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FEAR - THE 'ACID TEST' OF REAL REVIVAL

(FEAR – THE MISSING ELEMENT #1)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, July 5, 2008

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).


That is one of the key verses in the account of the revival at Pentecost. It was the first revival in Christian history. It became a prototype of all revivals that were to come in the long history of Christianity.

Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, and the response of those who heard him, have been “hashed” over for years, dissected, analyzed and scrutinized from almost every possible perspective. And yet there’s an element about Pentecost that eludes us, that we cannot quite grasp, and often do not understand. And it is this overlooked element which makes the story of Pentecost one of the most important events in the history of Christianity. The overlooked element in Pentecost is not really hidden – but it is ignored, and by ignoring it we have missed the real meaning of revival. Indeed, by disregarding this “overlooked element” we lose a basic understanding of conversion itself. We lose a sense of what happened to us that made us Christians in the first place. All right, you want me to tell you what that missing element is, and (though I have already hinted at it) I will say it in one word, plain and clear. The word that describes the one central necessary element in real revival, the one constant, without which there can be no true, classical revival is, as our text tells us, – “FEAR.”

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

There are many other things that have happened in the revivals of history. At Pentecost there were other languages given to speak Gospel truth to those who attended the meeting. There was “a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind” (Acts 2:2). There were “cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them” (Acts 2:3). There were “wonders and signs…done by the apostles” (Acts 2:43), and several other phenomena which took place at Pentecost. But there was one constant, and only one, that verifies Pentecost as a real revival, and has been constantly true of every revival throughout history. The other phenomena were not central, but this one was and is.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

There have been many revivals, some great, and some smaller, in the long history of the churches. But one thing was central to all the real ones,

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

The element of “fear” has been true of every real revival since Pentecost, down to the day in which we live. This is the “acid test” – if there is no fear it is not a true revival!

And yet this key to revival, “fear,” has been taken out of the modern translations of this verse and replaced with the word “awe.” “Awe” is a good word, but it does not adequately explain what happened to these people when they heard Peter preach, and I think this is a great mistake the translators of the New International Version and the New American Standard Version made when they translated the Greek word “phobos” as “awe.” True, “awe” once meant “fear and dread,” but the New Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary, Collins/World, 1975, says that this usage of the word “awe” is now “obsolete” (p. 131). That means people don’t think of “awe” as “fear” anymore! They now think of it as “reverence and respect.” And may I say to you that “fear” is the correct word, for it means essentially the same as it did in 1611 when the King James Bible was produced. “Phobos” meant “fear” then, and it still means “fear” today! The translators of the New International Version and the New American Standard Version knew that well enough. That is why they translated “phobos” as “fear” in so many other places in the New Testament. For instance, in Acts 5:5, the NIV and NASV translated “phobos” as “fear.” In Acts 5:11, they translated “phobos” as “fear.” In Acts 19:17 they translated “phobos” as “fear.” In Romans 3:18 they translated “phobos” as “fear.” And in II Corinthians 7:15, they once again translated “phobos” as “fear.” It was only when they came to our text that they weakened the word “phobos,” translating it with the obsolete word “awe.”

I don’t know the reason they weakened the translation of “phobos” by using the archaic meaning of “awe” in our text. I don’t know why they translated it incorrectly in Acts 2:43 alone. But I suspect it is a mistake that comes out of their theological misunderstanding of revival, that they think people are in “awe” when revival comes, instead of being “frightened.” The word “awesome” is extremely popular (and overused) today. But in modern usage it means “great” or “wonderful.” It does not carry the idea of fear at all. That meaning is now obsolete, as the dictionary says. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance gives the correct meaning of “phobos.” It says “phobos” means “alarm or fright – be afraid, exceedingly, fear, [even] terror” (Strong #5401).

It should not require that we know much about the Greek language to figure this out. Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary says that “phobos” comes over into English as “phobia” from the Greek phobos, fear… “Excessive fear of some particular thing or situation” (ibid., p. 1348, see “phobia”). And it is exactly this in our text – an “excessive fear of some particular thing or situation.” In this case, in our text, it means “an excessive fear of God.” The now obsolete meaning of the word “awe” hardly conveys the idea of “an excessive fear of God” to the modern mind. So, it is best to reject the translation of “phobos” as “awe” in the NIV and NASV, and stick with the literal translation of “fear” in our text, given in the King James Bible, and earlier in the 1599 Geneva Bible (Tolle Lege Press, 2006 edition).

I really wish I didn’t have to go through all this explanation and exegesis of the Greek word “phobos,” but I feel that it is necessary if we hope to grasp the meaning of our text, as it describes the emotional and spiritual upheaval that occurred in the people’s hearts on the Day of Pentecost,

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

It is important that “fear,” in this verse, really means fear, not just “awe” in its modern meaning, not as “awe” is understood by people today. Everyone knows what “fear” means, and it was indeed fear that people experienced in the first great revival in history, on the Day of Pentecost.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

I will draw several lessons from this text.

I. First, you cannot have true revival without people experiencing fear.

I have had the rare privilege of attending and preaching in two classical, Biblical revivals. Not many preachers can say that today. But by God’s grace I was present and even preached some of the sermons during those two remarkable revivals. One was in a large Chinese church, and the other was in a white congregation in the South. Neither of these events were what we would call “evangelistic meetings.” They were far more than that in both cases. Literally hundreds of people were dealt with by the Spirit of God, bringing them under deep conviction of sin, and producing fear in the hearts of many. In both of these extended meetings hundreds were converted and added to the local church.

I can say, as an eyewitness, that fear and conviction of sin were the dominant emotions in both of these revivals, just as they were on the day of Pentecost.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

Iain H. Murray said,

There has been an element present when the gospel has made its swiftest advances in the world that is notably uncommon today, namely the fear of God. Not only the experience, but the very words have all but disappeared. Yet its place in Scripture is unmistakable. Christ directed his disciples to “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28), and this fear was clearly part of the health of the apostolic churches. It was seen in the disciples themselves and then in those who heard their message: “Walking in the fear of the Lord” (Acts 9:31). “Knowing [therefore the terror] of the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:11). When Peter preached at Pentecost “fear came upon every soul.” In Ephesus, we read, “Fear fell on them all” (Acts 19:17) (Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism: Old Truths for a New Awakening, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, p. 3).

Fear was also the common element, and the most striking element, in the First Great Awakening, the Second Great Awakening, the 1859 revival in Scotland and elsewhere, the great Pyongyang revival in Korea, and in many of the revivals that are sweeping China at this present hour. It is very common to see people weeping, and even wailing, under conviction of sin, in China today. Weeping over sin and wailing over the fear of God are not elements that we see here in the West. They are absent even in the Charismatic movement. They have many other experiences, but we do not see the "fear" that came upon them all at Pentecost.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

If they ever got ahold of that, they might very well have true revival! How I wish that Baptists also would experience what they did in Acts 2:43!

There is very little in the West that compares to the fear of God experienced in the Chinese revival today. A witness to one of those revivals said, “The one deep dominant note was an overpowering sense of sin. [People were] weeping and sobbing as if their hearts would break with sorrow” (Murray, ibid., p. 4).

It is my belief that you cannot have true revival unless there is fear, unless people fear God and come under a deep sense of sin – which often breaks out and expresses itself in weeping, and even wailing, over sin and fear of the wrath of God. We do not have meetings where people experience such fear and conviction of sin in the Western world today – which means, quite simply, that we do not have true revival, as it was experienced at Pentecost.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

II. Second, you cannot even have individual conversions without fear.

The Apostle Paul was “trembling” with fear before his conversion (Acts 9:6). The Philippian Jailer was so afraid he was ready to commit suicide, “and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas” (Acts 16:29) when he was converted. We could go on and on, for there are many examples in the Bible of fear springing up in the hearts of awakened sinners when they were convicted by the Holy Spirit.

Here are some portions of testimonies given by young people in our own church when they were converted. One said,

That day before the end of the meeting I became convicted and horrified by my sins…I sat in the inquiry room shaking, fearing my horrible sins…Jeremiah 8:20 kept going through my head, “The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” I was disgusted with myself.

Another said,

I thought of myself as a dead man, or a zombie, because I was dead in trespasses and sins. I felt that I had crossed the line to be reproved forever in eternal damnation. I was certain that I was going to Hell with no hope whatsoever.

Another said,

The sermons…began to make me tremble. I began to fear… I was afraid of the very God who could well send my soul to the deepest depths of Hell…I sat alone once again crying. “Why am I still here?” I asked myself. I [knew] I deserved to be sent to Hell…I became as hopeless as any man could be.

These are just a few of the pre-conversion testimonies of young people in our own church. See how the fear of God came down upon them!

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

III. Third, you are left in your godless state until you experience such fear.

Man is under sin, enslaved by it. The Apostle Paul describes man in this state:

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).

That is true of all  people until they are convicted by the Holy Spirit. When a man is convicted, though there was “no fear of God before [his] eyes” previously, he now suddenly sees that he is a terrible sinner with a totally disgusting depraved heart. When he is thus convicted of sin, his pride and unbelief are broken down, and he sees that he is a wretched sinner, that he has been an enemy of God, that he deserves the wrath of God and the flames of Hell. Then, and only then, will the fear of God come down upon him, and if there are many in this state of conviction, we can say,

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

It takes the grace of God to make a sinner fearful. John Newton well said, “‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear” (“Amazing Grace” by John Newton, 1725-1807).

Are you afraid of God? Are you afraid of Hell? Are you afraid of being punished for your sins throughout eternity? Or is there still “no fear of God before [your] eyes?” (Romans 3:18). Only those who feel they are doomed sinners will flee to Christ. But He will impute His righteousness to all who come to Him, fearful and frightened though they be. May this be your case and your condition tonight. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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THE OUTLINE OF

FEAR - THE 'ACID TEST' OF REAL REVIVAL

(FEAR – THE MISSING ELEMENT #1)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And fear came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

(Acts 2:2, 3)

I.   First, you cannot have true revival without people experiencing fear,
Matthew 10:28; Acts 9:31; II Corinthians 5:11; Acts 19:17.

II.  Second, you cannot even have individual conversions without fear,
Acts 9:6; 16:29; Jeremiah 8:20.

III. Third, you are left in your godless state until you experience such fear,
Romans 3:18; Acts 2:43.