A Revival Among Saints.
by John Ritchie
THERE is a general feeling among those of God's people, whose hearts are exercised in present conditions, that nothing short of a genuine Revival of spiritual life and power in the individual and collective lives of the saints, will bring these spiritually dreary and barren times to an end, and cause "the desert to blossom as the rose." For, . . . no good can come of ignoring the fact, that the spiritual thermometer stands very low, and the wheels of service for the Lord, move sluggishly. There is a great lack of spiritual grip and power in the preaching of the Gospel to the world, with a corresponding want of abiding fruit, and the ministry of God's Word among His own, lacks that freshness and sap which is essential to real edification to the soul, and to produce practical godliness in the lives of those who hear it. Of course, there are exceptions, but the general conditions are undoubtedly those of spiritual drought and lack of fruit, such as God expects from the preaching of His Gospel with the Holy Ghost sent down from Heaven (1 Pet. i. 12) among sinners, and the faithful ministry of His truth in the assemblies of His people. There are some who have never known anything better, who may be quite content with this state of affairs, who are self-satisfied and "have need of nothing." But those who remember "the former times," those years of the Lord's right hand, when the Gospel went forth in its might and wrought its wonders in the conversion of sinners; when the Word came as fresh manna from Heaven, causing the saints to rejoice in God, sending them forth freshly-girded for the work and wars of the Lord in strength, can never be satisfied with a fruitless Gospel, or a sapless ministry of the Word, with little pungency and no practical results. The only real remedy for such conditions is a Revival—a Revival in spiritual life and of spiritual power among the saints, individually and collectively. Nothing short of this will reach the root causes of our weak and barren condition. Every quack remedy proposed and adopted—and there are many of them—will only make these conditions worse. A fresh operation of the Spirit of God—still in the believer and in the church—is needed, and there is no blame to be laid at God's door for withholding it. But His people must stir themselves up to seek it, then to clear the channels through which it may come, and be ready to receive it in any manner, and through any means, that God may choose. It is no use making plans, and then asking God to sanction them. He will not do it. His "way is in the deep waters," and He works, so as to leave nothing for man to boast of, or glory in. If the people of God feel the need of reviving and refreshing, let them go to God first, and confess their low condition. Very likely, the next stage, the causes of it will be discovered. For when there is real exercise of heart before God, the light of His throne discovers many false gods and graven images to be hid in secret places, which were unfound in days of self-sufficiency. And whatever is against God, opposed to His will, grieving to His Spirit, hindering His Word, must be definitely and wholly disposed of. This is how the channels are to be cleared, to make room for God. The Agags must be slain. The Babylonish garments hid in the tent, unearthed. The unholy alliances dissolved. The carnal compacts broken up. The fleshly habits renounced. The worldly fashions and displays dismissed. In short, all and whole of the things that have been introduced and cherished in the heart, the life, the ways of the individual, all that has been admitted, permitted, protected, and practiced in God's assembly, derogatory to His honour, in disregard of His Word, and opposed to the presence and administration of His Spirit, must be put away, ere a real Revival and time of refreshing from the Lord can be expected, or enjoyed. These are simple, definite, conditions, and the question left for each to honestly face as before God is, How do they affect me?
Preparation for Revival.
All true revival is from God. It is the operation of the Holy Ghost, in the believer and in the church. Some have foolishly spoken of "getting up a revival." But a true revival of spiritual life and renewal of spiritual power is not "got up," but "brought down." And its coming is invariably in answer to earnest, united, believing prayer. We have never seen or heard of real times of reviving, renewing and refreshing, coming upon a prayerless, self-satisfied, and pompous people. The Lord's way still is to "revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isa. Ivii. 15). We may take it therefore, that the first step toward a true revival is found in heart searching and self-judgment before God, which will surely be followed by humiliation and confession of sin to God. This will result in that chastened, contrite, and lowly condition, upon which God "looks" with approval, and upon which "like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth" (Isa. lvii. 15), His revivings and His refreshings come. It is ours to make room for the Lord to work, not to dictate to Him how and when He is to do it. The Word, in the time of Elisha, to the widow, who was in poverty and in debt, but who had still one "pot of oil" in her possession in the house, was, "Bring empty vessels not a few." And when these empty vessels were brought and the door shut upon them, the oil began to flow, until all the empty vessels brought, were filled (2 Kings iv. 1-7). And then the oil ceased. For God never wastes His mercies, when they are not wanted, or where there is no room to receive and use them to profit. Such was the scene within. And that house, with the pot of oil still in it, yet unused, may surely speak to us of the heart and the church in which the Spirit of God and of power dwells, but yet waits for "empty vessels" to fill. And in the scene without, the same principle appears. The prophet said to the men who came in the time of drought seeking water, "Make this valley full of ditches" (2 Kings iii. 16), and when these had been prepared, the Lord filled them with water to overflowing. There is power in the Spirit for all ministry; for awakening the lost, for keeping the saved in spiritual condition, for sending the Gospel forth in converting power, and giving the Word unction and grip when ministered to the saints. But there must be "empty" vessels, men and women cleansed from sin, sanctified to God, vessels "meet for the Master's use," whom He can fill, and through whom He can work for the blessing of others. The solemn and searching question for each to put is, Am I such a vessel? Does God find in me a clean and empty vessel? A close and honest personal examination of the inner motives of the heart, and a searching survey of the habits and practices of the outer life, may reveal why God does not fill and use us in His work. God asks for "ditches" in the valley, low and empty, which He may fill, and flood the whole scene with that blessing of His, which "tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth from the sons of men" (Micah v. 7).
What True Revival Is.
It has become common to speak of seasons of extensive awakening and conversion, as "Revivals." But this is scarcely accurate, as these are viewed in the light of the phraseology of the Word of God. The unconverted are there said to be "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. ii. 1). And the dead need life. The natural man may have "religion," and be "exceedingly zealous" for his creed and his church (Gal. i. 13, 14), and yet have "no life" in him (John vi. 53). It is at and in the new birth, that spiritual life is imparted (1 Pet. i. 23), relationship with God as Father begins (John i. 12, 14), and the witness of this relationship is given (Rom. viii. 16). The character of the life received is "eternal life" (John iii. 36; 1 John v. 13). It can never be lost, neither force from without, nor decay from within (John x. 28), can deprive the believer of it. The devil cannot reach it, for its source is beyond the sphere of his power. It is "in the Son" (1 John v. 11), "hid with Christ in God" (Col. iii. 3). But although the life is indestructible and invincible, the man in whom it is, is not. He is in mortal flesh, compassed with infirmity. Within him, there is a principle of evil ever ready to assail all that is of God. He is liable to temptation and seduction, from a subtle and watchful foe without, his adversary the devil ever seeking to devour (1 Pet. v. 8). And the world in which he, for the present is, is made up of elements which are antagonistic to his spiritual life, "all" and the whole of them "not of the Father" (1 John ii. 16). They are to his soul and its health, as the miasma breath and the malaria swamp, to the health of man's physical frame. And there is the daily exhaustion that calls for recuperation, the daily waste that needs repair, and not infrequently the stumbling steps that need recovery and restoration.
Revival—and its equivalents—is one of the words used by the Holy Spirit to describe this spiritual recovery, renewal, and recuperation of the children of God individually, and of the Church collectively at any stage of its history on earth (see Rev. ii., iii.), where the Lord calls to repentance and provides for revival and recovery where this is yielded.
The various English terms which represent the original Hebrew word, tell how comprehensive and far-reaching true revival by the Spirit of God in and among the people of God is. To "revive” is to quicken, to vivify, to repair, then to keep alive, to preserve alive, to nourish up. And the revived condition is described as that of being whole, recovered, lively, all indicating something far more substantial and abiding, than a passing wave of excitement, or the fleeting experience of a "feeling" which, like "a morning cloud and the early dew," passeth away. For genuine revival brings God very near, and brings the soul into close, personal dealings with Him. If it does not, it is a sham, a paltry counterfeit of the real thing—a mere flash in the pan—which, when it is over, leaves the spiritual condition worse than it was before. A genuine Revival is different, alike in its process and its results. It has to do with God all the way. It magnifies Christ in all things, giving Him the pre-eminence. It honours the Holy Ghost, and leaves room for His operations, neither prescribing the way He is to work, nor limiting the sphere or duration of His actions. And the Word of God will have its due and honoured place, for all that is of God and by His Spirit, will ever be found to be along the lines of His truth, never contrary to its principles or opposed to its precepts. To translate this into daily experience, we may summarize it thus:—
For Daily Renewal of the inner man (2 Cor. iv. 16), God has provided, and the Christian is to appropriate his spiritual meat and drink. Like Israel of old in the wilderness, he has the daily manna, fresh from Heaven to feed on, and water from the smitten rock following all the way, (1 Cor. x. 3, 4) to drink. The manna is Christ (John vi. 50-51), as presented in the Word, and the water from the Rock, the inflowing of the Spirit (John vii. 37-39), the continuous supply (Phil. i. 19) and renewing of the Holy Ghost. Not once for all as Seal (Eph. i. 13) and Anointing (2 Cor. i. 21), but His continuous ministry as Paraclete (John xiv. 26, xvi. 13) as Teacher, Remembrancer, Guide, and Strengthener (Eph. iii. 16), making Christ "a blessed, bright reality," and the Word sweet to the spiritual taste, as honey from the honeycomb. The chief "means" of appropriation of what God has provided for this renewal, this recuperation, is the daily reading and use of God's Word and the habit of "praying always" (Eph. vi. 18), which just means a life of continuous acknowledgment of and dependence on God for everything, referring "everything" (Phil. iv. 6) to Him, and having no counsels, no co-partneries that shut Him out of the life at any point. And this Word of God, gathered like the manna, fresh in the dew of the morning (Num. xi. 9), appropriated in faith, fed on eagerly (Job xxiii. 12), assimilated joyfully (Jer. xv. 16), obeyed implicitly (Psa. cxix. 128), nourishes, strengthens, and preserves the soul in health and prosperity. Where this daily renewing is the happy experience of the soul, there will be spiritual life in vigour, fit for service, able to endure; but where these are neglected,—prayer neglected for business, and the Word crushed out by the daily newspaper, or the fascinating novel—even if there remain a certain activity in "church work," and some occupation with the "outward shell" of the Lord's service, the heart is gone out of it, and a further stage of departure from God is not very far off. Recovery from a fall (Gal. vi. 1), and Restoration from open departure from the ways of the Lord, involve much more, and cannot be wiped out, or the resulting evils got rid of in a hurry. For while God's grace ever waits on the self-judged humbled and repentant soul in forgiveness and cleansing (1 John i. 9), His Government may cause the sinning saint to reap the sowing of his errant days, all the years of his earthly life. And should the course of self-willed obstinacy be persisted in, his service and stewardship may be taken from him.
The Way of God in Revival.
Revivals are generally thought of and prayed for in the aggregate. God's way is to begin with the individual, to set one soul right with Himself, have one clean and available channel through which His reviving grace and power may flow, and thereby to reach others. An instrument out of tune, requires to have its several chords brought into harmony. A congregation of Christian people cannot be restored or revived en masse. There has to be, individual dealings between God and the souls who compose it, apart. For as each has his place and work in times of soul health, so each has his coldness of heart and failure in practice, his sin and backsliding to repent of and depart from, in time of restoration and recovery. There are none found free of blame, or able to shake off responsibility in contributing toward common declension, in the day that Heaven's bright light is turned upon the hidden motives and secret counsels of the heart. All excuses and claims for exemption fail, when the voice of the Lord says, "I am He which searcheth the reins and the heart" (Rev. ii. 23), comes in power to the soul. In the day of David's sin, Nathan, the prophet, could bear the word of reproof from God, and by his personal home-thrust, "Thou art the man" (2 Sam. xii. 7), bring the guilty king to own, "I have sinned against the Lord." But in the coming day of Israel's repentance, restoration, and revival, "every family" will mourn its sin apart, "the family of the house of David apart, and the family of the house of Nathan apart" (Zech. xii. 12), none excusing themselves, or accusing others, but all bowed and broken in bitterness of soul before their glorified Messiah and Lord, whom they disowned in the time of their blindness of heart. It is upon this people of a broken and a contrite heart," that God pours "the Spirit of grace and of supplications," and in them too, He fulfils His faithful Word—"They shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine; the scent thereof shall be as Lebanon" (Hos. xiv. 7). Bright and blessed tokens of God's reviving and restoring grace, surely!
The order of God's way in spiritual reviving is well expressed in the three petitions, "Revive me" (Psa. cxxxviii. 7), "Revive us" (Psa. lxxxv. 6), "Revive Thy work " (Hab. iii. 2). The individual soul—"me," first; the church—"us," next, then "Thy work"—the spread of the Gospel in the world, the conversion of sinners, the sanctification and edification of saints, will surely follow. This is God's way. He first takes hold of a saint of His and speaks directly and personally to his heart. He found Moses in the desert, spoke to him, restored and revived him as we may surely say. He then sent him with His message, and Israel was delivered from bondage. And the inspired records of revivals in the times of Samuel, Hezekiah, Josiah, Ezra, and Nehemiah, all tell the same story. God begins with a man to whom His Word has access, who bows before it. Set right with God himself, he becomes a channel for God to use in blessing to others. And the Revivals of our own time repeat the tale. The "holy club" of six young men in Oxford, dealing with God and His Word in a hidden room, produced Whitefield, Wesley, and the 18th Century Revivals. A few praying souls meeting in Fulton Street, New York, became the nucleus of a work of grace, which swept the American continent. Four, young men, meeting for prayer in a country schoolhouse near Kells, Co. Antrim, Ireland, prayed down the Ulster awakening of 1859, in which tens of thousands were converted. And the annals of memory tell, how many and many a season of reviving and refreshing, of awakening, conviction, and conversion have come upon us, as the answer to waiting hours before the throne, and the midnight vigils of solitary saints of God, "watching unto prayer," burdened with the barren conditions around them, who, Elijah-like, "prayed earnestly," until the "little cloud" enlarged and broke in "showers of blessing." It is here and after this manner that true revival has its rise, and if we seek and long for it in our midst, the way is open and the result is sure. But unbelief and human pride will seek a thousand devices in a backslidden and carnal-minded Christian, as they do in an unregenerate sinner respecting his salvation—ere sin is confessed, self-righteousness stripped off, and God alone, sought unto, counted on, and left to have His way, in giving times of reviving and refreshing among His own, with seasons of awakening and conversion. It is unto a present, living God, we are to seek, and when we do, He will not fail us.
Results of a True Revival.
A real revival among the people of God needs no advertising. It has visible and practical results which cannot be denied or disposed of by opposers. When the individual saint is set right with God, his life and testimony are easily discerned to be on a higher plane and regulated by a heavenly power. There is a fresh and sweet savour of Christ in the spirit and service of a revived and renewed soul. Things that were formerly practiced with an easy mind, company that was kept with little regard of its quality, and worldly habits that were indulged with a jaunty freedom, disappear, like moles in the light of morning. The saint abiding in the light of God, and living in the enjoyment of the love of Christ, has no use for the "old things," so they go, having been dismissed as incongruous with a life no longer for self, but for God. This has ever been the effect of a revived condition of soul in the saint, as all records of true reviving in the Word tell us. Jacob may suffer idolatry in his house, while living in a low spiritual condition with a dull conscience, acquired among his half-heathen relatives, approximating to the standards of "the people of the east" (Gen. xxix. 1), in whose ways he had long walked. But when God speaks to him saying, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there" (Gen. xxxv. 1), that call to a dwelling in "the house of God," the place of His manifested presence to his soul many years before (chap, xxviii. 11-19), arouses his conscience into exercise, and he is heard saying to his wives and followers, "Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean." And the sequel tells how these "family heirlooms," brought from the house of Laban the Syrian, were delivered up, and buried out of sight. When Hezekiah and the people of Judah had opened "the doors of the house of God," and let in the light which had long been shut out, they discovered much uncleanness in the inner part of the temple, which the Levites for sixteen days, continued to carry out and cast into the brook Kedron (2 Chron. xxix. 3, 5, 16-18). Then the offerings on Jehovah's altar and “the song of the Lord" (ver. 27) ascended from a clean and revived people, who "bowed themselves and worshipped" (ver. 29). A fuller praise and a richer worship, with thank-offerings from a "free heart" (ver. 31) come without much effort, from a people who have experienced the restoring grace of God, and have cleansed themselves from all "filthiness of flesh and spirit" (2 Cor. vii. 1), and "consecrated themselves" anew unto the Lord (ver. 31). And the story is ever the same all along the line, to the present hour. Wherever a real reviving from the Spirit of God is known and enjoyed, there the breath of prayer will increase, the worship will be of a more spiritual order, liberality will flow, and practical godliness will assert itself in every path of life. And there is no other way to gain these oft prayed for blessings, than by self-judgment, confession, cleansing, and separation from all that is of sin and self, and the present evil world. All attempts at reformation, re-dedication, reconstruction, and the like, must end in failure, where the roots of evil are unreached, and the causes of barrenness and want of God, are left untouched. The kind of Revival that the religious world is out to seek, is better church attendances, larger collections, grander buildings, more ornate services, and less of the Gospel and God's judgment of sin in the preaching. But God will not be bargained with, in any such ways. Sin has to be grappled with, evils exposed, and all that has kept Him at a distance, dealt with unsparingly. King Saul was willing to have a Revival on his own terms, and proudly owned that he had "performed the commandment of the Lord" (1 Sam. xv. 13). But the bleating of the Amalekite sheep of the valley, which the Lord had commanded to be smitten, and the sparing of Agag the king, the arch-enemy of God's people, told to Samuel how shallow and sparing the execution of the Divine judgment at the hand of Saul had been. And for this, he lost the kingdom (ver. 26), having in the Divine estimate, "rejected the Word of the Lord" in only giving effect to it in part. Alas! how often has his sin been repeated, with the same result. For the Holy God is jealous of His honour and His Word, and He will not give His blessing, where sin is retained and evil left unjudged. But to the man who is of "a contrite spirit and trembleth at His Word" (Isa. lxvi. 2) will He "look." And to that people, who while having only a “little strength," use it in keeping His Word and not denying His Name (Rev. iii. 3), He will minister by His Spirit continuously, and cause them to be like "a fountain of gardens, a wall of living waters" (Song iv. 15) in their worship heavenward, and in their beneficent testimony to the waste and weary world, for whose blessing they are set "in the midst of many people," to be "as a dew from the Lord, as the showers upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man" (Micah v. 7).
It is a Revival according to God, on the lines of His Word, and the work of His Spirit, that alone can raise the spiritual tone and uplift the lives of the people of God. And nothing short of this will purge assemblies of Christians from their dross and cause them to "arise and shine" as heavenly luminaries, on the dark world. And such a Revival will make the dust fly. It will work a veritable Reformation, as every true Revival has done. The revived, renewed, and restored saints of God will no longer be subject to the rule of carnal and worldly men, or under bondage to laws and legislation which have no sanction from the Word of God, and which can only hinder the operations of the sovereign Spirit of Truth in the worship and work of God. They will shake themselves free from whatever bonds of human creation they find in their associations, which crib and confine the spiritual life in them, and hinder the free and sovereign action of the Spirit of God in the assemblings of the church, which alone can maintain right spiritual condition and supply such ministry as cleanses from all that defiles the soul and disfigures the testimony of the saints of God.
“The Believer’s Magazine” 1919.