THE REVIVAL AT NINEVEH -
WHAT IT SAYS TO US TODAY!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, September 14, 2003


"And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jonah 3:4-5).


When I speak of revival, I am not talking about an evangelistic meeting. Meetings like that come and go, without true revival breaking out. I once heard Billy Graham admit that revival had never broken out as a result of his crusades. I think he was being fair and honest when he said that. A true, Heaven-sent revival is much different from a modern evangelistic meeting. You may ask, "What is the difference?" I can think of no better way to answer that question than by giving you the account of the revival at Nineveh, under the preaching of Jonah.

Jonah was a real person in history. Jesus Christ said so. He told us that in Matthew 12:39-40.

And Jonah went and preached to the people of Nineveh. It was a large city on the banks of the Tigris River, about 500 miles northeast of Israel. It was the capital city of Assyria. Nineveh was the largest city in the world of that day, with approximately 600,000 residents, including 120 thousand small children (cf. Jonah 4:11).

People often get caught up in the special miracles of God when reading Jonah, and overlook the main point of the book. The main point is not the great storm, or the great fish, or the great gourd. These creations of God are not the central message of the book of Jonah. The centerpiece of the book is the mighty revival at Nineveh.

Those who study historical revivals recognize that revival is the greatest miracle of all. Without the intervention of God in revival, there would be no living, vital Christianity on earth. And the mighty revival at Nineveh is recorded in these two verses in Jonah, chapter three,

"And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jonah 3:4-5).

We learn at least three things about revival from the book of Jonah.

I. First, we learn that revival is delayed by the disobedience of preachers.

God told Jonah to

"go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me" (Jonah 1:2).

But Jonah ran away from doing this. God called him to preach judgment, but he fled from doing so. I think that many preachers do that in the last days. The Apostle Paul said,

"Reprove, rebuke, exhortFor the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine" (II Timothy 4:2-3).

No wonder there has been so little revival since 1859! Too many ministers have fled from their responsibility to preach on judgment.

These pastors may say that hell-fire preaching is out of style, and not needed today. But Christ often preached that people are in danger of "hell fire" (Matthew 5:22). Christ warned them that their "whole body should be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29, 30). Christ said, "Fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). Christ said, "It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire" (Matthew 18:8). Christ said, "How can ye escape the damnation of hell?" (Matthew 23:33). Christ spoke of "the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-44). Christ continually spoke about judgment and Hell.  And I am convinced that Christ's way of preaching is never out of date!  Yet today we hear little preaching on this subject - which was at the very heart of the preaching of Jesus Christ! No wonder there is so little revival!  There is so little preaching, on judgment, like Jesus preached!

Jonah fled from the responsibility of preaching judgment - so the revival at Nineveh was delayed. The old preachers like Bunyan, Whitefield, Wesley, Edwards, Tennent, and Duncan Campbell did not flee from preaching judgment. It was at the very heart of their preaching. And, like Christ, they saw great revivals come as they preached on the judgment to come.

How much smarter some modern ministers must think they are! But they do not see revival. And one of the primary reasons is that too many of them run away from preaching on judgment and Hell. This generation needs to hear the fiery preaching of Jesus, the Apostles, and the old-time preachers once again. Only then can we hope to see God send revival to our churches and our nation!

Someone may say, "I don't have the gift of an evangelist. Only an evangelist should speak of Hell and judgment." But the Bible says, "Do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry" (II Timothy 4:5). That verse takes away all excuses from every pastor or teacher. If he is only gifted as a teacher, then he should teach on Hell - until people fear it and turn fully to Christ.

Make no mistake here. If there is no preaching and teaching on Hell and judgment there will be no old-time revival! Few people will be converted unless they are told plainly to "flee from the wrath to come" (Luke 3:7).

And I myself must not run away from this task, as Jonah did. I must warn you that you will soon be "cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15). "Flee from the wrath to come" (Luke 3:7). Turn to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Be cleansed from your sin by His Blood before it is too late forever! (cf. I Peter 1:18-19).

"Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures"
      (I Corinthians 15:3).

That is the very heart of our message.

"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).

This is the gospel of the Lord! This is the way to escape the judgment of Hell! This is the way to everlasting life!

"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

If you have never been made aware of your sin, and the judgment to come, no amount of Bible knowledge can save you from judgment! If you have never come to Christ, by a direct encounter, no amount of discipleship can save you from judgment! If you have never been made to feel the power of the cleansing Blood of Christ in your soul, no amount of Christian training can save you from the wrath to come!

Jonah ran away. He did not want to preach judgment to the people of Nineveh. So revival was delayed for a long time while he fled to Tarshish (cf. Jonah 1:2).

Leonard Ravenhill wrote a good book titled, Why Revival Tarries (Bethany House Publishers, 1988 edition of the 1959 original). In that book Ravenhill cried out,

Oh! God, send us prophetic preaching that searches and scorches! Send us a race of martyr-preachers - men burdened, bent, bowed and broken under the vision of impending judgment and  the  doom  of  the  unending  hell  of  the  impenitent!  (ibid.,  p. 104).

Oh! Where are the preachers who will speak on judgment and Hell as Christ did? Oh! Where are the preachers who are willing to spend hours, counselling sinners after the altar call - as Baxter and Whitefield and Wesley and Spurgeon did - during times of revival in the past? No wonder that there has been so little revival since 1859!

Again, Ravenhill said,

Revival tarries because of carelessness. At the altar, too little time is spent with souls who come to do eternal business. The [preacher] is happy seeing his friends; and while sinners groan at the altar, he is drinking in the rich cream of men's praises. Thus England and America are strewn with spiritual derelicts, confused and confounded (ibid., p. 58).

Revival was delayed in Jonah's day because the prophet was disobedient. And many preachers have followed him - by fleeing from their God-given responsibility to preach white-hot judgment, and then taking as much time as is needed to counsel those who respond. I fear that we have fled our responsibility, as Jonah did, and that is why revival tarries - that is why there has been so little true revival since 1859.

II. Second, we learn that revival comes unexpectedly and
suddenly, when the preacher finally obeys God.

Jonah finally came back and did what God wanted him to do in the first place. Jonah entered the outskirts of the great city and began to preach sermons on judgment,

"Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown" (Jonah 3:4).

I think this was the title or subject of Jonah's sermons. We do not have a record of his entire sermons in the Bible. This only seems to be the subject that he spoke on. He preached on the judgment of Almighty God against the city, because God said, "Their wickedness is come up before me" (Jonah 1:2).

The conversion of the people in Nineveh was quite unexpected. Under normal conditions the prophet would have been killed rather quickly, as Stephen was killed when he preached,

"Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye" 
      (Acts 7:51).

Under normal conditions, Jonah would have experienced the same treatment that many Hebrew prophets received:

"Cruel mockings and scourgings, yea moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the swordbeing destitute, afflicted, tormented" (Hebrews 11:36-37).

Jonah undoubtedly knew the danger he would be in if he went and preached judgment to the people of Nineveh. I think this is one of the reasons that Jonah fled at first from his call to preach judgment to these people. There is always a certain amount of danger connected with revival preaching. People do not want to hear about God's judgment. They will attack the preacher of such a message in various ways. Whitefield was often pelted with rotten eggs and tomatoes as he preached. They even threw human excrement at him sometimes. Yet he stood, his black robe streaming with filth, and proclaimed the message of judgment to the thousands who came to hear him, in the time of the First Great Awakening. John Wesley was often threatened with death for preaching the judgment of God. Once he actually had a hangman's noose put on his neck while he preached - and only escaped hanging by a miracle. Richard Baxter was locked in prison for 18 months for such preaching. John Bunyan spent 12 years in prison for such preaching. Duncan Campbell was ridiculed and mocked for such preaching. And we should remember that the Apostle Paul was imprisoned and finally beheaded for preaching on judgment and sin. Revival preaching always subjects the preacher to danger and ridicule. Jonah fled at first from the task of revival preaching because he was afraid. That is not an uncommon feeling among preachers today, who are called by God to preach judgment. It is common for preachers to fear that they will lose church members or cause trouble if they preach on God's judgment.

But the people of Nineveh did not stone Jonah, or imprison him, as he doubtlessly expected they would do. Instead, when he preached on judgment,

"The people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast"
      (Jonah 3:5).

Although I disagree with John MacArthur on the Blood of Christ and Lordship salvation, he was correct when he said that "this wholesale repentance was a miraculous work of God" (MacArthur Study Bible, note on Jonah 3:5). And that is exactly what a true revival is - "a miraculous work of God."

Suddenly and unexpectedly God turns many lost souls to Christ in a time of revival. The people of Ephraim said,

"Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repentedI smote upon my thigh: I was ashamed, yea, even confounded"
      (Jeremiah 31:18-19).

It is God who "turns" people to Christ. Without God taking the initiative and turning lost sinners to the Saviour, they would never do so.

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6).

"We hid as it were our faces from him," until God turns us to Himself (cf. Isaiah 53:3).

I realize that some may call me a hyper-Calvinist for saying such things, although I am not. But aren't these statements in the Bible? What are we to do with Bible verses, like this one from Jesus?

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44).

Surely, in some sense, God is the one who draws each lost sinner to come to His Son. This is a miracle, because without the intervention and drawing of God, no lost sinner would ever come to Christ, for

"There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Romans 3:11).

In a single conversion, God awakens a sinner to his guilt, and then draws him to Christ for salvation. And what happens to a single sinner in conversion, happens to great numbers of people in revival! That is what revival is! It is God awakening many people to their sin and guilt, and then drawing many of them to Christ for salvation! What happens to one person at conversion, happens to many people, at once, in revival.

And that is exactly what happened when Jonah preached on judgment to the people at Nineveh. Many people were turned to righteousness in Christ at this time of revival (cf. Daniel 12:3; I Corinthians 1:30).

Notice how quickly and how unexpectedly these conversions occurred. At one moment, the people were worshipping idols, and living in sin. Yet only a short time later, after hearing Jonah preach on judgment, "the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast" (Jonah 3:5). They were not taught the Bible for years. They did not slowly become disciples. No - they were converted suddenly! And isn't that the way the conversions happened, which are recorded in the Bible? Wasn't the woman who kissed Jesus' feet converted suddenly? Wasn't the thief on the cross beside Jesus converted suddenly? Wasn't Paul converted suddenly? Wasn't the jailor at Philippi converted suddenly? Weren't those three thousand men at Pentecost converted suddenly?

We see, from these examples in the Bible, that all conversions are sudden conversions. Individuals, like the thief, Paul, and the Philippian jailor were suddenly converted. And, in revival, many people - like those three thousand at Pentecost, are converted suddenly.

It is true that some people, like those followers of John the Baptist and Nicodemus, may go on for a while under conviction of sin, and in a state of confusion. But when conversion itself comes to them, the conversion itself is always sudden, as it was with the people of Nineveh!

III. Third, we learn that salvation comes by faith, which produces repentance,
in revival as well as in individual conversions.

We must not think that the people were saved because they made a human "decision" to fast, or even to turn "from their evil way" (Jonah 3:10). These actions were not the cause of their salvation - they were the result of their salvation. We are told in Jonah 3:5,

"So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast (Jonah 3:5)[and] turned from their evil way" (Jonah 3:10).

The fasting and turning from evil were the result of their faith, not the cause of it! They "believed God" - and these actions then came as a result. That is the great doctrine of the Reformation, believed and preached by Baptists and Protestants for centuries:

"The just shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17).

You cannot be saved by making a human "decision" to live a better life, or to say a "sinner's prayer." You cannot be saved by dedicating or rededicating your life. You cannot be saved by confessing your sins. All of that smells like Catholicism! The Bible teaches that we are saved by faith in Christ:

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved"
      (Acts 16:31).

"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood " (Romans 3:24-25).

Sola Fide! Faith alone! "Through faith in his blood"! No "decisionism" here! "Through faith in his blood"! No Lordship salvation here! "Through faith in his blood"!

That is the way of revival for many sinners! That is the way of salvation for a single sinner! That is the way you must be saved! "Through faith in his blood"!

There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel's veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood, Lose all their guilty stains.
     ("There Is A Fountain" by William Cowper, 1731-1800).

Conclusion

Some people belittle revival. They say, "What good does a revival do? The church is as dead as ever a few years later." Such a statement actually shows a lack of spiritual discernment. Think of the case of Nineveh, for example. The Scofield note on Nahum 1:1 says,

Under the preaching of Jonah, B.C. 862, the city and king had turned to GodJonah 3:3-10. But in the time of Nahum, more than a century later, the city had wholly apostatized from God (Scofield Study Bible, note on Nahum 1:1).

This shows us that revivals only affect the generation that experiences them! Many people are converted in a revival. That is good. They have eternal life in Christ. They will not go to Hell. But this has no effect on the next generation! There must be a revival every 20 years at least. Each generation must have its own revival. Each individual must have his own conversion.

America has not experienced a national revival since 1859, due primarily to the sin of "decisionism," brought into the churches by Finney. The revival of 1859 does this generation no more good than the revival under Jonah did the Ninevites a century later!

The people of Nineveh turned away from God in the generations after the great revival. One hundred and fifty years after the revival under Jonah, the prophet Nahum said of Nineveh,

"Woe to the bloody city! it is all full of lies and robbery; the prey departeth notAnd it shall come to pass, that all they that look upon thee shall flee from thee, and say, Nineveh is laid waste" (Nahum 3:1, 7).

This will be the condition of any church, or any nation, that does not seek the God of revival, and the conversion of the current generation of its young people. The prophet Nahum spoke to the Ninevites who rejected the God of revival 150 years after Jonah preached to them:

"God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemiesWho can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire" (Nahum 1:2, 6).

Yes, our nation experienced great revivals in the past. But it has been 143 years since the last major revival came to the English-speaking world. Time is running out. Judgment is coming to us as it came to Nineveh, 150 years after the revival! "Flee from the wrath to come!" Get into church every time the door is open! Come fully to Christ, and make sure your sins are washed clean by His Blood! "Flee from the wrath to come!"

 
(END OF SERMON)

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Jonah 1:1-3; 3:1-10.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:

"There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood" (by William Cowper, 1731-1800).

THE OUTLINE OF

THE REVIVAL AT NINEVEH -
WHAT IT SAYS TO US TODAY!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

 

"And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them even to the least of them" (Jonah 3:4-5).

(Matthew 12:39-40)

I.   We learn that revival is delayed by the disobedience of
preachers, Jonah 1:2; II Timothy 4:2-3; Matthew 5:22;
Matthew 5:29-30; 10:28; 18:8; 23:33; Mark 9:43-44;
II Timothy 4:5; Luke 3:7; Revelation 20:15;
I Corinthians 15:3; 2:2; Isaiah 53:5.

II.  We learn that revival comes unexpectedly and suddenly,
when the preacher finally obeys God, Jonah 1:2;
Acts 7:51; Hebrews 11:36-37; Jeremiah 31:18-19;
Isaiah 53:6; John 6:44; Romans 3:11.

III. We learn that salvation comes by faith, which produces
repentance, in revival as well as in individual conversions,
Jonah 3:10; Romans 1:17; Acts 16:31; Romans 3:24-25;
Nahum 3:1, 7; Nahum 1:2, 6.

You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.rlhymersjr.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."