Conditions of a Revival
James Smith, 1859
How much we need a revival of religion! There is but little life in the Church — but little power in the ministry, and but few conversions from the world. Our attention has been called to the subject, and we talk about it, and some pray for it; but it appears to us that there must be a change before we shall have it. Our prayers are very feeble, and our efforts are very weak. We scarcely expect any great thing from God — any powerful displays of His presence and grace; and yet the Lord is the same, and our plea at the throne of grace is the same as they ever were. The Spirit of the Lord is not straightened, the hand of the Lord is not shortened — but He has full power to deliver.
What is it then that is lacking? What is necessary in order to a revival of religion in the Church and in the world?
It seems to us that the Lord's people need a clearer discovery of the grace of God, a more vivid sense of the perfect work of Christ, and a more settled persuasion of their saving interest in Jesus. How many there are who have no more than a vague hope, who are tossed about with doubts and fears, and are continually indulging suspicions of God's love to them, and questioning indeed whether Christ died for them. Such people must be feeble. They cannot be strong to labor. If they cannot believe God's promises in reference to themselves — then how can they believe His promises as to the world and the Church? If they do not expect grace from God for themselves, and the communication of the Spirit to themselves — then how can they expect them for the Church and the world?
The first thing we need is certainty for ourselves — a well-founded persuasion that we are accepted in the Beloved; to know and believe the love that God has to us; to walk with God under a sense of our adoption, and in the full persuasion that we are justified from all things. On this, therefore, we should set our hearts, and seek it from the Lord as our birthright — and yet as the gift of His grace.
Being fully persuaded of our interest in Christ, and union, to Christ, then we should seek to exercise strong and steady confidence in God. Resting on His Word, relying on His faithfulness, realizing that He means every word He has spoken, and intends to fulfill every promise He has made — we should be confident in God, and live and walk with Him, expecting Him to make good His Word.
We have not had the confidence in God that we should have had — we are not like Abraham, who staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief — but was strong in faith, believing that what He had promised, He was able also to perform.
Then we need deep and abiding communion with God: a diving into the deep things of God, and holding communion with Him on all subjects, and on all occasions. In fellowship with God is our strength. By fellowship with God we grow in grace, and become qualified for our work in the world and in the Church. By fellowship with God, we learn His mind, drink into His Spirit, and receive out of His fullness. Those only who have deep and abiding fellowship with God will be strong and do exploits. Until, therefore, the communion of the Church with God is deeper, and more permanent, we do not expect a powerful revival of religion.
Then there must be a single eye to God's glory. We may seek great things from God — but not for our own exaltation, or the gratification of our own pride. Self is too, too often at the bottom of our efforts, and suggests many of our plans for the spread of religion. Self-renunciation is a difficult, and often an unpleasant duty. To wish to see sinners converted — not to increase our own Church, or add to our own denomination — but simply that God may be glorified — is not a common attainment. To know that a great work of God is going on, and that we are overlooked in it, is not often pleasant. We want to be something. Flesh will be somebody, if possible; but, if we expect a great revival of religion, it seems to us that the eye must be taken off self entirely, and be fixed on the glory of God alone.
We need also a sympathizing heart with lost sinners. We do not realize their danger, or feel for their dreadful case as it befits us. We see them perish without a tear. We think of their dropping into Hell without a sigh or a groan; or, if we sigh or groan, that is all, there is little well-timed, well-directed, Scriptural effort to save them. If we realized our oneness with them by nature — if we felt for them as brother should feel for brother, and as sister should feel for sister, we could not allow them to go down to the pit unwarned, unpitied, and uncared for, as we do. Our sympathy with our fellow-men, who are under condemnation, who are perishing in ignorance and sin, is not deep, spirit-stirring, and practical, as it ought to be. When a great revival of religion is coming, we shall expect to see the hearts of the Lord's people touched with the tenderest sympathy, and stirred to their very depths.
This would lead to self-denying activity to save souls. We do many good things now — but they are things we rather like to do. We seldom mortify the flesh, or crucify our pride — in order to save our fellow-men. We have no objection to speak to them in public, drop a hint on a religious subject before them, or lend them a book. But to go purposely to them, and ask for a private interview with them, in order to deal lovingly and faithfully with them about their souls — is what we are not prepared to do. We could call upon them and inform them if their property were in danger, or if any part of their family were in peril; but though we know that their immortal souls are at stake, and they have no thought about them, and no one calls their attention to their state — we allow them to go on and perish in their sin! But when a revival of religion is about to take place, we expect that the Lord's people will go forth to visit their neighbors, acquaintances, and friends, on purpose to pluck them as brands from the burning, and save their souls from death!
Then as God has pledged himself by his Word to bless, his blessing must come down direct from Heaven, as the former and latter rain upon the earth, and, as the effect of the Divine blessing, a glorious revival would take place. Then the drooping, dying plants in the garden of the Lord, would revive and flourish; then the seed of the kingdom, long since sown, would germinate and spring up; then the dry bones lying in the open valley of this world, would be clothed with flesh and quickened into life; then this bleak desert, this barren land, would become like Eden, clothed with beauty, pervaded with power, and crowned with blessing. This, this is the revival that we need!
Beloved, let us seek the full assurance of hope for ourselves, and being persuaded that we are God's children, the brethren of Christ, the temples of the Holy Spirit — let us endeavor to exercise a strong and steady confidence in God — seek to live in deep and abiding fellowship with God — to have always a single eye to His glory — a sympathizing heart with poor perishing sinners around us — that so we may exercise self-denying, flesh-crucifying activity to save souls from death — and then God will bless us, "God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear Him." For then a glorious revival of religion will be enjoyed in the Church, its drooping plants will lift up their heads, its dry and barren spots will be clothed with green and pleasant verdure, its trees will be covered with fruit, and its flowers with the most lovely blossoms. Then the seed sown on the dry and thirsty soil of sinners' hearts will spring up; then the dry bones of the house of Israel will live, and stand up before the Lord; and then a beautiful Eden will bless our eyes. Brethren, think of these things; set your hearts on these things; give God no rest until you witness and enjoy these things, that our exalted Redeemer may see of the travail of His soul, and be satisfied.