How To Obtain A Revival
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.” Matt. 3:3.
The Lord Jesus has not only come to the world, but is willing to enter the individual heart. This coming is what is needed above all things! It is what the nations need. It is the desirable thing for the community and the family. Above all it is everything to the soul.
When Christ comes it is at once recognized. There is no need to enter into an argument to prove that the Spirit of the Lord has fallen upon a congregation and fills the church. The instant this takes place it is known. I recall once in a revival meeting that on the fifth day the Holy Ghost fell on the audience, and the house was filled with glory. A gentleman leaped to his feet with the thrilling cry–“Jesus has come!” He only spoke what every one felt and knew.
In like manner when Christ enters the soul, the fact cannot be concealed. As the Scripture said of Him that when He entered a certain house He could not be hid, so is it still; to enter the heart with His blessed grace and glory so illumines the face, softens the heart, sweetens the spirit and fires the life, that all can see that Jesus has come.
In a great revival conducted by Dr. Finney, in a New England town, an unconverted man felt the presence of God one mile beyond the corporation lines. In First Church, St. Louis, during the gracious six weeks’ meeting I held, a number of persons said that they felt the Divine presence not only when they entered the building, but even before crossing the portal. He that drew a line around Mt. Sinai, and made it to come to pass that whoever crossed it was shot through with a dart, still draws the marvellous circle and manufactures the same flaming arrows that penetrate the most callous with a sense of the Divine presence.
The coming of Christ means salvation we all know. But it also means blessedness. One cannot secure Christ without being blessed; whether nation, community, family or individual it is all the same; the presence of Jesus and blessedness go together.
The interesting thought is how to secure that coming and presence. That is the important inquiry of this sermon.
1. THE FIRST STEP IS THAT CHRIST MUST BE INVITED.
It is true that He has a right to come, and His coming brings a blessing, but such is His nature and such is our nature, that He will not come until He is asked to come. It is curious to see how we wait for invitations before going to certain places, and yet look for the Lord to force Himself upon us. I notice that even the kings of earth expect and tarry for invitations to visit cities and nations. So does the King of heaven; He never comes to dwell with us until we ask Him.
2. THE SECOND STEP IS THAT CHRIST MUST BE DESIRED.
We all find it a very difficult and oftentimes an impossible thing to go where we are not wanted. The fact that we are longed for and expected makes for us a sunlight of happiness and generates an atmosphere in which the soul is perfectly free and at its best. There are places where some of you are so desired that you feel actually drawn as by a magnet to the individual or circle.
It is well for us to remember that we are made in the image of God, and that He has transplanted or reproduced in us certain sensibilities and motions of the Divine breast. It is evident that the Saviour is much freer in some churches and in the lives of some people than in others. He is not able to do mighty works in certain hearts and localities, being tied up by unbelief.
So He is powerless to reveal His most delightful features, or even to show Himself at all to some persons or places because He is not wanted. Christ does not propose to come where He is not yearned for. In fact He cannot do so. The reason can be found in our free agency, and also in the sensitiveness of the Divine love. But only let us sigh for His presence and yearn for His companionship and lo, He will suddenly and gladly appear in our midst. He is the desire of the nations already in being what we need for salvation, happiness and usefulness, but He must also be desired with ardent longings of the heart if we would possess this “Chief among ten thousand and the one altogether lovely.”
3. A THIRD STEP IS TO “PREPARE HIS WAY.”
We read in history that when earthly potentates determined to visit a town or province that the people prepared the roads for his coming. Sometimes a special highway was constructed; and always work was put forth on the thoroughfare along which Royalty was expected. Even in the reception of our friends we see a preparation of this sort in the sweeping of the yard and front steps, the removal of every unsightly thing and the putting in place still other things that would serve to grace the occasion and please the eye of the visitor. So we must prepare the way for the Lord.
If there is no preparation, He will not come. This fact explains why some men are today unconverted and others unsanctified. They have not done the things that the Lord desires and demands. It is also well to state that some preparation is no preparation. I recall certain protracted meetings that were projected on a grand scale in regard to dimension of hall, number of chairs; thickness of sawdust, and lines of electric lights. There was also a broad gallery for the best singers in the city, and a deep platform for prominent workers and preachers. Everything was furnished but the one essential thing, the falling fire of the Holy Ghost. Every preparation had been made save the indispensable one of humbling the heart and prostrating body and soul in the dust before the Lord. This was never done, and so the gigantic material preparation came to naught. What does God care for chairs, sawdust, electric lights, drilled musicians and general ecclesiastical display! If He gave the victory under such circumstances men would suppose that the great platform and big workers did it.
Some preparation is no preparation. All of us are getting to see this. I saw once in one of our largest cities the walls placarded with flaming posters telling the public that all the ministers of the city had united in a certain meeting; that all the choirs of these churches had joined together; and that a most successful national evangelist would lead the battle! This famous meeting dragged its way along for a month and ended as it began, in wind. In still another city forty churches combined to get up (?) a revival. The forty pastors sat on a great platform with leading laymen, and the greatest orators among them vied with each other night after night to see who could over-shoot or out-blaze the other. As a test of forensic excellence it was a success, but as a Holy Ghost revival it was from start to finish an utter failure. It lasted about forty days, and afterwards the people were ahungered. The papers announced at the beginning that these forty clergymen were going to have a revival, and columns were devoted to the first few services, but something was so evidently lacking, that the press finally quit reporting the wretched travesty of a revival, and the human spurt ended its feeble and short life without a mourner and without an obituary.
Some preparation is no preparation. What are carpets and chandeliers and carved pews and trained singers to God! Does He care for these things? Can He who hung out sun, moon and stars for lights, and painted the Western sky, and carpeted the earth, and put melody in wind, wave, and throats of myriads of birds be bribed into coming to us by our tawdry ecclesiastical finery and platform yelling? He dwelt once for centuries in a tent, and filled the log meeting houses of our forefathers with His excellent glory. Evidently He wants another kind of preparation.
Some preparation is no preparation. Saul got ready for Him in his way. Alas for the King of Israel that it was his way and not the Divine way. He even became so impatient to have the Lord to come, that he offered the sacrifice with his own hands; but the skies were locked, and there was no response. He afterwards said about it with a bitter wail, “He answereth me no more; neither by prophets nor by dreams.”God was both silent and invisible. He will only come in His way.
Some preparation is no preparation. The prophets of Baal slew their sacrifices and placed it on the altar and cried from morning until noon. They even cut themselves with lancets until their blood gushed, but there was no answer from the skies. The great vault above was as empty, still, and echoless as if there was no God.
Men are finding out that some preparation is no preparation. The sooner all discover it the better. The church that waits unavailingly on God for days and nights without answering fire from heaven, may reasonably feel alarm. And the man who declares he is seeking God and cannot find Him; who says he has done all he can and Christ does not come into his heart and life, may know once for all, that he has overlooked some heavenly condition, neglected some essential duty; in a word, he has not prepared the way of the Lord.
We are told in Isaiah 40: 4 what this preparation is. It is repeated in Luke 3: 5.
“Every valley shall be filled.”
This was what was done in constructing a highway for earthly kings; the valleys were exalted or filled up. The spiritual meaning is that if we desire the Saviour to come into our lives the great vacancies and hollows of life standing for neglected prayer, omitted Bible reading and other forsaken duties must be attended to. There are many such ignored and despised obligations. Like valleys they yawn before us, and how deep they are. They must be filled.
“Every mountain and hill shall be brought low.”
This was necessary to make a road worthy for a king to travel upon in the olden times. It is what is done today to give us the iron thoroughfares of commerce; the valley is filled up and the hill is cut down. It is what we are to do to get Christ to enter our churches and hearts with glorious power pride is a mountain; unbelief is a mountain. There are many high things that have to come down before the Saviour will ever sweep into our souls.
“The crooked shall be made straight.”
I visited the Appian Way when I was in Rome and observed that it ran as straight as an arrow. If earthly monarchs desire straight highways upon which to travel, how much more does a holy God. Christ will not come to the soul upon any other than a straight way; He will not travel upon a crooked route. Before He saved Saul of Tarsus He made him move on a street called “Straight.” And on that same street we all have to live if we would know Jesus. We must do the straight thing, get straight with everybody, and determine to live the straight life. The instant a man does this the Spirit rushes into him. The moment a church gets right with God the Lord enters.
Men ask God to straighten them, when this is our duty and work. The command is to us, to “prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
I have never failed to notice, that if a man will straighten his outward life, God will straighten the inward nature. This is not a salvation by works, but that rectification of conduct and life without which God will not look upon us, much less fill us with His glorious presence,
Now, let us look at this straightening, which is the preparation Christ demands as the condition of His coming unto and into us.
First, of course, is repentance.
This is not only in the order, but in the very necessity of things. We must grieve with a godly sorrow for what we have done or left undone toward God. Just as the hand is not extended nor smile given by the parent if the child shows no compunction; so are the heavens like impenetrable brass and God is silent to the impenitent soul. Let the heart swell with grief, let the lips say, “I am sorry,” and ere the tears can fall from the eyes, the angels are rejoicing in heaven over the scene. They know what it means; that the skies are opening, the Spirit descending and salvation rushing to that soul.
In Ezra we read that the Jews trembled before God at the remembrance of their transgressions. The rain fell upon them as they stood in the street, but they endured every discomfort that they might find peace with God. Of course the Divine blessing came.
When I saw the Jews in their Wailing Place in Jerusalem, I had a vision of the luxury and blessedness of tears. Oh, that the people everywhere would begin to weep before God. Oh, for melted hearts and wet eyes in every pew of the church as well as around the altar. These very tears would be as telescopes to the penitent soul to see into the heavens, and as a mighty influence to bring the Lord down into our hearts. A weeping or grieving child draws the parent instantly to its side, and so , thank God, it is the same in the spiritual life.
Another preparation is the forsaking of every known sin.
It is utterly vain to expect Christ to take possession of us while there is committed sin in the life. The face of the Lord was turned from His people at Ai because of a single transgression. Until the golden wedge and Babylonish garment buried under the tent was dug up and burned, the Divine countenance remained averted, and Israel blundered about in darkness, confusion and galling defeat. If I regard iniquity in my heart, says David, the Lord will not hear me. Think of a clerk asking forgiveness of a merchant with stolen money in his pocket. And what if the merchant knows it. How can one ask and the other extend pardon. The thing is morally impossible. The Bible distinctly states that it is our iniquities that separate us from God. If this be so, then the giving up of these iniquities must be the condition of restored Divine nearness and favor. As I have heard people repeatedly affirming the impossibility of living without sin, I have wondered at the ignorance shown in such speeches of the Word of God. S o far is it from being impossible for a child of God to live a blameless life, the Bible distinctly states that the unconverted man himself must cease sinning before God will pardon him. In Isaiah 55:7, we read, “Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”
A third preparation is restitution.
This indeed is included in the previous thought, but deserves a distinct notice. It is wonderful how careless some people are here. They give up the ball room and theatre at the demand of the gospel, and yet slur over or forget certain wrongs of the past that should be rectified. The Saviour Himself distinctly tells us when we come to His altar with our gift and remember such a wrong, to hunt up the aggrieved brother and make all right with him first, and then come to the altar. Zaccheus had the matter right when he exclaimed, “If I have taken anything from any man–I restore him four fold.”
Recently a ministerial brother told me of a man whom he had met in the West, and who had become deeply convicted in his meeting, went repeatedly to the altar, but could not obtain the grace of pardon and salvation. Various were the charitable explanations upon the part of the audience, among which of course figured “intellectual difficulties.” But one day while walking with the evangelist, he made the confession that some years before while driving his cattle over the plain, a stray cow got in his drove, and he sold her along with the rest. “Now,” he said, “when I come to that altar I see that cow dashing before my eyes, and she fairly fills the landscape. ” The preacher replied, “You must return her value to the owner.” “This,” the man said, “I have determined to do.” And he did so, and as he did, the joy of forgiveness swept into his soul. The animal was only worth twenty dollars, but it was everything to Him who has identified Himself with every wronged individual on earth, and who is preparing a world for the pure and true and good.
A fourth is seen in Reconciliation.
The importance of this is seen in the words of the Saviour, “If you forgive not men their trespasses neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your trespasses.” Surely no reasoning, or argument is needed here to show the necessity of this transaction. Christ will not come into an unforgiving soul. But how gladly will He show mercy to the merciful.
One of the greatest revivals I ever witnessed began with five or six public reconciliations one morning in church. A woman impelled by the Spirit of God arose and openly begged pardon of another lady in the audience. In twenty seconds they were in each others arms. A grown daughter flew into the arms of her mother from whom she had been estranged. Two other persons stood up and asked the pastor to forgive them for having talked about him. With tears running down his face he extended his hands to them telling them he had not a doubt but he deserved criticism. Two gentlemen met each other in the aisle, locked hands, and while one confessed the other forgave, and in a moment they were embracing with happy smiles and shouts. So it went on, and heaven came down, and the glory of the Transfiguration Mount seemed to fall on the whole assembly. I have beheld many wondrous scenes of grace, but for tenderness of Spirit, melting hearts, flaming love and pure heavenliness, I have scarcely ever seen anything that surpassed the history of that morning. The revival broke out that very hour, and swept on for two years afterward. It is only another way of saying that Jesus came down and took possession of the church.
Fifth there are certain duties and obligations to God.
There are such Divine debts and duties. Religion is not to be confined simply to human relations. There are two tables of the Law, and the first had reference entirely to what is due the Lord. We owe things to men, but we also owe things to God. We pay the butcher, baker and doctor; we need also to be right with God on the financial as well as on other lines. It is amazing to see how men keep their accounts straight with their fellow men, and yet are careless in their contributions and obligations to the church, which is the abode of their God. If we look at the dwellings that by thousands line the streets of our great cities you will find that the vast majority have the rental account paid up to date, but over against that is the sorrowful and amazing fact that with the exception of one or two endowed buildings, there is not a church in all the land but has or has had a debt upon it. Deficits in the Missionary Treasury, deficits in the preacher’s and sexton’s salary, and debts unsettled for coal, gas, and past services.
Meantime the church wonders why everything feels so spiritually barren and dead. They are serving a God who calls Himself a jealous God, and yet wonder why He does not bless them and make them overrun with spiritual life and gladness, when He sees every debt but His own paid, while reproach gathers thereby on His servants, His house and His cause.
In a certain large Southern city a protracted meeting had been going on for over a month without any drops of mercy from the skies or “sound of going in the trees” of salvation. The best of preachers were holding forth, and the most eloquent of prayers, and finest of singing echoed along the arched walls and stuccoed ceiling; still the fire did not fall, and Jesus would not manifest Himself. One morning a gentleman belonging to the church requested other male members to meet him in the lecture room. On assembling he said:
“You all know, brethren, that we have been trying to secure a revival here for weeks, and we seem no nearer to it today than we did a month ago. The question is what is the matter? That something is the matter all can see. Has it occurred to you that the trouble is that we have been carrying a church debt of fifteen thousand dollars for over ten years? And has it also occurred to you that we as a congregation are amply able to pay it? It is my firm belief that God will never come down and fill and bless our church until we settle this obligation. I, for one,will give one thousand dollars, what will you do?”
In less than fifteen minutes the debt which had been for years a thorn in their sides, a reproach to their church, and a grief to God, was paid. The same evening in the next service the heavenly fire fell, and the power of God came down. The revival that followed saw hundreds of souls swept into the kingdom.
4. THE FOURTH STEP OR CONDITION OF CHRIST’S COMING TO US IS THAT HE MUST BE BESOUGHT TO COME.
See the order; invited, desired, prepared for, and besought. Even after having been invited, and prepared for, He must be entreated to come. It is not enough to ask and desire His coming. He must be importuned. The simple invitation is not sufficient.
Here is the explanation of the failure of many. Numbers have said to me, “I have asked Christ to come in; why does He not do so. I have done all I can.” How carelessly they spoke about the matter. No wonder Christ did not come. If the Syrophenican woman had stopped with her first request, she never would have received that gracious look and heard the thrilling words “great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” She swept past the realm of careless invitation, got to begging and conquered.
The careless invitation is not regarded anywhere. Suppose you try it on some one, or let some one try it on you. Let some person with an absent minded look and heedless manner say, “Come down and see us sometime.” Do you go? Have you not had thousands of such invitations, and to which you paid no attention afterwards. But suppose the invitation is after this style, “You must come down and see us. Wife often speaks of you. The children constantly ask after you. The whole family told me today to be certain to bring you. Now when will you come. Do not put it off until tomorrow. Say you will come today, that you will go with me now. I cannot let you off. Won’t you come?” Of course you go. How can you help it. And then it was so pleasant to be thus constrained by people who loved you and whom you loved.
Do you know that God can be constrained, and that He loves us to press our suit upon Him. Jacob never uttered more delightful words to the Almighty than when in that midnight wrestle he said, “I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” Just afterwards the Word says, “And He,” that is, God, “blessed him there.” And right “there” in such a spirit and determination and importuning and waiting we will all be blessed.
I have had people to tell me that their idea is to tell God what they want at once, and then let the whole matter alone. These persons have not read the Bible understandingly; and certainly they do not know yet the secret of victory in prayer. Abraham secured the angels by running after them. The disciples obtained the risen Christ by pressing Him to sup with them at Emmaus. The woman from Canaan got her entire request by hanging on to Christ in spite of three distinct rebuffs. The Capernaum nobleman invited the Saviour to come down and heal his son. The reply would have discouraged many whom you and I know; but the nobleman turning his tear-filled eyes upon Jesus simply said: “Come down, Lord, ere my son die.” He begged, and Jesus went.
Have you invited Christ to come? That is not enough. Do you desire Him? The land is full of people who desire, but do not get Him. This also is not sufficient. Have you prepared the way for Him? Yes, you say but still He does not come. Then the explanation is that you have neglected the beseeching and importuning. You do not understand why that should be done. Never mind about understanding it, only do it, and you will soon have reason to praise God for having done so, forever and ever!
This I have found that he who prays most, knows most of God, and possesses most of the Spirit of God. Men who like Luther, Wesley, Brainard and others prayed three hours a day, not only obtained the mind of Christ, but also the deepest secrets of heaven. I have also found that importunate and persistent prayer will cause Christ to enter any life, and descend upon any church or community. The question is who can bring this about. I answer:
Any town, city or nation can bring the Lord down upon the people. Nineveh clothed itself in sackcloth and turned to God with lamentation and prayer; and the Almighty rolled away its iniquity and smiled in pardon and peace upon the troubled inhabitants. Again and again the Jews as a people and nation would humble themselves before God in time of defeat and affliction, and the Lord would descend with mighty power, scattering their enemies and filling them with songs of praise and shouts of victory. It can be done today. If the people of any country would assemble in their churches and call on God with repentance, turning from sin and looking to Christ; heaven would answer in grace and glory; and no matter to what that nation had drifted or sunk, it would be lifted up from that very hour in honor, prosperity, happiness and blessedness above other nations.
But some will say we could never get an entire nation thus to wait on God, so the suggestion is vain. If this be so then I reply:
A congregation of believers can do it. This was what was done at Pentecost. One hundred and twenty souls, praying for ten days brought the power of God down upon Jerusalem. The same thing can be done today and is being done. This is what I aim for in every one of my meetings, to get the church to praying. After a few days the result is unmistakable in the general conviction on the town, and the clear cases of free and full salvation at the altar. Many times I have seen whole communities stirred and swept as a wind moves a wheat field, and the power come down from heaven in answer to the tears and cries of God’s people sent up day after day in the special hours set apart for prayer. It is in the power of the church today to put the world on its knees and face. Let the churches everywhere be filled with men and women pleading for the salvation of sinners, and the God of heaven and earth would answer as He only can by direct influence on mind, conscience and heart, and the ranks of the unsaved would be swept with cyclones of conviction and repentance, and the slain of the Lord would be everywhere.
But some one says suppose we cannot get an entire congregation to thus unite?
Then two believers can do it.
What says the Bible, “When two on earth are agreed as touching anything, it shall be done.”
Dr. Finney of evangelistic fame remembered this and never rested until he had one other person agonizing in prayer with himself for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his meeting. At one place he had a particularly long struggle. One night after midnight while on the floor praying for God to come, he heard the sounds of a voice in interceding prayer in the room about him. Going to his door and listening, he discovered that it was the voice of a godly woman in the house, and heard her sighs and sobs and petitions that God would send down the grace and power of salvation on the town. Dr. Finney with a happy smile closed his door and returned triumphant to his room saying, “We have the scriptural number of two, and shall have the victory.” It came the next day in great power.
This blessed fact saves us from despair when we find we cannot get one hundred and twenty or even a less number of the church together to pray down a revival. Two can do it. Christ says so. If any two agree on having a revival, and keep praying, it shall be done, says the Son of God. But suppose that two such people cannot be found?
Then one believer can do it.
What does the Saviour say here? “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
How the Bible and life itself have proved the truth of those words. Elijah locked and unlocked the heavens with a prayer. Elisha prayed the dead back to life. Joshua prayed the sun and moon into stationary positions for hours, and on another occasion prayed departed victory back to the ranks of the discouraged children of Israel. Knox kept praying to God, “Give me Scotland or I die,” and God gave him the land he prayed for.
Fletcher would never go into the pulpit unless he realized the Divine presence and felt the assurance of victory. So he stained the walls of his study with the breath of his ardent supplications. One Sabbath day the hour of preaching had arrived, and he was not in the pulpit. The audience waited for awhile and then some one was dispatched to his study to see what detained him. The messenger returned saying that Mr. Fletcher was evidently engaged in his room with some individual, for he heard him say to him, “I will not go unless you go with me.” By and by Mr. Fletcher appeared with his face shining. The One he had been talking to, had come with him. All could see that. Who wonders that a steady revival flamed and glowed in his church.
A woman in Kentucky prayed fifteen years for a revival that would upheave the town in which she lived. It looked to some that the prayer would never be answered. Doubtless many smiled over that oft-repeated supplication, “Revive thy work, Oh God in this place.” But she held on in faith. God heard the prayer, and by a most remarkable chain of circumstances prepared the messenger, and at last sent him to answer the prayer of that faithful heart. She saw the town moved as it never had been before, and hundreds converted, reclaimed and sanctified. The speaker before you conducted that wonderful meeting.
An elderly lady in one of our largest Western cities craved to see a genuine scriptural revival. The church which she belonged to would not pray for it. Neither could she find another person like-minded with herself about the matter. She determined to pray alone. She remembered the promise: “Ye shall ask what ye will and it shall be done.” Obtaining a key to one of the rooms in the basement of the church she began her regular morning visits of an hour, to be spent in lonely but not the less faithful and fervent prayer. She had been going some days when a gentleman acquaintance saw her and asked her where she had been. She replied, “To meeting.”
“Did you have a good one,” he innocently asked.
“Yes,” she said, “We had a splendid time.”
“Who was there,” the man asked.
“The Lord and myself,” was the surprising answer.
In a few days a more general attention was excited by the lonely visitor, and as the fact came out that she was there praying God to send a revival upon the church and community, others smitten in conscience melted in heart and drawn in spirit, joined her. The room was soon filled, the power came down, and a great revival swept through the church.
Is it not enough to make your hearts leap and souls begin to burn to think that any one of you now listening to me can pray God’s precious, beautiful and all powerful salvation down upon worldly communities, lifeless churches, and the sorrowful, heartbroken and lost nations of the earth.
Think of it! Immortal souls can be saved through us. Hell and Satan can be defeated, and heaven peopled through our prayers. Let us be up and at it! To your knees oh people of God. Down on your faces with sobs, tears and cries. Who will pray. Who will keep on praying and looking and expecting while God answers! O for a spirit of prayer such as Moses and Paul had. O to pray all night like Jesus did. Lord, increase our faith. O Christ, hear our prayer. O Son of God, answer by the Baptism of Fire.