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THE BOILING WATERS OF REVIVAL
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
"The fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!" (Isaiah 64:2).
One of great mistakes people make concerning the subject of revival is thinking it can come easily, with few problems and little upheaval. This false idea can easily be refuted by simply reading about the revivals of the past.
Revival is supremely a manifestation of God, in which lost people become convinced of their sin and converted to Christ. Isaiah's description of revival shows that it comes with turmoil:
"Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence! When thou didst terrible things which we looked not for, thou camest down, the mountains flowed down at thy presence" (Isaiah 64:1-3).
Dr. Gill gives these comments:
The prayer of the church is continued in this chapter; in which she prays for some visible display of the power and presence of God, as in times past… "The fire causeth the waters to boil" …like fire that melts metals and boils water. The figures used seem to denote the fierceness and vehemency of it (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the Old Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume V, p. 375).
Matthew Henry adds that this is a prayer for God to "dissolve the rockiest mountains and melt them down before it, as metal in the furnace, which is made liquid and cast into what shape the operator pleases; so the melting fire burneth. Let things be put into a ferment [a state of heated agitation; to be on fire; to boil, Webster] in order to a glorious revolution in favor of the church" (Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson, 1991 reprint, volume 4, p. 296).
Revivals begin with a terrible conviction of sin. Brian Edwards makes this clear in his book, Revival! A People Saturated With God. Everyone interested in true revival should obtain a copy of this book, published in 1991 by Evangelical Press, 12 Wooler Street, Darlington, County Durham, DL1 1RQ, England. Edwards writes,
It is often the form that this conviction of sin takes that troubles those who read of revival. Sometimes the experience is crushing. People weep uncontrollably, and worse! But there is no such thing as a revival without tears of conviction and sorrow.
In January 1907 God was moving in a powerful way in North Korea, and a Western missionary recalls one particular scene: "As the prayer continued, a spirit of heaviness and sorrow for sin came down upon the audience. Over on one side, someone began to weep, and in a moment the whole audience was weeping. Man after man would rise, confess his sins, break down and weep, and then throw himself on the floor and beat the floor with his fists in perfect agony of conviction…Again, after another confession, they would break out in uncontrollable weeping, and we would all weep, we could not help it. And so the meeting went on until two o'clock A.M., with confession and weeping and praying."
He went on to describe a meeting a few nights later when many…were brought to a deep conviction of sin: "My last glimpse of the audience is photographed indelibly on my brain. Some threw themselves full length on the floor…Every man forgot every other. Each was face to face with God. I can hear that fearful sound of hundreds of men pleading with God for life, for mercy. The cry went out over the city till the heathen were in consternation.
Scenes like these are typical of almost every recorded revival. There is no revival without deep, uncomfortable and humbling conviction of sin (Brian Edwards, Revival! A People Saturated With God, Evangelical Press, 1991, pp. 115-116).
In 1949, on the Isle of Lewis off the west coast of Scotland, Duncan Campbell witnessed similar scenes of conviction over personal sin: "The awful presence of God brought a wave of conviction of sin…bringing groans and distress and prayers of repentance from the unconverted. Strong men were bowed under the weight of sin and cries for mercy were mingled with shouts of joy from others who had passed into life."
Revival in China in 1906 was "marked by the wholly unusual conviction of sin." In 1921, in the revival that began in the East Anglian fishing ports of Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth [England], strong fishermen were literally thrown to the floor under conviction, until one eyewitness reported: "The ground around me was like a battlefield with souls crying to God for mercy" (ibid., p. 116).
When God came to Cornwall [England] in 1814, the people…were in great distress over their sin. At Tuckingmill, a meeting lasted from Sunday until Friday [all day and all night - for 6 days!], with people coming and going all the time. During this "meeting"…hundreds were crying for mercy at once. Some remained in distress of soul for one hour, some for two, some six, some nine, twelve, and some for fifteen hours before the Lord spoke peace to their souls - then they would…proclaim the wonderful works of God.
In the first half of the nineteenth century [in America] God used the ministry of Asahel Nettleton in revival for over thirty years, and during his preaching scenes of deep conviction were commonplace. One observer described a meeting at Calway near Saratoga Springs in the summer of 1819: "The room was so crowded that we were obliged to request all who had recently found relief [who had been converted] to retire below, and spend their time in prayer for those above. This evening will never be forgotten. The scene is beyond description. Did you ever witness two hundred sinners, with one accord in one place, weeping for their sins? Until you have seen this, you have no adequate conceptions of the solemn scene. I felt as though I was standing on the verge of the eternal world; while the floor under my feet was shaken by the trembling of anxious souls in view of a judgment to come. The solemnity…was interrupted only by the sighs and sobs of anxious souls…I only add that some of the most stout, hard-hearted, heaven-daring rebels have been in the most awful distress" (ibid., pp. 116-117).
At Cambuslang [Scotland] in 1742, Dr. John Hamilton of Glasgow observed: "I found a good many persons under the deepest exercise of soul, crying out most bitterly of their lost and miserable state, by reason of sin; of their unbelief, in despising Christ and the offers of the gospel; of the hardness of their heart; and of their gross carelessness and indifference about religion…not so much…from fear of punishment as from a sense of the dishonour done to God" (ibid., p. 118).
At Cambuslang - and the experience was by no means exceptional in the story of revivals - men and women suffered such agony and distress over their sin that some would faint or cry out under the burden. One of the ministers, James Robe, freely admits that at first he did not approve of this and tried to stop it, even asking that these people should be carried away from the scene! However, he later admitted that this was wrong because always such suffering led eventually to a great peace and joy in forgiveness (ibid.).
So universal is the work of conviction in revival that Jonathan Edwards puts it at the top of his list in describing how the sinner is converted: "Persons are first awakened with a sense of their miserable condition by nature [and] the danger that they are in of perishing eternally…Persons are sometimes brought to the borders of despair, and it looks as black as midnight to them a little before the day dawns in their souls. Some few instances there have been, of persons who have had such a sense of God's wrath for sin, that they have been overborne; and
made to cry out under an astonishing sense
of their guilt, wondering that God suffers
such guilty wretches to live upon the earth"
(ibid., p. 119).
Joseph Tracy wrote a complete history of the First Great Awakening in the English-speaking world, in the United Kingdom and America. Tracy's book is titled, The Great Awakening. It was first published in 1842, and was reprinted in 1997 by Banner of Truth Trust, 3 Murrayfield Road, Edinburgh EH12 6EL, Scotland, United Kingdom. USA address: P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, Pennsylvania 17013. Those who are interested in revival should order this book. It presents the problems as well as the triumphs of this great revival. It is the best book I have ever read on the First Great Awakening. Here are several quotations.
In 1741, in Bridgewater, Connecticut, the young people were invited to a service, and a sermon was preached. The pastor said,
After this…the grand question was in the mouths of most of my people, especially the young people, What must I do to be saved? Salvation seemed now to be the main concern of their souls, and the main business of their lives…Meetings on account of religion were sought after, longed for, frequently attended, exceedingly thronged. And at almost every meeting…it evidently appeared God was with us in the convincing and converting and comforting influences of the Spirit. Some were awakened, many crying out under a sense of their sin and danger; some hopefully converted, and some transported and over-borne with a sense of the love of God…the number is not small that have been savingly wrought upon among us in this great day of grace, and that are become real lively Christians. We have added to the church between seventy and eighty (Tracy, op. cit., pp. 130-131).
That is, between 70 and 80 people were added to this one church in those few weeks of revival in the fall of 1741.
In the fall of 1741, revivals came to several churches in Connecticut, in places like Middleborough, Plymouth, Raynham, Berkeley, Norton, Attleborough, Martha's Vineyard, and other towns (ibid., p. 171).
Peter Thatcher pastored a church of about 170 members in Middleborough. Only a few people had been converted under his ministry, and he was ready to resign as pastor. Then Gilbert Tennent preached for him, and "some half a dozen were roused" (ibid., page 172). Others were awakened by the preaching of Daniel Rogers in Thatcher's pulpit (ibid.). There was opposition from "the unwillingness of [some] church members to have their own hopes shaken" (ibid.). Another strong sermon was preached in Thatcher's church by a Rev. Crocker, and revival came down on the congregation.
After the sermon there was an exhortation delivered. Many now melted down. After the blessing, the people generally stayed, till some cried with terror, which flew like lightning into every breast; I suppose none excepted. I have written accounts of seventy-six that day struck, and brought first to inquire what they should do to escape condemnation…They tell us, they see now what they never did before; their original guilt and actual sins, and fear of the dreadful wrath of the Lord. This filled them with unutterable anguish. They seemed to be stepping into hell. This drew trembling fear and cries from them. They complain of hard hearts, and blind eyes! That they should never see before! Especially unbelief!… Scores, this day, told me of their hatred of me, above any one. But to hear the young people crying and wringing their hands, and bewailing their frolicking and dancing…was affecting. O! how heavy now did their contempt and neglect of Christ appear to them, as the effect of these corrupt principles of pride, unbelief, and enmity…! Their mouths are at once filled with arguments to justify God in their eternal damnation…This the peculiar work of the Spirit, to convince of sin and unbelief…The work grew daily; the numbers were increased; near one hundred and seventy, the following year, joined the church (ibid., pp. 172-175).
In the midst of convulsions and opposition, revival came down on Peter Thatcher's church. It doubled in size in those four months of revival.
Between 1731 and 1760, in nine counties of Massachusetts, the number of churches increased from 15 to 28 (ibid., p. 431). Thus, in just 29 years, the number of churches nearly doubled. Joseph Tracy says,
The [First] Great Awakening should teach a lesson of faith, of encouragement, of cheerful hope, even in the darkest times (ibid., p. 431).
Can we have real revival today? Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "Yes." He said,
But it may well be that your position is…"All that ended in the Apostolic age, therefore it has nothing to do with us." My reply is that the Scriptures are also meant to apply to us today, and that if you confine all this to the Apostolic era you are leaving very little for us at the present time…In the New Testament we have a picture of the church, and it is relevant to the church at all times and in all ages.
Thank God, the history of the church proves the rightness of this contention. The evidence is abundant. The long history of the church shows repeatedly that what we find in the New Testament has characterized the church always in periods of revival and reformation. This is why I have always maintained that next to the reading of the Bible itself, to read the history of revivals is one of the most encouraging things that one can ever do.
Take the situation with which we are confronted today. Look at the task, look at the state of the world, look at the modern mentality. Without believing in and knowing something of the power of the Spirit, it is a heart-breaking task. I certainly could not go on another day but for this…The situation would be completely hopeless. But that is not the case. What we read of in the New Testament is equally possible and open to us today; and it is our only hope (Martyn Lloyd Jones, M.D., Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan, 1971, pp. 314-315).
"The fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!" (Isaiah 64:2).
Let us pray for God Himself to answer, and come down to us in the boiling waters of revival, with conviction of sin and an awareness of the wrath of God.
Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Isaiah 64:1-3.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
"Revive Thy Work" (by Albert Midlane, 1825-1909).
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