By Arthur Wallis
"The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye in the wilderness the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it" (Isa. 40:3).
These familiar words of Isaiah set forth from yet another aspect the conditions and promise of revival. Firstly, there is the forerunner and his ministry, "The voice of one that crieth.
"Secondly, there is the proclamation he makes, heralding the approach of the Sovereign: "The King is coming! Prepare for the King!" Finally, there is the promise that when He comes, the state of the wilderness, with its valleys and mountains, its crooked and rough places, shall be transformed; and His glory shall be universally revealed.
It is characteristic of the Old Testament prophets to speak of revival in terms of a divine visitation. "His going forth is sure as the morning," declared Hosea (6:3). Habakkuk described his vision of revival thus: "God came from Teman, and the Holy One from mount Paran. . .
His goings were as of old" (3:3, 6). If a sovereign should decide to visit some of his subjects unannounced, he would not be likely to use the occasion to demonstrate his majesty and glory. On a state visit, however, when he does come forth in royal splendour, it is essential that preparations in keeping with the grandeur of the occasion be made. It is indeed a state occasion when God comes forth in the splendour and power of revival, for it is a time, as Isaiah reminds us, when the glory of the Lord is revealed before the eyes of all. Suitable preparations must therefore be made, and first of all God has to find a man who will communicate to men His intentions. He raises up a herald for the hour of preparation.
"Behold, I send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple" (Mal. 3:1).
In preparation for a great visitation, God may raise up many messengers, each preparing the way of the Lord in his own appointed sphere. This is surely a day when God is looking for forerunners to blaze the trail of revival; not smooth preachers, but rugged prophets: men of the stamp of Elijah, who, with the hand of the Lord upon him, girded up his loins and ran before the king to the entrance of the royal city (1 Kings 18:46). Thus he demonstrated the spiritual work he was doing as a forerunner. On Carmel Elijah had prepared the way of the Lord, and now the Lord was coming "as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth"(Hos. 6:3).
Those whom God calls to such a ministry - and a call is essential - must be prepared for a pathway of unpopularity and misunderstanding. "Thou troubler of Israel" was the way Ahab addressed Elijah (1 Kings 8:17), and so this prophet whom God had sent to deal with the "Achans in the camp" (see Joshua 7:25) was himself accused of being one. John the Baptist demonstrates also this element in the ministry of the forerunner. Standing alone as the champion of righteousness, he unmasked the hypocrisy of the religionists and even denounced the sin of the king upon the throne. This man, who was "much more than a prophet", was called to seal his ministry with his blood, yet he succeeded in preparing the way of the Lord.
"Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist" (Matt. 11:11). A forerunner must needs be one who can say, "I truly am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin" (Mic. 3:8).
Jeremiah was another forerunner. In a day dark with declension and judgment his fearless ministry helped to check the evils of the time, and prepare the way for a reviving that he did not live to witness, under Ezra and Nehemiah. The commission given him of the Lord is deeply significant: "I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build, and to plant" (Jer. 1:10).
It will be noted that there is twice the emphasis on the negative element as on the positive; two thirds of his ministry was to be destructive, and only one third constructive. This is characteristic of the work of a forerunner. Stumbling blocks of iniquity have to be taken up (Isa. 57:14) and stones of unbelief have to be gathered out (Isa. 62:10) if the way of the Lord is to be prepared. The very word "prepare" contains this idea of casting out, emptying, and clearing as a field before planting. Destruction, ruthless and thorough, must precede the greater work of construction that is to follow. It takes a man who "fears no one but God and hates nothing but sin" to proclaim the message of the forerunner.
The first point to note in the proclamation of the forerunner is the place of visitation. It is obvious that one who prepares the way of the king must reveal what part of his domain the king is about to visit, and where it is that preparations are to be made. "Prepare ye in the wilderness. . . make straight in the desert," cries the prophet. We should not be surprised to discover that God does not often choose the well watered garden, the fruitful field, or the luxurious forest as the scene of a divine visitation in revival, for they have no need. He chooses rather the dry and weary land, parched and barren, whose yawning cracks plead to heaven for showers; it is here that God is pleased to come in the rain of the Spirit.
The promise that "the glory of the Lord shall be revealed" expresses the very nature and purpose of revival. God therefore chooses the place which provides the greatest scope for the demonstration of that glory. When the spiritual wilderness is transformed into a paradise men exclaim "this is the finger of God"; they acknowledge that "the exceeding greatness of the power" that has accomplished the miracle must be of God and not of men, and so the Lord alone is exalted in that day.
"Wilderness" is that which the farmer looks upon as unworkable, and therefore hopeless.
Maybe that word is a fitting description of the sphere of your spiritual activities, that which has been for so long the scene of your travail and tears, your labours and longings. When it seems a sheer impossibility that there should be a work of God there, take heed to the command, "prepare ye in the wilderness. . . make straight in the desert", for God has promised that "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose" (Isa.35:1).
Here is a message of hope for some discouraged servant. The God to whom no situation is impossible, has chosen the desert as the place in which to manifest His power and glory.
"Strengthen ye the weak hands," continues the prophet, "and confirm the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you. . . For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the mirage [margin] shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water"(verses 3-7).
Before this wonderful work of transformation can take place a way must be prepared, a highway must be made straight. But who is to do it? You! "Prepare ye. . . the way of the Lord," cries the forerunner. But how is it to be done? There are perhaps four ways in which this command should be obeyed. Firstly, there are our own hearts; secondly, there are the hearts of our fellow believers; thirdly, there are the hearts of the lost; and finally, there are the heavenly regions.
"Beginning with me" is the first step. "Blessed is the man whose strength is in Thee; in whose heart are the highways"(Ps. 84:5). It is not necessary to add to what has been said in an earlier chapter on heart preparation, and what it involves. The Psalmist simply reminds us that the heart which is rightly related to God is a highway for Him. Isaiah's wonderful description of waters breaking out in the wilderness and streams in the desert (chap. 35) goes on to say, "And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness" (verse 8).
We need only pause to ask ourselves again, Is my heart, is my life a highway of holiness for God? Have I swept away the stones of unbelief? Have the crooked places of unrighteousness been made straight? Have I taken up the stumbling blocks of inconsistency, unreality, and worldliness? When the God of unsullied holiness moves in the irresistible power of revival, will He find in me the avenue He needs in this spiritual wilderness? If, my reader, you cannot answer "Yes" to these questions, lay down this book and seek the Lord now. When revival comes it may be too late.
It was said of David Brainerd, "God could flow unhindered through him. The omnipotence of grace was neither arrested nor straitened by the conditions of his heart; the whole channel was broadened and cleaned out for God's fullest and most powerful passage, so that God with all His mighty forces could come down on the hopeless, savage wilderness and transform it into His blooming, fruitful garden." Here was one who truly prepared the way of the Lord in his own life, and God saw to it that His glory was revealed in revival. When it comes to the mighty movements of the Spirit, every heart is either a highway or a hindrance.
"Moving to others" sums up the next sphere in which we must prepare the way of the Lord.
Revival truly begins in us, but it does not end there. There must be a sense of responsibility towards our fellow believers who do not yet feel the need or see the possibilities of the hour.
"Write the vision, and make it plain. . . that he may run that readeth it" (Hab. 2:2). Until the vision is written others will never read; until others read they will never run, as men with a mission, as those sent of the Spirit. The vision must be written upon our hearts, upon our lips, upon our lives, if the way of the Lord is to be prepared in the lives of others.
There must be expectancy in our praying, passion in our preaching, boldness in our planning, and holiness in our living if we are to stir the saints. We must be miniature forerunners, each in our own sphere; it is not enough to prepare the way in our own hearts, we must prepare the way in the hearts of others. This is a ministry which demands steadfastness of purpose, desire, and expectancy, for it is fraught with disappointments. Some seem to catch the vision at once, but setbacks, delays, or opposition take their toll, and they lose that vision. Others are slow to catch fire, but once aflame they are steadfast and irresistible in their burning.
"Reaching the sinners" suggests the third sphere in which the way of the Lord should be prepared. It is certainly true that in times of revival God very often takes the work right out of the hands of man and bids us stand still and see His salvation. But, note well, there is no standing still in preparing the way for revival, for it is a time of vital activity. We must heed the command, "preach the word; be instant in season, out of season" (2 Tim. 4:2) if we would prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of sinners. There must be a tireless sowing of the seed. Every legitimate means and every available opportunity must be seized to make known the gospel of Christ.
Brainerd wrote of the revival among American Indians: "I never saw the work of God appear so independent of means as at this time. I discoursed to the people, and spoke what, I suppose, had a proper tendency to promote convictions; but God's manner of working upon them appeared so entirely supernatural, and above means, that I could scarce believe He used me as an instrument. . . And although I could not but continue to use the means which I thought proper for the promotion of the work, yet God seemed, as I apprehended, to work entirely without them. I seemed to do nothing, and indeed to have nothing to do, but to 'stand still and see the salvation of God'." This is of course the mark of heaven sent revival, but in contemplating such a glorious time of reaping, let us not forget those preceding years when Brainerd, despite bodily weakness, innumerable hardships, and constant discouragements, ploughed and sowed and fainted not. The work of God is not so independent of means as sometimes it appears.
"A few years ago a warm current called El Nina, which usually comes before Christmas, swept southward along the west coast of South America in greater volume than ever before. It brought with it torrential showers, which visited parts of South America which had not known rain since the year 1551. El Nina turned thousands of miles of desert into paradise in an incredibly short time, as it caused millions of hardy seeds which had lain dormant in the ground through decades of drought to sprout and grow with incredible vigour" (from Rent Heavens by R. B. Jones).
These remarkable facts are a salutary reminder that showers of rain alone can never turn a wilderness into a paradise. Rain must fall upon seed if there is to be a harvest. This has a most important bearing in the realm of revival. The hearts of the unconverted need to be well sown with the word of God in preparation for the outpouring of the Spirit. If we sow bountifully we may expect to reap bountifully, and if we sow sparingly we may expect to reap in like manner, when the rain of the Spirit comes. Many who seem in an awakening to be converted without any human agency, who "spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses", are very often the harvest of some bygone sowing that only needed the life giving rain of the Spirit.
If we would prepare the way of the Lord in the hearts of sinners, then we must cover the ground with the incorruptible seed. We should of course desire and expect immediate results; but if these are delayed, let us not think they are denied. When the rain of the Spirit descends from heaven there will be a harvest above all that we could have asked or thought.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:58). Never mind if we seem to be prophesying unto the dry bones. Never mind if we seem to be ever sowing and never reaping. God's hour will strike. "Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not" (Gal. 6:9). We must be undaunted by spiritual weather conditions, we must persevere with this work, for "He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. . . In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good" (Eccles. 11:4, 6).
"But we are not all preachers," someone may say. That is sadly true, but the Lord expects us to be, though He may call but a few to a public ministry. In the early days of the church, when persecution broke out against the work in Jerusalem, it was as though the Devil had, in malice, kicked over the brazier of revival, and scattered the coals throughout Judea and Samaria. But this did not extinguish the fire; it spread it. Wherever the live coals were cast new fires broke out. "They therefore that were scattered abroad went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). But who were these who were scattered? "They were all scattered abroad. . . except the apostles" (8:1).
All classes of believers in the church - the old and the young, the educated and the illiterate, the gifted and the not so gifted, the men and the women - were all, the apostles alone excepted, scattered abroad spreading the glad tidings. The extraordinary rapidity with which the movement spread may be traced to the fact that all the Christians of the early church were preachers, and so it should be with us. From place to place, and from door to door they went; in the streets and in the marketplaces, and wherever people were to be found, there were the Christians, testifying and exhorting, preaching and persuading, discussing and discoursing.
They truly prepared in the wilderness the way of the Lord by scattering the land with the seed of the word, and we are called to do the same.
"Preparing the Heavenlies" is the final way in which we are to "make straight a highway for our God". The region immediately above the earth, called in Scripture "the heavenly places", is the sphere of spirit forces by which Satan controls the world. These demon powers are variously described as "principalities", "powers", "world rulers of this darkness", "spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12; cf. 3:10). Though they work through human personalities, they are not themselves human, but Satanic. By their effective working the minds of men are darkened and their wills held captive to sin (2 Cor. 4:4; 2 Tim. 2:26, margin).
Through their authority and agency "the whole world lieth in the evil one" (1 John 5:19). This is literally true of the earth, for being spherical it is completely enveloped by these heavenly regions which are all enemy territory. Since the rain of the Spirit must come down through these lower heavenly places before there can be revival, and since this can only be in answer to prayer, Satan is prepared to throw everything into the conflict if he can only prevent or hinder this wondrous operation of the Holy Spirit. A way must therefore be prepared in the heavenlies for the Lord by "fighting prayer". Says the apostle, "Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, etc. . . in the heavenly places"(Eph. 6:12).
Therefore we cannot engage in this prayer warfare unless we are strong in the Lord, and have put on the whole armour of God (verses 10, 11).
There have been many occasions when it seemed certain to those watching and praying that God was about to visit them in revival, but on the very eve of the outpouring, or even after it had begun, the Enemy came in like a flood and swept almost everything away. Such instances confirm the reality of these powers of darkness which lie behind the stubborn wills and darkened hearts of men. We may be prayerful and spiritual, we may be courageous and determined, we may even be filled with the Spirit and succeed in breaking into "the strong man's house" and putting our hand upon his goods; but if we have not learned the secret of prayer warfare, and how to bind "the strong man", he will very likely return in fury and drive us out. Such a counterattack can have a devastating effect on those who have been praying and labouring hopefully, and it can also supply opposers of the work with the ammunition they require.
If the work is to be safeguarded from such reverses, and if there is to be solid progress towards revival, the prayer warrior must set himself to win this battle in the heavenlies. Not until we have prepared a way up there can the Lord set before us down here "a door opened, which none can shut" (Rev. 3:8). How we may overcome the Evil One in this prayer warfare was demonstrated to us by the life of the Son of God, and opened to us by His death and resurrection. Referring to Himself casting out demons, He spoke of first binding the strong one, and then entering into his house and spoiling his goods (Matt. 12:29; Luke 11:21). In every encounter with Satan the Lord Jesus manifested a superiority that was absolute. Though truly God, He overcame on earth as man filled with the Spirit, as He Himself was careful to point out: "If I by the Spirit of God cast out demons. . ." (Matt. 12:28). With the last great encounter with Satan before Him, the Lord Jesus solemnly declared, "Now shall the prince of this world be cast out" (John 12:31). Thus did He set His face as a flint to go to the cross, moving with sure and measured tread to His final conquest.
Ride on! Ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die:
Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain,
Then take, 0 God, Thy power, and reign.
- H.H. MILMAN.
The victory of the cross was conclusive. It sealed for all time the doom of Satan, and the resurrection of Christ displayed that victory before the universe. The Saviour had returned from the dead as the risen conquering Son to claim the spoils of victory. The purpose of His mission, "that through death He might bring to nought him that had the power of death" (Heb. 2:14) and "that He might undo [lit. trans.] the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8), had been fulfilled. "Having put off from Himself the principalities and the powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in [the cross]" (Col. 2:15). Having spoken with His mouth, He has with His own hand fulfilled it. The light that shines from the vacant cross and the empty tomb shows us our heavenly David with the head of Goliath in His hand. Behold the strong one, overcome by a stronger than he, stripped of the armour wherein he trusted, and bound with the cords of divine justice.
In spite of the reality of this victory, the fact remains that Satan is still permitted to have great power. The divine sentence passed upon him at the cross is not yet executed. He knows that his time is short and that God will bruise him under our feet shortly. Meanwhile the conquest of Satan at Calvary only becomes effective when applied by faith, and this is done through wrestling in prayer. From our new vantage ground, risen with Christ and seated with Him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:5, 6), we have to pin down and neutralize the enemy who has for so long dominated those regions. Pleading the victory of Christ we must wage war in prayer against the forces of darkness, using those principles of intercession already considered. Thus do we prepare the way of the Lord in the heavenly regions that He may come down in the majesty and power of revival.
When we have prepared the way of the Lord in our hearts, in the hearts of others, in the hearts of sinners, and in the heavenly places, then "Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about Him" (Ps. 50:3).
We must expect a spiritual revolution if the wilderness is to be transformed into the garden of the Lord. God will see to the revolution if we will provide Him with the roadway. Herein lies the wonder of the promise. It is not our concern to transform the general situation, to deal with valleys and mountains, crooked paths and rough places, and whatever else may make up the spiritual wilderness. Give God a highway and He promises that "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it". This is the revolution of revival: the wilderness turned upside down and inside out.
God is promising that this visitation will bring a reversal of values and a transformation of conditions. The valleys, abased and despised in the eyes of men, shall be exalted. The fear of God, obedience to His word, reverence for His day, love of righteousness and truth and equity, and all the things which have become valleys and depressions, matters of no account, in the foolishness of man's thinking, shall be exalted to a place of prominence according to God's original intention. Similarly, mountains of pride, unbelief, materialism, worldly cares, pleasures, ambitions and lusts of other things, all in fact which seems to present an insuperable barrier to the movements of God in our day, within the church and without it, shall flow down at the presence of the Lord.
"The crooked shall be made straight:" crooked lives, characters, thoughts, words, habits, actions shall be made as straight as the woman whom Christ healed, who was bowed together and could in no wise lift herself up (Luke 13:11). And the rough places of life, harsh and unrelenting and graceless, places that have never known the all subduing tenderness of the love of Christ, shall be made smooth by the grace of the Lord. This is what God promises to do, in greater or lesser degree, in the visitations of revival.
Lastly, all the promise is gathered up and expressed in one final all inclusive declaration, "And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together." Here is the highest and holiest thing in revival, the manifestation of God, the shining forth of His glory before the eyes of men. It is the soul who, like Isaiah, has caught a glimpse of that effulgent glory - and one glimpse is enough to spoil him for all of earth - who will go forth, whatever the cost, to obey the divine command by preparing the way of the Lord, that men too may behold that glory and be changed (2 Cor. 3:18). But what is the cost? That is a question that must now be answered.