By Arthur Wallis
"Behold, this Child is set for the falling and rising up of many in Israel; and for a sign which is spoken against. . . that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34).
Thus spoke the aged Simeon as he held the long-promised Saviour in his arms. Thirty years elapsed and then the prophecy was fulfilled as Christ stood in manhood in the synagogue at Nazareth with the roll of the book in His hand. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me," He read, "because He anointed Me to preach the gospel. . ." (Luke 4:18). Then He began to preach, applying the word in the power of the Spirit to the consciences of His hearers. Soon their wonder gave place to wrath, and they "cast Him forth out of the city, and led Him unto the brow of the hill. . . that they might throw Him down head-long" (verse 29). Thus from the time that He commenced to preach and work in the power of the Spirit, He became "a sign spoken against. . . that thoughts out of many hearts might be revealed".
It has been thus with every servant of God whose ministry was endued with power. It has been thus with every movement of God by which the church has progressed since its inception at Pentecost. It has been thus with every genuine revival - a sign spoken against. . .
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed". The mighty operation of the Spirit will always uncover and draw forth into the open the antagonism of the natural or carnal mind which is "enmity against God".
He whom God chooses to be an instrument in revival may expect to be a continual target for the malice of Satan, who never seems to lack willing hands or lips to do his work, in the church as well as out of it. Many know of the contribution of Jonathan Edwards to the New England Revival in the seventeen hundreds; few know that he was ultimately compelled to resign from the church so signally blessed through his labours. Many know of William Burns, under whose ministry revival broke out in R. M. McCheyne's church in Dundee, and elsewhere; few know of the gruelling he received in defending that work before a committee of his fellow ministers. So it was with Finney and many others. If we find a revival that is not spoken against, we had better look again to ensure that it is a revival.
We must pause a moment and answer some of the objections that are always brought against revival. When God pours out the Spirit these arguments are sure to occur again, and there will be no time to deal with them then. There is little that can be said to those who wilfully blind their eyes to the facts, and whose antagonism to the work of the Spirit would seem to derive more from the enmity of the heart than the reasonings of the head. Some, however, speak against revival out of ignorance. They have never experienced it, do not know what it is, and are prejudiced against it from the outset. Influenced by enemies of the work, their opinions are based on hearsay. The effective cure for such, if they are willing, is to go and see for themselves.
Others object to revival because they consider that it is always accompanied by excesses and other undesirable features. That there is a tendency for such to occur where care is not exercised, and that at times excesses have occurred, cannot be denied. No one would pretend to claim that every revival burns with a smokeless flame. But let us test the depth of the argument.
Would these critics suggest that the early church ought never to have sold their possessions that distribution might be made to those in need, because this was abused by Ananias and Sapphira? Should the young churches have refrained from eating the Lord's supper, because in some places, e.g., Corinth, the ordinance had been abused? Ought there to have been no Reformation because occasionally Protestants gave way to excessive zeal and wrongs were perpetrated? The picture must be seen in perspective, and the evils must be weighed against the overall good. "After drought, the copious rains often deluge the land and sweep away bridges, and otherwise do very much harm. But no one is so alarmed by the evils of rain, as to desire a continuation of the drought" (Wm. Patton, D.D.).
There are always some who are desirous of revival until it comes, and then they bitterly oppose it, because it has not come in the way they anticipated. The instrument that God used, or the channel through which the blessing flowed, was not what their convictions had led them to expect. They looked to see an Eliab or an Abinadab chosen for this great work, but the Lord, who "looketh on the heart", chose a David. They thought that their own local church, their own fellowship which was so scriptural and right, would see the beginning of the work, but God chose to work elsewhere, and this became to them a stumbling-block. To all who handle the work of revival, this should be a solemn warning of the great danger of yielding to jealousy and prejudice, which blind the eyes, harden the heart, and hinder the Spirit.
Then the manner of the Spirit's working or the manifestations through which God chose to exhibit His power may have been contrary to their expectations or foreign to their experience.
They brought the glorious work of the Spirit to the bar of their own judgment, and there condemned and denied it. As the Jews rejected their Messiah because He did not fit in with their plans, or fulfil their preconceived ideas, so these also reject the manifestation of God in revival.
Thus it becomes, as in the case of the Lord, "a sign spoken against", and those who thus speak inevitably reveal, by their opposition to the work of the Spirit, the thoughts of their hearts. Let all beware of an attitude which presumes to dictate to the Almighty how He shall conduct His work. This must be considered further when discussing supernatural manifestations in revival.
To be distinguished from the objectors just considered, there is another class, with many good, earnest people among them, who do not speak against revival itself, but against the expectation of it. They readily acknowledge the need of it, and that should it come it would do much good, but deny that God is ready to meet that need and do that good. Some take this view because they do not see any evidence in the church or the world to encourage the hope.
Others do not see any evidence in Scripture, but rather that the very reverse of revival is to be expected in these last days.
We would ask the former what evidence do they look for among believers and unbelievers to indicate a coming movement? What are the outward signs of the advent of revival for which they look in vain? It is a crucial question, and a later charter (XIV, The Sound of Marching) must be devoted to answering it.
Those who argue from Scripture say, "Are we not approaching the end of the age? And do not the Scriptures teach that in the last days perilous times shall come, and that things in the world are to wax worse and worse? How, then, can we look for revival, and a great ingathering of the lost, when God has predicted the very opposite?" It is to be noted here that this argument, which was so prevalent among believers a few years ago, is not being vented so much of late, because facts too big to ignore are disproving the theory.
Great evangelistic drives, which we must be careful to distinguish from revival, but for which we must thank God, are reaping in a manner that has not been witnessed since the beginning of the century. Let those who yearn for that deeper and greater work of revival be careful not to criticize what God is pleased to bless. While God is smiling, who are we to frown? It is not a question of whether we approve of every method being used, but whether we have hearts as large as Paul's, who could say, "In every way. . . Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Phil. 1:18). If the apostle could do this even when motives were doubtful (verses 17, 18), how much more should we when it is merely a question of what we judge to be doubtful methods.
But let us return to this objection. It is based on 2 Timothy 3 and other like passages, where we are told that "in the last days grievous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of self", etc. and that "evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived".
The passage teaches, what is affirmed elsewhere in Scripture, that moral conditions in the world are to deteriorate in the end times, that men will be lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, cloaking their sin with a form of godliness that denies the power.
But why should this forbid revival? Was it not in grievous and perilous times that the church was born? God found it needful then to demonstrate His power and pour out His Spirit. If the gathering out of the church is to be consummated in a greater time of world turmoil, how much more needful that God should again act in power to safeguard His rights, complete His church, and vindicate His Name.
History abounds with instances of where the desperate plight of man has called forth all the mightier working on the part of God. Again and again the history of revival has been the history of God's intervention to retrieve what was hopeless. Furthermore, the prophetic word warns us that Satanic agents are going to deceive by signs and wonders (Matt. 24:24). Is the Lord then to withhold His power, and so give the Devil the monopoly in the realm of the supernatural? Are the Moses and Aarons of these last days to hold their rods while "the magicians of Egypt" cast down theirs and turn them into serpents? Should we not expect the servants of God to do as much, and more - that their rods should swallow up those of "the magicians" as they did of old, according to the promise, "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world"? (1 John 4:4). The same Book that warns us that "iniquity shall abound", also reminds us that "where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly" (Rom. 5:20).
Man's extremity is God's opportunity. Is there widespread rejection of God's law? Then "it is time for the Lord to work, for they have made void Thy law" (Ps. 119:126).
Others who oppose any expectation of revival argue in this manner: "Revival must begin in the church, but the Scriptures foretell that in the church there is to be the falling away prior to the return of Christ, the love of the many is to wax cold, and the Laodicean spirit will prevail.
We see these things already being fulfilled; how then can we expect revival?" The first two predictions we cannot deny, and must be careful not to overlook; but the third is based on the assumption that the letter to the Church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14) describes the state of the church in these end times. It is doubtful whether this can be proved, though it may be true.
However, let us take the objection as it stands. It involves the question as to what is the divine purpose in these recorded predictions of departure and decline. For example, is the picture we have of the lukewarm church of Laodicea presented to us as an example to follow or a state to condone? Did God intend that we should argue in favour of the Laodicean spirit, or resign ourselves fatalistically to it, because we believe we are in the end times?
It must be remembered that predictions as to departure are accompanied by predictions as to judgment which is the consequence of departure. Christ says to the lukewarm Laodiceans, "I am about to spue thee out of my mouth" (Darby). But again and again we find that prophecies of coming judgment were uttered that they might so move the hearers as to make it possible for the judgment to be averted, or at least deferred. There is such a thing as God repenting Him of the evil He thought to do, and doing it not, as in the case of Nineveh (Jonah 3:10), when God revoked the prophecy of Jonah concerning its overthrow.
When Daniel interpreted the vision of Nebuchadnezzar, which was a prediction of God's judgment upon him, he did not counsel the king solemnly to await his punishment, but to take action which might avert it. "Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable unto thee, and break off thy sins by righteousness, and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; if there may be a lengthening of thy tranquillity" (Dan. 4:27).
If God has foreseen and predicted a tendency on the part of the church in the latter days to decline in faith and devotion, He has not forewarned us of it that we may apathetically await its fulfilment, but that we may be forearmed and strive together to avert it. There is no more effective way of achieving this than by preparing our hearts and pleading with God for genuine revival. There is nothing more calculated to arrest the downward spiritual trend, and set a lukewarm church on fire than a mighty awakening of the Holy Spirit.
God's dealings with Israel, "written for our admonition" (1 Cor. 10:11), both illustrate and confirm the argument. When spiritual decay set in with the death of Solomon and the division of the kingdom, God constantly warned His people of the consequences of departure, and predicted coming judgment which was ultimately fulfilled. We find nevertheless that the history of decline is punctuated by some outstanding spiritual revivals through godly kings and fearless prophets who turned the people back to God.
These men did not argue, as some Christians do today, that departure and judgment were prophesied and could not be averted, therefore a widespread turning to God was not to be contemplated. God had not revoked His promises. He was still the God of revival, if they would fulfil the conditions. "If My people, which are called by My Name, shall humble themselves, pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear. . .
forgive . . . and heal" (2 Chron. 7:14) This promise had actually been given for a time of judgment (verse 13). They took God at His word, sought earnestly His face, and in their day saw the turn of the tide.
Towards the close of Judah's history as an independent kingdom there came to the throne the boy, Josiah. The temporary eclipse of the nation in captivity for its sin was not to be deferred much longer, and in fact began in the reign of his son, Jehoahaz. Nevertheless through the obedience to God of this young king there took place a powerful revival which pulsated through every, vein of the nation.
The word of the Lord ran and was glorified. Sin and idolatry were purged from the land (2 Kings 23:4-20). The passover was kept as it had never been kept since the time of Samuel (2 Chron. 35:18), and all the days of Josiah the people departed not from following the Lord (2 Chron. 34:33). Josiah had fulfilled the conditions and God had kept His promise: "Because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God, when thou heardest His words against this place. . . and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before Me, I also have heard thee, saith the Lord" (2 Chron. 34:27). It was the prophecy of coming judgment that produced in Josiah's heart a desire for revival, not a dumb resignation to fate.
Those who long for a movement in these last days need not hide away these divine predictions, as though they constituted an embarrassing contradiction to the promise of revival. Let us rather bring them out into the open and make them, for ourselves and for others, both a powerful warning and an incentive, as did Josiah. For these very prophecies that are often used as objections to revival should drive us to our knees in humble earnest prayer, that God may pour out His Spirit, revive His Church, and save the lost. "Many there be that say, who will show us any good? Lord, lift Thou up the light of Thy countenance upon us" (Ps 4:6).
Finally, there are those who object to the expectation of revival because, they assert: "The church should not be looking for revival, but for the return of Christ". Of course the church should be looking for the return of Christ, but is it? Dare we begin to claim that the people of God are ready and waiting for their returning Lord? How can they be when, in the main, they are carnal, sleepy, worldly, lukewarm? "He that hath this hope set on Him purifieth himself, even as He is pure" (1 John 3:3). And it is certain that the church is largely in this state, not because it is preparing and pleading for revival, but because it is not doing so. In revival the church is awakened, carnality and worldliness are slain, the lukewarm are made hot, and the people of God begin to purify themselves. There is nothing calculated to incite preparation for and expectation of the return of Christ so much as revival.
The re-emphasis throughout Wales of the blessed truth of Christ's return was one of the direct results of the 1904 Awakening. One who was himself prominent in the movement wrote: "In the whole of the Welsh pulpit, anterior to 1904, one knew of but two ministers who held and taught the truth of the pre-millennial, personal advent of our Lord. . . . But mark the divine miracle. The revival came. And with it, a great light. . . .
The writer's own testimony is but an instance of that of thousands. Never can he forget the occasion, the place, nor the day when, alone with God, the truth flashed into his heart. He had heard no preaching, nor had he read any book on the subject. . . . At that moment, however, a conviction was wrought in his heart that the Lord was coming; that He was coming quickly; that indeed He must come, and that apart from His coming, there seemed no hope for the world" (Rent Heavens by R. B. Jones).
The hope of revival is not a substitute but a supplement to the hope of His coming. The prospect of His appearing unto them that look for Him makes revival imperative.
There are some, alas, who do not wish to be acquainted with the facts; who have only eyes to see and ears to hear what goes on in their own circle or within their own fellowship of believers. Nevertheless, let those who know the facts publish them abroad without fear, for there is nothing more calculated to create expectancy for revival than the news of it.
"They shall speak of the glory of Thy kingdom, and talk of Thy power; to make known to the sons of men His mighty acts" (Ps. 145:11). "The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein" (Ps. 111:2).
But those who do not appear to find any pleasure in them, would do well to heed the apostolic warning : "Beware therefore, lest that come upon you, which is spoken in the prophets; Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish; for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, if one declare it unto you" (Acts 13:40). From this negative aspect, the objections to revival, let us move on to the positive side, the promise of revival.