By Rev. Robert J. Dixon
It is reasonable that every Christian minister should strongly desire to know the most effectual methods for success in the ministry; for the minister himself knows that unless he can succeed in turning sinners from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God, his work cannot be said to be a success. The one great need of the Christian ministry and of the church is a genuine revival. The most momentous subject that can be considered in any age is a revival of the Christian religion. A great majority of subjects relate to time, but a revival relates to eternity.
When one speaks of a revival we usually think of special meetings for the conversion of sinners. But such is not the true idea of a revival. A revival has to do with the spiritual quickening of Christians and not primarily with the conversion of sinners. But one will say, “Must we not get sinners converted?” Most certainly — however, the conversion of sinners is not a revival, but the natural result of a revival. In other words, a revival can only come to those who are alive. A dead man cannot be revived; one who is almost dead can. The reason why we need a revival so badly is that there are many Christians who are almost dead.
Some contend that revivals are abnormal, but the contrary is true. A genuine revival only brings the church to its normal condition and puts it in saving contact with the lives of men. Without a revival the church becomes paralyzed, and, like Samson, is soon bound with cords. If angels rejoice over one sinner that repents, surely they are interested in revivals; for when the church is revived, sinners repent.
A genuine revival never comes by accident. So there is no use of passively waiting for a revival. We must work for it the same as we would for a crop of wheat. God has evidently left this work for man to promote; and if this were true, what are some of the most essential requisites for the promotion of a genuine revival?
I. THE HOLY SPIRIT
The first requisite for the promotion of a revival is the Holy Spirit. “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). It is obvious that man can do nothing without God, and that God rarely does anything toward the advancement of His kingdom upon earth without man. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Men are to be workers together with God for the promotion of revivals.
II. A HOLY MINISTRY
God spoke to the ministry through Isaiah the prophet and said, “Be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isa. 52:11). Spurgeon said, “We often flog the church like a colossal culprit when the whip should be laid on our own shoulders.” The minister should study and pray, or rather, pray and study, until he has the unction of the Divine Spirit. One has said, “Much reading makes a popular preacher, but much praying makes a powerful preacher.” He may ask himself, “Am I right with God?” A minister’s position and vocation make it incumbent upon him to be eminently holy. Every minister should be able to say with St. Paul, “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe” (1 Thess. 2:10).
III. THE JOY OF THE LORD
The third essential for the promotion of a revival is the joy of the Lord. Nehemiah said, “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Neh. 8:10). And David prayed, “Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation . . . then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (Psa. 51:12-13). “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5). When Christians walk in the light of holiness, everlasting joy shall be upon their heads.
“A revival,” said Mr. Finney, “is a work of God, and so is a crop of wheat.” If farmers have faith for a crop of wheat, Christians should have faith for a revival. When ten are found in the church that can say, “WE CAN have a revival,” there may be ninety who will say, “The strength of the bearers of burdens is decayed, and there is much rubbish; so that we are not able to build the wall” (Neh. 4: 10). Or, in other words, “We cannot do anything in this place because of existing conditions.” All Christians, however, should arouse themselves and say, “WE CAN, WE WILL, and WE MUST have a revival!” Failure may come in business and farming, but a revival is as sure as the promises of God when all the biblical conditions are met. Oh, that Christians were like the boy who was Napoleon’s drummer. He never learned to beat a retreat; all he knew was the CHARGE! Faith is surely an absolute essential for the promotion of a revival.
V. RIGHT MOTIVES
It is essential in the promotion of a revival that the motives be right. If there is any selfish motive, God is not likely to answer prayer for a revival. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me,” said the Psalmist (Psa. 66:18). God says, “I will revive the spirit of the humble, and revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15). Some labor to promote revivals when the motive is self-honor. One of the kings of Persia had such an insatiable desire for self-honor that he said to his people, “I am the brother of the sun and moon, and a friend of all the planets.” If any are looking for a reward for their work in revivals, let them hear the promise, “They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars for ever and ever” (Dan. 12:3). In some cases when the motive is wrong God may grant the request but send leanness into the soul. The apostle said of some, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3). The right motives in the promotion of revivals are the glory of God and the salvation of the lost. Right motives, then, are truly necessary in the promotion of a genuine revival.
A revival is not likely to come upon a church that is rent by strife, bickering and divisions. Mr. Finney said that he always found when the revival spirit declined, that a spirit of quarreling and controversy prevailed. Our blessed Lord said, “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in Heaven” (Mt. 18:19). When the apostles were in one accord in one place, the great Pentecostal revival came. In unity there is strength, and in order to have a genuine revival unity is imperative.
VII. REMOVAL OF HINDRANCES
Some say that we cannot have unity because there are so many hindrances. If that is the case, the hindrances must be removed. Preparing the way is necessary in any line of work. “Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make his paths straight” (Isa. 40:3). The following proverbial sayings may be used with reference to revivals: “No pains, no gains.” “No sweat, no sweet.”
Those who desire a genuine revival must beware of multiplied organizations. Too much machinery on the floor always hinders the workmen. Enough is enough. Is it not generally true that when spirituality declines, machinery increases? Scriptural discipline is also necessary. When the church is defiled by the addition or retention of ungodly members, the Divine Inhabitant will soon withdraw. Christians must get rid of resentful remembrances of old injuries, and not be like Darius, king of Persia, who is said to have ordered his servant to shout into his ear every time he sat down to dine, “Sir, remember the Athenians.” The spirit of contention must be removed from the church or every effort for revival will end in utter defeat. It is obvious that all such hindrances must be removed.
VIII. CONSECRATION OF MATERIAL WEALTH
It is impossible to promote revivals without the consecration of material wealth. Close-fisted Christians may be said to be the brakes on the wheels of the Gospel chariot. At a time when there was a great need of a revival, God said through His Prophet Malachi, “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (Mal. 3:10). The wise Solomon said, “Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase. So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Prov. 3:9-10). It is not because God needs money, but of necessity He must turn man’s heart from the love of material wealth. The above texts, and many more which might be cited, prove that the consecration of material wealth is indispensable in promoting a revival.
IX. PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY
The next consideration in the promotion of a genuine revival is that all Christians must feel their personal responsibility. A friend asked Daniel Webster what was the greatest thought that ever came to his mind. After a moment’s reflection, Mr. Webster said, “Personal responsibility.” When Deborah and Barak were conducting their revival, the inhabitants of Meroz did not help to push the battle, and they were cursed bitterly by the angel of the Lord (Judges 5:23). They did not feel their personal responsibility. The prophet Amos cried, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion!” (Amos 6:1). God says, “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand” (Ezek. 3:18). God is the author of all true revivals, but man is the responsible agent in their promotion. Therefore, to feel one’s personal responsibility is a fundamental requirement in the promotion of a genuine revival.
X. PASSION FOR SOULS
Again, for the promotion of a genuine revival, a passion for souls is essential. The experience of real salvation in one’s own heart creates an insatiable desire for the salvation of those who are lost. Those who are sanctified wholly are always characterized by a great zeal for the salvation of others. They are willing to spend and be spent that others might be saved. John Knox prayed, “Give me Scotland, or I die!” George Whitefield cried, “Give me souls, or take my soul!” Isaiah wrote, “As soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children” (Isa. 66:8). The words that break hearts come from hearts that are broken. Surely we must have a passion for souls if we would see a genuine revival.
XI. PRAYER AND FASTING
An even greater emphasis should be laid upon the necessity for prayer in the promotion of a revival, and in some cases even fasting. According to the teachings of our Lord, He said, “This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Mt. 17:21). Christians must pray for themselves, for others, for the church and for the whole world. A revival without antecedent and accompanying prayer has never been known. It is not the laying of plans, the organizing of committees and the engaging of noted evangelists that bring the revival. It is the cries and groans of God’s children that count.
Singing will not do it. Mr. Finney stated that he had never seen a singing revival that was really a work of God. This statement in no wise discounts the great and good influence of song in religious services. It might be well to insert the following advertisement in the columns of our religious papers: WANTED — Men and women who can prevail with God to send a revival. We have heard of Father Nash, who traveled with Mr. Finney as a praying helper. He frequently spent whole nights in prayer and great revival results followed. On one occasion in Scotland, John Livingstone prayed all night and five hundred were converted the next day. While Jonathan Edwards preached at Enfield on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” a few saints in a nearby house were offering prayer. In the year 1857 four young men prayed in a little schoolhouse in Ireland until God sent a revival that swept like a tornado over the British Isles; and during the following year ten thousand members were added to the protestant churches of Ireland. It is understood that the great Welsh revival came in answer to the prayers of Evan Roberts.
The prayers of the “Holy Club” preceded the great Methodist revival. The prayers of Luther and others preceded the Reformation. The great revival on the day of Pentecost was preceded by ten days of prayer. Six hundred years before Christ, Habakkuk prayed for a revival, saying, “O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath remember mercy” (Hab. 3:2). When the prophet Joel saw the need of a revival, he commanded, “Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet. Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach” (Joel 2:16-17). Daniel fasted and prayed for twenty-one days and prevailed with God for his people. Men of all denominations agree that prayer with fasting is an essential requisite for the promotion of a genuine revival.
XII. THE PUBLIC ASSEMBLY
The public assembly is the next element in the work of promoting revivals. According to the Word, we are not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25). It seems to be the best method to bring the church into touch with the unsaved. Ezra and Nehemiah called a public assembly so that all might hear the reading of God’s law. However, it would be better if the church could be fully revived before the general public is invited to attend the revival services. It is a sad spectacle to see the church members running to the altar seeking religion after the unsaved of the community are brought to the public assembly. The public assembly, however, is necessary for the promotion of revivals among the people.
Preaching holds a very important place in the promotion of revivals. Preaching is ordained of God as the most hopeful and successful means of securing the conversion of sinners and the sanctification of believers. “It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor. 1:21).
Appropriate, direct and unctuous preaching will always prove to be the most effective means in turning the greatest number of souls from sin to holiness. Someone might ask, “What kind of preaching is needed to promote a revival?” Some have thought that revivals come by the preaching of some neglected scriptural truth that is adapted to the needs of the times. This plan may have the appearance of success, but it is uncertain. It is incumbent upon the ministers to preach both the law and the Gospel in order that the whole counsel of God may be declared. The law should be preached so that the sinner may feel his atrocious guilt, and be glad to come to Christ for redemption. The hammer of God’s Word will break the stony heart; the sword of the Spirit will pierce the conscience. It is the engrafted word that is able to save the soul (James 1:21). The sum of Bible teaching is: ruin and redemption, sin and salvation. There is a general agreement that the right kind of preaching is indispensable in the promotion of revivals.
XIV. PERSONAL WORK
The last thing we would suggest as essential for the promotion of revivals is personal work. After a sinner has been convicted of his sins by the preached word, he is very likely to need personal instruction. Personal work can be successful without the aid of the sermon. Some leaders may feel that they are too far advanced for personal work, but this is an error. A great lecturer said he had lost all interest in the individual. “I speak to the crowds,” said he. John Wesley is said to have won sixty thousand souls by personal effort. There are nineteen different occasions recorded in the Bible when our Lord taught the individual.
The above points have not been arranged according to their relative importance, but rather according to the progressive steps in a revival. If we can have the Holy Spirit, a holy ministry, the joy of the Lord, a genuine faith, right motives, perfect unity, all hindrances removed, the tithes and offerings brought in and everyone feeling his personal responsibility, each having a real passion for souls and willing to fast and pray, then call the public assembly and let the holy ministers filled with the Holy Spirit preach the law and the Gospel; and let all the Christians filled with a passion for souls stand ready to do the personal work, and a revival is sure to come. Amen!
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