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COMMENTS ON THE FIRST GREAT AWAKENING #4

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Saturday Evening, May 16, 2009

“And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father” (Luke 9:42).


Two Saturdays ago I read parts of Jonathan Edwards’ “A Faithful Narrative of Surprising Conversions.” Tonight I will read part of Edwards’ “Memoirs.” I have edited it and adapted it to modern English. The First Great Awakening began in Edwards’ church in New England. Luke Tyerman gave this description of the physical manifestations in Jonathan Edwards’ meetings:

In many instances conviction of sin and conversion were attended with intense physical excitement. Numbers [of people] fell prostrate [to] the ground, and cried aloud for mercy. The bodies of others were convulsed and [rendered unconscious]…men literally cried for mercy…sinners trembled; but not more than the philosophers of the present day would do, if they had equally vivid views of the torments of the damned [in Hell] to which sin exposes them. There were groanings and faintings…thoughtless sinners were unmistakenly converted, and were made new creatures in Christ Jesus (Luke Tyerman, The Life and Times of the Rev. John Wesley, Tentmaker Publications, 2003 reprint, pp. 218-219; comments on the Awakening in New England under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards).

These excitements were very different from today’s charismatic and Pentecostal meetings. In the modern meetings there are fallings and cries, but they are associated with so-called “fillings of the Spirit,” and “healings.” None of that took place in the meetings of Jonathan Edwards. In Edwards’ meetings they fell under extreme conviction of sin. They trembled and cried over their sins with “vivid views of the torments of the damned to which sin [exposed] them.” So the charismatic excitements today are not at all the same. They do not come with “conviction of sin.” That is the difference between counterfeit revivals and real revivals. Where deep conviction of sin is absent, we must discount any such “physical excitement.” Real conviction and real conversion, followed by a real Christian life, cannot be counterfeited.

In Edwards’ memoirs, he writes that a sermon was preached to a group of people in a house. Near the end of the sermon “one or two persons who professed to be Christians were greatly affected by the greatness and glory of God. This had a very visible effect upon their bodies.”

A little later, in another room of the house, a group of young people came under deep conviction, and many were overcome with distress about their miserably sinful condition, “so that the whole room was full of nothing but outcries, faintings, and the like.” More people came from another part of the town and were overpowered in the same way. This lasted for several hours. After this other meetings were held in which young people and even children cried out, fainted and groaned under conviction of sin. Edwards took them to another house and counselled them concerning salvation. The children were “greatly affected with the warnings and counsels given to them, and many exceedingly overcome; and the room was filled with cries; and when they were sent home they went down the streets crying aloud…their convictions took a deep hold on them, and stayed with them [until they were converted]” (Jonathan Edwards, Memoirs, Banner of Truth Trust, 1992 edition, volume I, p. lviii).

In his book, A Narrative of Conversions, Edwards wisely said that some of the distress people felt was because “Satan probably had a great hand [in it] to entangle them, and block their way [to Christ]… putting a bar between them, [Satan] takes a great advantage of them” (p. 351).

What differentiates these “outcries, faintings, and the like” from modern charismatic phenomena is that they were crying out under conviction of sin – leading to conversion. They were not phenomena for the sake of phenomena, as we see in these modern meetings.

The other thing to take into account is what Edwards said: “Satan probably had a great hand [in it] to entangle them, and block their way…” It seems strange that so little is said about Satan in the books I read on revival. Many of them do not mention him at all. Others only mention Satan as a hindrance to revival, but never as a counterfeit, at least in the many books I have read on the subject of revival. Dr. Asahel Nettleton commented on that over a hundred and fifty years ago:

I have often been struck with this circumstance in the mode of preaching, that nothing was heard of the danger of spurious [false] conversion. For months together, the thought never seemed to be glanced at, that there was any such thing as a satanic influence in the form of religion (Asahel Nettleton, D.D., quoted in Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar, The Life and Labours of Asahel Nettleton, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975 edition, p. 367).

As a result of “decisionism” all those who made an outward profession of faith were accepted as converts. This began toward the end of the Second Great Awakening as a result of Finney’s “decisionist” theology and practice. Dr. Nettleton was Finney’s opponent. He said that “decisionism” produced such a lack of discernment that all professions of faith were accepted as true conversions, “the thought never seemed to be glanced at, that there was any such thing as a satanic influence in the form of religion (i.e. conversion).”

About twenty years ago, I believe God began to show me that what Dr. Nettleton said in the above quotation is the main reason there has been so little revival in the Western world since the Third Great Awakening (1857-1859). Increasingly, since that time, pastors have accepted any profession of Christianity as if it were a real conversion. They have stopped believing that Satan can give “spurious [false] conversions.” It is because of this that many pastors have lost spiritual discernment, and the Western churches in America and Europe have filled up with unconverted people who are only nominal Christians – Christians in name only. I now believe that pastors must listen to the testimonies of those who make a profession of faith, and stop baptizing people who have not clearly turned from sin and have not clearly come to Christ Himself. People who have no testimony of Jesus cleansing their sin by His Blood should be kept waiting until it is clear to the pastor and the church that they have experienced real repentance and real trust in Christ alone. Otherwise Satan will continue to flood our churches with nominal Christians who have not been born again and have not experienced real conversion.

I believe that there was a great deal of Satanic influence in the First Great Awakening, as in all true revivals. There is always a mixture of the truth and error during real revival. That is why pastors must use discernment in dealing with the lost. I believe that those who cried out and were thrown down may often have been under the influence of Satan. We see this in the Bible. Please turn to Luke 9:37.

“And it came to pass, that on the next day, when they were come down from the hill, much people met him. And, behold, a man of the company cried out, saying, Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son: for he is mine only child. And, lo, a spirit taketh him, and he suddenly crieth out; and it teareth him that he foameth again, and bruising him hardly departeth from him. And I besought thy disciples to cast him out; and they could not. And Jesus answering said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you, and suffer you? Bring thy son hither. And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father” (Luke 9:37-42).

Spurgeon preached several sermons on this passage and the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark. In his sermon, “The Devil’s Last Throw,” Spurgeon said,

I have been speaking about the devil throwing some down and tearing them when they were coming to Christ. Are there any of you who do not know anything about it? Well, I am glad that you do not. If you come to Christ without being thrown down and torn I am glad of it. I have endeavoured to help those that are terribly tormented; but if you are not so tried, do not wish to be… (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Devil’s Last Throw,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1973 reprint, volume XXIX, pp. 587-588).

I realize that this subject will be ridiculed by many in our day. Iain H. Murray said, “The essence of rationalism is its concern to explain everything without reference to the supernatural” (Iain H. Murray, A Scottish Christian Heritage, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2006, p. 383). The rationalists of our time think that any reference to Satan or God in relation to conversion can be explained by medical or psychological means. But in another sermon on Luke 9:42, titled “The Comer’s Conflict,” Spurgeon brought into view the supernatural elements in conversion.

“And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father” (Luke 9:42).

Spurgeon said,

      The child possessed with an evil spirit is a most fitting emblem of every ungodly and unconverted man. Though we be not possessed with devils, yet by nature we are possessed with devilish vices and lusts which…will certainly destroy our souls. Never creature possessed with evil spirits was in a worse plight than the man who is without God, without Christ, without hope in the world. The casting out of the unclean spirit was moreover a thing that was impossible to man and only possible to God; and so is the conversion of an ungodly sinner a thing beyond the reach of human ability, and only to be accomplished by the might of [God]. The dreadful bellowings, foamings, and tearings caused in this unhappy child by the unclean spirit, are a picture of the sins, iniquities, and vices into which ungodly men are continually hurried… coming sinners, when they approach the Saviour, are often thrown down by Satan and torn, so that they suffer exceedingly in their minds, and are well nigh ready to give up in despair (C. H. Spurgeon, “The Comer’s Conflict With Satan,” The New Park Street Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1981 reprint, volume II, p. 369).

“And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him. And Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father” (Luke 9:42).

At the end of Spurgeon’s sermon, “The Comer’s Conflict With Satan,” he said,

      I have some here, however, who will laugh at what I have been preaching this morning. Ah! sirs, you may do so [but I wish you believed it]. Though sad be the experience of being torn when coming to Christ, I had rather see you so than see you whole, away from Christ. It is better to be rent in pieces coming to the Saviour, than to have a sound, whole heart away from him. Tremble, sinner, tremble, for if thou comest not to Christ, he shall rend thee at the last… “Beware ye that forget God, lest he tear you in pieces and there be none to deliver”… What will you profit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul? (ibid., p. 376).

I will give the Sunday morning sermon tomorrow on II Corinthians 4:3-4,

“But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them”
        (II Corinthians 4:3-4).

It ends with Blind Bartimaeus struggling to get to Christ to have his blindness healed. Bartimaeus’ struggle to get to Christ in his blindness is, I believe, a picture of those of you who are unconverted struggling to get past the Satanic blinding of your mind, so that Christ can open your spiritual eyes and save you. I believe that you must struggle with all your might, like Bartimaeus did, to get to Christ and be saved. You must struggle like him to be free from Satan’s blinding power and find salvation in Christ Jesus.

I will give the Sunday evening sermon tomorrow night on Matthew 11:12,

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matthew 11:12).

The subject of the Sunday evening sermon is this: young people who are desperate for salvation will find it every time. But those who have no strong desire to be converted, never will be. The title of the evening sermon is “Only the Violent are Saved! All the Violent are Saved!”

Satan does not want you to be converted. Both sermons tomorrow show that you must struggle to enter into Christ, because Satan opposes you with all his power from doing so.

The struggle you must go through is a struggle with Satan. Dr. Nettleton pointed out that you must be

1.  Convicted of outward sins.

2.  Then you must be convicted of sinful thoughts.

3.  Then you must have a deeper conviction – a conviction that your heart is hard because it is totally depraved by original sin. You must be in great despair that you will ever find salvation unless Christ changes your very heart – unless he converts you, changes you in your heart from being a child of Satan into a child of God. You must become painfully aware that if God does not change your heart by grace, you will never be converted. If you have never felt that your very heart is ruined and completely under sin and the power of Satan, you will never struggle to be free from the sin of your very nature and the power of Satan. Dr. Nettleton said, “If the sinner has not felt [the terrible sin of his own heart] he has not been under [real] conviction of sin, or felt his need [for salvation in Christ].” (Dr. Asahel Nettleton, from Bennet Tyler and Andrew Bonar, Nettleton and His Labours, Banner of Truth Trust, 1975 reprint; paraphrased from Nettleton, ibid.).


May you make up your mind to listen to the two sermons tomorrow as though your life depended on it – for it does. May you struggle with all your might, as a result of these sermons tomorrow, to be free from Satan and find rest and peace through Jesus, and cleansing from your sin by His Blood, for

“the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth…from all sin”
       (I John 1:7).

Determine now that you will struggle against Satan, and get to Christ, because He alone can save you from sin, hell, and the grave. May God help you in your struggle tomorrow! Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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