There was never more ethical preaching than to-day. We hear it on every hand. But somehow these ethics are not always put into practice. We have glimpsed the bag of gold at the end of the rainbow, but the goddess of the mist flees at our approach, taking her treasure with her.

      Our psalmist realized this futility of the doctoring of the outside of life. Therefore he prayed, "Revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee."

      A real revival means a rebirth of joy, and that is a commodity on which the modern Church is exceedingly short. But this joy is something far greater than a mere tide of emotion. It is a joy that is the natural outcome of abounding spiritual life. It is a joy that means the changing of our want into wealth, our timidity into courage, our weakness into strength, our pathetic pessimism into glowing hope. It means the rekindling of our burnt-out enthusiasms and the rebirth of a fiery earnestness. It means a new passion for the saving of men and for the spreading of the kingdom of God to the uttermost parts of the earth. It tends to the making of the Church a truly glorious Church without spot or wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:27). And enriching the Church it enriches the world. "God be merciful to us, and bless us; and cause thy face to shine upon us." (Psa. 67:1)

      That is good, but it does not end there. The final outcome is this: "That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations." (Psa. 67:2) This is a sick world, but there is a remedy. There is a balm to make the wounded whole. Because we believe this, let us pray together now, and till he comes and rains righteousness upon us, this great prayer: "Revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee."

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