"O Lord, revive Thy work in the midst of the years." -- HAB. iii.2.
"Though I walk in the midst of trouble, Thou wilt revive me: Thy right hand shall save me." -- PS. cxxxviii.7.
"I dwell with him that is of a humble and contrite heart, to revive the heart of the contrite ones." -- ISA. lvii.15.
"Come, and let us return to the Lord: for He hath torn, and He will heal us. He will revive us." -- HOS. vi.1, 2.
The Coming Revival -- one frequently hears the word. There are teachers not a few who see the tokens of its approach, and confidently herald its speedy appearance. In the increase of mission interest, in the tidings of revivals in places where all were dead or cold, in the hosts of our young gathered into Students' and other Associations or Christian Endeavour Societies, in doors everywhere opened in the Christian and the heathen world, in victories already secured in the fields white unto the harvest, wherever believing, hopeful workers enter, they find the assurance of a time of power and blessing such as we have not known. The Church is about to enter on a new era of increasing spirituality and larger extension.
There are others who, while admitting the truth of some of these facts, yet fear that the conclusions drawn from them are one-sided and premature. They see the interest in missions increased, but point out to how small a circle it is confined, and how utterly out of proportion it is to what it ought to be. To the great majority of Church members, to the greater part of the Church, it is as yet anything but a life question. They remind us of the power of worldliness and formality, of the increase of the money-making and pleasure-loving spirit among professing Christians, to the lack of spirituality in so many, many of our churches, and the continuing and apparently increasing estrangement of multitudes from God's Day and Word, as proof that the great revival has certainly not begun, and is hardly thought of by the most. They say that they do not see the deep humiliation, the intense desire, the fervent prayer which appear as the forerunners of every true revival.
There are right-hand and left-hand errors which are equally dangerous. We must seek as much to be kept from the superficial Optimism, which never is able to gauge the extent of the evil, as from the hopeless Pessimism which can neither praise God for what He has done, nor trust Him for what He is ready to do. The former will lose itself in a happy self-gratulation, as it rejoices in its zeal and diligence and apparent success, and never see the need of confession and great striving in prayer, ere we are prepared to meet and conquer the hosts of darkness. The latter virtually gives over the world to Satan, and almost prays and rejoices to see things get worse, to hasten the coming of Him who is to put all right. May God keep us from either error, and fulfil the promise, "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left." Let us listen to the lessons suggested by the passages we have quoted; they may help us to pray the prayer aright: "Revive Thy work, O Lord!"
1. "Revive Thy work, O Lord!" -- Read again the passages of Scripture, and see how they all contain the one thought: Revival is God's work; He alone can give it; it must come from above. We are frequently in danger of looking to what God has done and is doing, and to count on that as the pledge that He will at once do more. And all the time it may be true that He is blessing us up to the measure of our faith or self-sacrifice, and cannot give larger measure, until there has been a new discovery and confession of what is hindering Him. Or we may be looking to all the signs of life and good around us, and congratulating ourselves on all the organisations and agencies that are being created, while the need of God's mighty and direct interposition is not rightly felt, and the entire dependence upon Him not cultivated. Regeneration, the giving of Divine life, we all acknowledge to be God's act, a miracle of His power. The restoring or reviving of the Divine life, in a soul or a Church, is as much a supernatural work. To have the spiritual discernment that can understand the signs of the heavens, and prognosticate the coming revival, we need to enter deep into God's mind and will as to its conditions, and the preparedness of those who pray for it or are to be used to bring it about. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto his servants the prophets." It is God who is to give the revival; it is God who reveals His secret; it is the spirit of absolute dependence upon God, giving Him the honour and the glory, that will prepare for it.
2. "Revive Thy work, O Lord!" -- A second lesson suggested is, that the revival God is to give will be given in answer to prayer. It must be asked and received direct from God Himself. Those who know anything of the history of revivals will remember how often this has been proved -- both larger and more local revivals have been distinctly traced to special prayer. In our own day there are numbers of congregations and missions where special or permanent revivals are -- all glory be to God -- connected with systematic, believing prayer. The coming revival will be no exception. An extraordinary spirit of prayer, urging believers to much secret and united prayer, pressing them to "labour fervently" in their supplications, will be one of the surest signs of approaching showers and floods of blessing.
Let all who are burdened with the lack of spirituality, with the low state of the life of God in believers, listen to the call that comes to all. If there is to be revival, -- a mighty, Divine revival, -- it will need, on our part, corresponding whole-heartedness in prayer and faith. Let not one believer think himself too weak to help, or imagine that he will not be missed. If he first begin, the gift that is in him may be so stirred that, for his circle or neighbourhood, he shall be God's chosen intercessor. Let us think of the need of souls, of all the sins and failings among God's people, of the little power there is in so much of the preaching, and begin to cry every day, "Wilt Thou not revive us again, that Thy people may rejoice in Thee?" And let us have the truth graven deep in our hearts: every revival comes, as Pentecost came, as the fruit of united, continued prayer. The coming revival must begin with a great prayer revival. It is in the closet, with the door shut, that the sound of abundance of rain will be first heard. An increase of secret prayer with ministers and members, will be the sure harbinger of blessing.
3. "Revive Thy work, O Lord!" -- A third lesson our texts teach is that it is to the humble and contrite that the revival is promised. We want the revival to come upon the proud and the self-satisfied, to break them down and save them. God will give this, but only on the condition that those who see and feel the sin of others take their burden of confession and bear it, and that all who pray for and claim in faith God's reviving power for His Church, shall humble themselves with the confession of its sins. The need of revival always points to previous decline; and decline was always caused by sin. Humiliation and contrition have ever been the conditions of revival. In all intercession confession of man's sin and God's righteous judgment is ever an essential element.
Throughout the history of Israel we continually see this. It comes out in the reformations under the pious Kings of Judah. We hear it in the prayer of men like Ezra and Nehemiah and Daniel. In Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, as well as in the minor prophets, it is the keynote of all the warning as of all the promise. If there be no humiliation and forsaking of sin there can be no revival or deliverance: "These men have set up their idols in their hearts. Shall I at all be inquired of by them?" "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at My word." Amid the most gracious promises of Divine visitation there is ever this note: "Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O House of Israel."
We find the same in the New Testament. The Sermon on the Mount promises the kingdom to the poor and them that mourn. In the Epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians the religion of man, of worldly wisdom and confidence in the flesh, is exposed and denounced; without its being confessed and forsaken, all the promises of grace and the Spirit will be vain. In the Epistles to the seven churches we find five of which He, out of whose mouth goes the sharp, two-edged sword, says, that He has something against them. In each of these the keyword of His message is -- not to the unconverted, but to the Church -- Repent! All the glorious promises which each of these Epistles contain, down to the last one, with its "Open the door and I will come in"; "He that overcometh shall sit with Me on My throne," are dependent on that one word -- Repent!
And if there is to be a revival, not among the unsaved, but in our churches, to give a holy, spiritual membership, will not that trumpet sound need to be heard -- Repent? Was it only in Israel, in the ministry of kings and prophets, that there was so much evil in God's people to be cleansed away? Was it only in the Church of the first century, that Paul and James and our Lord Himself had to speak such sharp words? Or is there not in the Church of our days an idolatry of money and talent and culture, a worldly spirit, making it unfaithful to its one only Husband and Lord, a confidence in the flesh which grieves and resists God's Holy Spirit? Is there not almost everywhere a confession of the lack of spirituality and spiritual power? Let all who long for the coming revival, and seek to hasten it by their prayers, pray this above everything, that the Lord may prepare His prophets to go before Him at His bidding: "Cry aloud and spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show My people their transgression." Every deep revival among God's people must have its roots in a deep sense and confession of sin. Until those who would lead the Church in the path of revival bear faithful testimony against the sins of the Church, it is to feared that it will find people unprepared. Men would fain have a revival as the outgrowth of their agencies and progress. God's way is the opposite: it is out of death, acknowledged as the desert of sin, confessed as utter helplessness, that He revives. He revives the heart of the contrite one.
4. "Revive Thy work, O Lord!" -- There is a last thought, suggested by the text from Hosea. It is as we return to the Lord that revival will come; for if we had not wandered from Him, His life would be among us in power. "Come and let us return to the Lord: for He hath torn, He will heal us: He hath smitten; He will bind us up: He will revive us, and we shall live in His sight." As we have said, there can be no return to the Lord, where there is no sense or confession of wandering. Let us return to the Lord must be the keynote of the revival. Let us return, acknowledging and forsaking whatever there has been in the Church that is not entirely according to His mind and spirit. Let us return, yielding up and casting out whatever there has been in our religion or along with it of the power of God's two great enemies -- confidence in the flesh or the spirit of the world. Let us return, in the acknowledgment of how undividedly God must have us, to fill us with His Spirit, and use us for the kingdom of His Son. Oh, let us return, in the surrender of a dependence and a devotion which has no measure but the absolute claim of Him who is the Lord! Let us return to the Lord with our whole heart, that He may make and keep us wholly His. He will revive us, and we shall live in His sight. Let us turn to the God of Pentecost, as Christ led his disciples to turn to Him, and the God of Pentecost will turn to us.
It is for this returning to the Lord that the great work of intercession is needed. It is here the coming revival must find its strength. Let us begin as individuals in secret to plead with God, confessing whatever we see of sin or hindrance, in ourselves or others. If there were not one other sin, surely in the lack of prayer there is matter enough for repentance and confession and returning to the Lord. Let us seek to foster the spirit of confession and supplication and intercession in those around us. Let us help to encourage and to train those who think themselves too feeble. Let us lift up our voice to proclaim the great truths. The revival must come from above; the revival must be received in faith from above and brought down by prayer; the revival comes to the humble and contrite, for them to carry to others; if we return to the Lord with our whole heart, He will revive us. On those who see these truths, rests the solemn responsibility of giving themselves up to witness for them and to act them out.
And as each of us pleads for the revival throughout the Church, let us specially, at the same time, cry to God for our own neighbourhood or sphere of work. Let, with every minister and worker, there be "great searchings of heart," as to whether they are ready to give such proportion of time and strength to prayer as God would have. Let them, even as in public they are leaders of their larger or smaller circles, give themselves in secret to take their places in the front rank of the great intercession host, that must prevail with God, ere the great revival, the floods of blessing can come. Of all who speak or think of, or long for, revival, let not one hold back in this great work of honest, earnest, definite pleading: Revive Thy work, O Lord! Wilt Thou not revive us again?
Come and let us return to the Lord: He will revive us! And let us know, let us follow on to know the Lord. "His going forth is sure as the morning; and He shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter rain that watereth the earth." Amen. So be it.