Monday, July 14, 2014

Understanding Revival

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chron. 7:14

This promise, I do believe, is the greatest promise of the steadfastness and mercy of God, perhaps in the whole of the Bible. It was given to Israel, during the reign of Solomon, and has echoes in it of the famous passages of Deuteronomy in which Moses warned the people that they would inevitably stray, and that when they did, they could repent and again find the mercy of our Lord and Savior. Time has already tested this great promise, and it proved true again and again. We are going to look at a time in history over 300 years after God made this promise, when God did hear the repentance and prayer of his people, and he did once more show forth his great mercy.

Manasseh was an evil king who reigned for 55 years over Israel. It is a wonder that there was even a remnant of faithful, for Manasseh is said to have filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. He constructed an idol, he caused his sons to pass through the fire, he used enchantments and wizardry. He was so wicked and evil that God allowed Assyria to come and bind him and carry him away as their prisoner, until marked by deep repentance, Manasseh prayed to his God, and his God heard him, bringing him back to Jerusalem, where he died and was buried.

Amon, his son, reigned after Manasseh. We are told little of Amon, who was so wicked that his own servants conspired against him, and killed him after he had been king but two years. Assyria had already taken Israel into captivity, and their sword was hanging over Jerusalem, and Judah waited for the coming tide of inevitable evil.

Josiah, an unlikely prospect being but eight years old, was the son of Amon, and began his reign. He did “what was right in the sight of the Lord”. He had reigned already eighteen years, when a priest, Hilkiah found the book of the law, probably a copy of at least the Pentateuch. Reading it, the priest must have been amazed, for it tells us in the 22nd chapter of 2 Kings that he took it to a scribe, and the scribe read it. Having access to King Josiah, the scribe brought it to the king and read it before the king. The king, upon hearing the word of the Lord read, tore his clothes, for he must have realized their great departure from following God. And here we have the beginnings of revival.

Allow me to depart from our text here briefly. I will come back, and will show you perhaps the greatest of revivals, at least in the history of Israel. I want to go briefly to the first revival of America called the First Great Awakening, a revival like that of King Josiah in that it was nearly 300 years ago. In the first Great Awakening, as I believe in all the revivals I am presenting in this piece, God worked first in the hearts of men and women to pray. The Puritans developed a strong inclination toward prayers, moved by God, and nowhere is prayer more committed to than in Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards had much to do with this revival, and we owe much of its collected history to the efforts of Edwards. In the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards had to spend a large portion of his ministry defending the “raw emotionalism” that marked his revivals. He spent a great deal of time—writing the equivalent of several books, expressly to defend these revivals, and from these books are gleaned nuggets of precious information that we might otherwise lack. A more staid and established pastor you could not imagine—but Edwards defended the right of people to wait upon God, and often would have those people who came forward for prayer wait until God answered. Sometimes he waited with those making decisions for hours, or even all night, until the Spirit of God brought a wonderful liberating answer. He describes the Spirit’s filling of his own wife in the most beatific terms, and he has written whole books for us to read defending the five distinct movements of revival that Edwards discerned during his ministry. People would weep for hours, or be so magnificently uplifted by the Spirit of God that joy and peace would flood their souls, and they had the utmost difficulty in stopping the praise leaping out from their lips.

Edwards tells the most gripping story of a poor woman, Abigail Hutchinson, dying from what appears to me to be a growing tumor in her throat—filled gloriously with the peace of the Spirit, even as she slowly starved to death. I read the story with wet eyes. Marking many of the souls so deeply affected by the visitation of the Spirit of God was a deep passion for the lost, and many went out proclaiming Christ to their neighbors. Young people, sometimes as young as nine or ten, gave themselves wholly to the Lord, and along with the young people, were the old and the middle aged. God seemed to bring a strong breath of restoration to the whole community.

Edwards knew his people well, and admitted to some who were probably prone to emotional excess, or of uttering things that proved not to be of God. But for all of that, Ed wards told of a singular light filling hundreds and thousands of people, changing their lives forever as they were touched by the Master’s grace. He urged critics to measure the revival by the standards of God, and that if they did that, they would see the wonderful glory of God being lifted up in hearts that had been cold.

All across New England lives were changed, and the nation seemed to awake to a new sense of purpose. It was to last almost a generation, and I would not be surprised at all to find that many of us may have a spiritual father or mother from this time, and owe our very salvation to some American who was saved during this revival.
Let’s switch back to Josiah for a time. Josiah, a young boy of but eight years of age, must have had some training towards righteousness that comes by faith, but we are not really told what that training was. It was not from a godly father, for Amon was declared to be a wicked king, killed by his own servants. Instead we are told that in the eighth year of Josiah, while he was yet young, he began to seek after God. This led him to purge Judah of its sinful high places and to destroy the idols rampant throughout the land.

But what situation was facing Josiah and his nation? Israel had already been taken captive by Assyria in about 720 B.C. Their disobedience had brought the curses of Deuteronomy upon them, and the nation was forever scattered through the world. There are many myths of the ten tribes and their descendants, but they all start from this period. Though the Assyrian kingdom was waning, Judah was a small nation, caught between Assyria and the newly growing Egypt. For Judah, it must have been like being placed between the anvil of a blacksmith and his hammer. It’s future was very uncertain, and seemingly it was going to go the direction of the Northern Kingdom.

It’s future was uncertain, her people were in disarray, not subject to either the Law, or God. History seems to indicate that many of the ten tribes did not get deported; instead they fled to Jerusalem, for it had a fivefold increase in population about this time. I cannot help speculating that the godless refugees from the Northern Kingdom added to the apostasy of Judah, and make no mistake about it, Judah was so far from God that Josiah found himself with a huge undertaking.

I notice some striking parallels with our own country today. We have apostasized so far from God that I lose track of where we are. We have moved from modern to postmodern to I do not know what. I do think we are, as a nation, frighteningly far from God, about as far away as we ever have been. We, are not like Israel in the sense that our nation has a covenant with God. Our covenant is based on grace, and is available to all who have faith, but it is not given to nations.

Nevertheless, we have, like the people in Josiah’s time, forgotten the Word of God. Recently, this was brought to the headlines, right here in Sacramento, where a group from a church, from the pictures mostly older people, had started reading the Bible through. From the headline comments, many of the people were reading it through for the first time in their lives, and they professed shock and dismay at all the violence of the Old Testament. How is it that they are so old, and yet do not know the basic Word of God? I know that the Bible remains the number one bestseller in this country, but I cannot help wonder if it is not the number one unread book, at least in many households.
Recently I was counseling with an addict trying to move away from his addiction. I knew that he had made a decision for Christ as a youth, but had never grown. “Why don’t you try reading just a chapter a day from the gospel of John,” I suggested to him. From the look on his face, it was like I was asking him to dance on hot needles. “No, I don’t think I could do that,” he replied. I hardly need comment on his success in moving away from addiction. It is the Word of God that aids us in growing, as the Holy Spirit himself is able to convict us, both of righteous and unrighteous behavior. How can a man grow close to his Creator except he knows and understands who his Creator is? I fear we have become a nation like this man, making God into whatever image we want, rather than turning to the Word, and finding out what God says about himself.

Have we not become a nation that has forgotten who gave us this great nation? Have we not forgotten the God who created us, and has given us so many revivals that have sustained us? Have we not forgotten the God who made us the city on a hill, a testimony unto the whole world? And nowhere did God make us the proverbial city on a hill more than in The Second Great Awakening. What of the Second Great Awakening?

Charles Finney is the name that comes to the forefront when we are speaking of the Second Great Awakening. Finney, a lawyer, was converted one day in the woods outside of town. Visibly filled with the Spirit, he came back to his village, resigned as a lawyer, and dedicated himself to spreading the Word of God. While some studying Finney declare Finney to be an Arminian, Finney himself had Jonathan Edwards as his mentor, and would scoff at the idea of Arminianism. He did flatly reject Calvinism, but agreed with his mentor, Edwards, on many other things. Calvinism, in the day of Finney, had morphed into something that probably would not be recognizable to the modern day Calvinist.
All throughout New England during this time, there was a pervasive spirit that seemed to be holding people back from being saved. It may have been an improper mixture of Deism and Calvinism, but Finney found that the churches of New England were filled with anxious men and women who were taught not to seek God, but rather to wait for His Spirit. If and when God revealed himself, he would show people that they were one of the elect. Members who sought to pray to God for relief were often discouraged by their pastors from so doing, and we find a great many pastors themselves were not saved. In many cases, parishioners who stated to their pastors that they wanted to pray for their salvation were discouraged from doing so, with their pastors insisting that prayer would just drive the parishioners crazy.

So much of New England became a stark setting of people sitting on the edge of their seats, hoping that God would elect them by calling them. They were not allowed to do anything other than wait endlessly on God, hoping that somehow they might prove to be one of the elect. Finney correctly saw this situation as absolutely wrong. Finney felt that there were rules set up by God, that if followed would bring both salvation and revival. When he began preaching this very different message, whole churches responded, and not infrequently the pastors themselves were converted.
There are stories of Finney walking around town, or through factories, only to see all the work of the factory stop, and people fall to their knees, confessing their need. Thousands of lives were dramatically converted, and perhaps the biggest measurable change ever happened to the character of the United States. Secular historians sometimes try to skip over this interesting segment of our history, hoping to sell you on the idea that other things happened to change our character. Make no mistake; this revival was the biggest change ever to happen to America, and its influence profoundly impacts us yet today.

Finney taught that those who converted should be put to work instantly; they were to become workers in the harvest fields, and there was no middle ground. Either you were with the program, or you were really not part of the church. Finney certainly would have agreed with James that faith without works is dead. During these years great associations were started: 1) The American Bible Society, 2) The American Sunday School Union, 3) The Americans Home Missionary Society, and 4) The American Temperance Society. Some of these agencies were to last 100 years and more.
Finney was strictly against “emotionalism” and would excise any who expressed themselves intemperately. Like his mentor, Jonathan Edwards, Finney believed that people would emotionally react to the movement of the Spirit—Finney correctly saw that temperance of spirit was commendable in services. Perhaps that fact is what led to this awakening lasting the many decades that it did.

Josiah’s reign started in 640, and Josiah was a contemporary of Jeremiah. I would ask: just what was it that made Josiah stand out? First, I notice that Josiah probably had someone helping him to grow correctly. For in the eighth year of his reign, while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father. His reign, in the beginning, was that of a child-king. Caretakers undoubtedly were over him, insuring that he was nurtured in every admonition of the Lord. We are not told whether it was the godly influence of his mother, or priests, or some combination of both. Still, at age 16, or thereabouts, Josiah began to purge the wickedness from Israel, destroying both the high places and the idols of the country.

By the time he was ruler for eighteen years, Josiah decided to repair the house of the Lord. Sending in priests and workmen, a great repair work was done, possibly attempting to restore a building about three centuries old. In this work, the Law of the Lord was discovered, and ultimately brought to the attention of the King. We are not told which scrolls of Scripture they read, but I am sure that the King paid special attention to the promises of Moses in Deuteronomy 29 and 30. For it is in those great chapters that Moses tells the people of Israel that they will fail in their covenant with God. When that failure comes, Moses promises that God will scatter them abroad throughout the world, that the world may look upon them and see those whom God has cursed, and perhaps will learn that indeed the Lord is God.

Looking at the threats from Egypt and Assyria, Josiah must have felt that their perishing was imminent. Surely they were lost if the hand of God was against them. I can quite imagine the desolation that they felt. Remember that they had watched the ten tribes of Israel being carted off, and now they realize for the first time what had happened. They had lost the very God that they thought would deliver them. And that is the first step in revival: realizing that the power of God was absent.

What was it that made them realize that they had lost God? The reading of the scripture. Panic must have struck hard in both the hearts of the King and that of the priests. Perhaps, again we are not told specifically, they received more scrolls. Perhaps they read the famous promise which is given specifically to the nation of Israel. It applies to us in the church, but it’s primary purpose was to give Israel assurance of the faithfulness of God: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14).

Which brings us to the Third Great Awakening. Unlike the Second Great Awakening, which lasted decades, this awakening lasted but two years, from 1857 to 1859. It was a strange revival; people everywhere seemed to be moved at the same time to prayer. Part of the revival is seen in the stock market crash; many souls found spiritual sustenance when great wealth and possessions disappeared almost overnight. At its height, in New York alone, over ten thousand souls met daily for prayer, some of them even leaving work to pray.

It all started with a Canadian pastor, Dr. Palmer, who had been holding camp meetings in Canada, and was on his way through Hamilton, Ontario to New York City, when both he and his wife were caught by the Wesleyan pastor, Samuel Rice, and invited to speak at his church. Palmer was so well received that he was invited back the next night, where 21 people received Christ. Due to the response, Dr. Palmer and his wife stayed over for several weeks, and over 600 people made professions! The Third Great Awakening was born!
During its height, we are told that there were over 50,000 professions a week! The Civil War, which might be the reason the awakening was so short, had camp meetings on both sides, and those brave soldiers, both from the North and the South, had ample opportunity to receive Christ, and many many soldiers did make a profession of faith. I find that comforting, for before the war was over many thousands of soldiers were to be killed.

The YMCA played a significant role in the Third Great Awakening, and D. L. Moody was to find his first significant ministry there. Many thousands, supported by local pastors, met for prayer, and that may be why the chief characteristic of the awakening is prayer.

Prayer was a chief characteristic for Josiah also. The Scripture says, “ Go ye, enquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us” (2 Kings 22:13).

We of course go directly to the Lord, but in Josiah’s day one inquired of the Lord through a prophet. Jeremiah would have been available, but for some reason Josiah passed him by, and instead consulted a prophetess, Huldah, said to be a relative of Jeremiah. Destruction was coming upon their nation and was the message Huldah delivered, but the Lord graciously noted the repentance of Josiah. Thus says the Lord, “Because thy heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself.” The Lord assured Josiah that he indeed heard their prayer, and was willing to answer them.

Josiah went from his answer to prayer, and this is what he did. He gathered all his people from all over the land, another mark of revival. Revival knows nothing about denominational lines; rather the movement of the Spirit takes ahold of people, and that is what we see with all of Jerusalem. He read to them all the words of God that they had—it may have been the whole of Deuteronomy that he read. When he finished and the people were humbled, then he made a covenant with God, and the people entered into that covenant freely. The nation was transformed!

Now let me tie all these awakenings together. We get people waiting on the Spirit in prayer from the First Great Awakening, where Jonathan Edwards figured so prominently. From that awakening our take away ought to be that God answers prayer, and wants us to act like we expect an answer too. The Second Great Awakening gives us great hope, for perhaps its greatest message is that the gospel is open and available to all who will come. But the Second Great Awakening was so long, I am convinced, because the people worked as if there was no tomorrow. Part of their success is owed deeply to the false doctrine that we are going to build the kingdom of God, and give the reins of an obedient church to Christ when he returns. Many Christians devoutly believed that, and the result was an outstanding work that changed thousands of lives, as they worked diligently to bring about the kingdom of God. What changes might we bring to our world, if we indeed believed with our hands, instead of just with our hearts.

The Third Great Awakening? In some ways I find this awakening to be the most intriguing. Prayer is one of its chief characteristics, as men and women abase themselves before God. And what an outpouring of his Spirit resulted, with the crowds of people coming to Christ. The take away for me in the third awakening is that God wants us to unite in prayer.
Isn’t the same message with Josiah? Repentance and prayer can go a long ways toward bringing about revival. In all four revivals, there is a common denominator: they give themselves to prayer for revival. Then the veil is lifted from the hearts of the saints in the church; and at the last, the veil is lifted from the hearts of the unsaved, which can result in thousands or tens of thousands saved.

Revivals always seem to start almost spontaneously; but careful study reveals that God is the initiator, that he initiates through the preparation of a few, and that he crosses denominational lines with the fires of his Spirit. It isn’t that people realize that their denominational differences are not right; rather it is that those differences seem to become eclipsed when men are faced with the Glory of God.

Most probably, you, if you are still with me after these many pages, think that you are one of those for whom the veil is lifted. I would assure you that is probably not true, at least in the sense that seems to happen in revivals. I think there are many Christians who think they understand that they are sinners in need of grace, and I profoundly thank our Reformation fathers for schooling us in this profound doctrine.

But I speak of more than that sin consciousness in the lifting of the veil. What seems to happen in a revival is that people seem to be able to see themselves as God sees them, for the first time in their lives. Dirty and unclean sinners, without foundation or hope, needy and naked, ashamed before the Lord. And, at the same time, they seem to be able to see the complete and wonderful grace of God. God has taken us and cleaned us, and dressed us in white robes, declaring us to have his own righteousness. Understanding the depth of grace for the first time, revival saints seem to be overwhelmed on two fronts. First, they truly recognize their sin and need for God. Second, they understand the price at which God redeemed them, the offering of his own Son in our behalf.

Maybe, just maybe, it is time for us to draw together and pray for revival—and hope that God will yet again pour out his Spirit on his sons and daughters. Maybe we shall live to see the dead bones of many in our society come alive.
My wife and I have covenanted to pray daily for this year, the year of 2014, to be a year of revival. My prayer group is given to pray steadfastly for revival. I know of many others who are looking and hoping for revival this year. What if we took on the role of Josiah and all the people of Jerusalem? What if we were to read the Scriptures, repent and seek the Spirit’s filling? Is there yet room in America for one more revival?

Let’s take one more look at that verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” I need to put that in Christian terms, sort of move it from the Old Testament to the New Testament, moving it from the nation of Israel to the people of Christ. Let me rephrase that, or put it in terms that may be more meaningful to us.

If my people. . .
God’s people, chosen of him, given the promise of new life, forever with his Son.
. . . which are called by my name
Called Christians, because we are called to take up our cross and follow Him
. . . shall humble themselves
Shall throw our faces on the floor in contrition for not living the life, the new life He has called us to live, to confess before him that we are utterly and completely unable to do so
. . . and pray
Talk to the Almighty God as if he were really there, listening, and caring for us, not praying for things as much as for him to begin using us for his purposes.
. . . and seek my face
Reading and memorizing and treasuring the word of God as the personal message that God has given us.
. . . and turn from their wicked ways,
Not by our power is this possible, but by the wonderful power of his Spirit, which is the only way we can turn from our wickedness.
. . . then I will hear from heaven
Our prayers are a sweet smelling savor to our God, treasured and kept, listened to and answered, in the mysteries of God, even before we ask them.
. . . and will forgive their sin,
This part is different for the Christian, for we have been already forgiven of all of our sins when we met Jesus at the cross, and that is the wonderful grace of God, which we need to remember as we step into our new life.
. . . and will heal their land.
The promised land, by application, is that which we look forward to, for God has made no promises for our land to be healed.
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
Another awakening? I know that we may have ten minutes, or ten months, or ten years until he should return. I do not know how long it will be, but dare we not ask? Dare we not come together and seek the Lord, that he may yet send another revival? The will of God is clear here—he desires to pour out his Spirit upon mankind and draw men unto him. I know not your choice, but as for me and my house, we will seek the Lord concerning the promise of Chronicles.

1. I would be remiss not to mention the wonderful resource I found in Christianity Today, , under the heading of “The American Experience”.

No comments: