The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”
Ezekiel 37 (NIV)
The sovereignty of God and the will of man remain a mystery; though scholars have tried to exaggerate one, it is always at the expense of the other, and leads one inevitably to erroneous thinking. “God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the divine sovereignty. The best and safest way to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, "O Lord, Thou knowest." Those things belong to the deep and mysterious Profound of God's omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.”1 Nonetheless, it is to an area where God mysteriously mixes the two that I wish to look, for a final time on the topic of revival, today.
William Booth tells a story of Charles Peace, a convicted thief and murderer headed for the gallows, as a minister alongside of him was trying to share the gospel. Charlie Peace turned to the minister and reproached him, “‘‘ Sir,’’ addressing the preacher, ‘‘ if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!’’”2
Where are the people hungering and thirsting for revival? John Knox cried out, God, give me Scotland or I die! Where are our John Knoxes? As I have made revivals a study of mine, I find one common element to all, from John Wesley to Jonathan Edwards, from Charles Finney to Dwight Moody. All movements of the Spirit have their beginnings in a few bonding together in prayer. I have little doubt that the revival of the Seventies was brought about by men and women in the sixties like Tozer, who were crying out for God to awaken his people. And there is the mystery. God, sovereign always, uses temporal and sinful men for the foolishness of preaching. We look at the church and realize we have lost our focus once more, and we are bumbling about in a perilous fog.
Our churches today cannot fall over each other fast enough in their march to compromise any and every doctrine for the sake of not looking bad to the world. The world still laughs at them, despising their gambits, and disdaining their groveling. Marriage and the family have been long ago sacrificed on the altar of the world, and the village is continuing to gobble all the virtues for herself, and wiping her mouth, the village declares, “I have done no wrong.” But the Bible is plain, as plain as it ever was, and sin is not to be compromised with, neither accepted by godly men and women. The church, in giving in to these temptations, only besmirches herself, spoiling the very gospel that might save those who are perishing.
It is altogether a sure thing that no one has ever been won to Christ by pretending sin is not, and never has anyone genuinely believed God who has not immediately been convicted by their sins. We do the world of sinners no favor by pretending with them about their righteousness, as it is only the humble and meek, repenting at the foot of the cross, who shall be cleansed by the God who gave himself for us, and that message cannot change. It should remain the chief stumbling block, the Rock of offense, that the world cannot fathom, and it is a tremendous sin on our part, not to preach Christ being punished with the sins of the world.
I am not saying that we come to God through the preaching of repentance; salvation comes from believing God about the gospel, and not through hammering people with the weight of their sin. Leave that to God, for when the gospel is preached and believed, the realization of sin and forgiveness will always follow. We do not win people to the gospel by first weighing them down with their sin; rather we publish the good news that God has died for those sins, that the world might be reconciled to him. Grave errors will follow our insistence of naming specific lifestyles as being particularly sinful. God is more than adequate to show the believing sinner his need to repent.
But neither can the church, as it is wont to do, compromise with the world about the gospel. Jude tells us to treat the sinners with love, but while hating even the clothing stained with such corrupted flesh. The church must be the light of the world, never entering into the darkness, except to proclaim the very light that will end that darkness. I think much of our problem does come because we simply do not believe God. Has he not told us of a perishing world? Has he not made perfectly plain the end of those who remain in their wickedness?
We simply do not believe him. Most Christians, I am told by researchers, refuse to believe in a Hell, and seemingly stop their belief in the Bible at the grace of God. We cannot carry the gospel while we maintain such schizophrenic attitudes. The God of goodness and mercy, whom we have found, tells us, in no uncertain terms of a hell and judgment awaiting those who know not his mercy. Indeed, much of America believes in God, but they feel that somehow God will put them on a balance scale, and that they will come out all right in the end. Such feelings can only lead to perdition and judgment, but is it much different than what we Christians are professing? We ourselves ignore the judgment part, and presume only to believe the part of the message that we like. No wonder American Christianity is so dead! We cannot carry a responsible message to a world we refuse to believe is perishing.
To quote the immortal Pogo, we have met the enemy, and he is us! Revival must start with the awakening of his people to his truths. I fear there to be no other way.
How shall we awaken such a dead people? There remains only one way. We must pray. In the mystery of God, his sovereign wake up will only come through intercessory prayer, first for ourselves, that we awaken to our precious salvation and to the damnation of all others, and second, for the lost, that God might give us the means and power to testify. It has pleased God through the foolishness of preaching to give his mercy. In the last words of Christ, his great commission was given, and he is depending on us, with his strength, to spread his message that more might be saved. Apart from him we can do nothing, but apart from us, will the message even be shared? Never from the dead, and that is why our revival is paramount. With the present church, I fear the dead are leading the dead, and the only possible result is one big cemetery. It is the responsibility of those of us whom he has awakened to pray, just like Tozer and church leaders did in the sixties, that God might once again awaken his church. Can these dead bones live? You alone know, God.
1. Tozer, A.W.; Tozer, Aidan; Tozer, Aidan Wilson (2011-01-31). The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer (Special Kindle Enabled Edition with Interactive Table of Contents and Built in Text to Speech Features) (Illustrated) ... | The Writings of Aiden Wilson Tozer of) (Kindle Locations 731-734). Christian Miracle Foundation Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Ravenhill, Leonard (2004-08-01). Why Revival Tarries (pp. 33-34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.