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WHY NO REVIVAL IN THE WEST? – PART II
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of…?” (Judges 6:13).
These were the questions Gideon asked the angel of the Lord. But the angel did not answer him. I think he did not need an answer. I think Gideon already knew the reason Israel had become enslaved by the Midianites. I am sure he had heard, at least by second hand, an unnamed prophet who gave God’s answer,
“And I said unto you, I am the Lord your God; fear not the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but ye have not obeyed my voice” (Judges 6:10).
When we look at our current situation we are as dismayed as Gideon. Those of us who are aware of the condition of our churches know that we are in deep trouble. We are losing 88% of the young people raised in church. That has been proved beyond doubt. And we are not capable of adding young people from the world to any extent. Added to these frightening statistics is the fact that our churches are vanishing. A few years ago Dr. Woodrow Kroll, director of Back to the Bible, in his book The Vanishing Ministry, said,
It is estimated that 80-85 percent of American churches have plateaued or are declining…In 1900 there were 27 churches for every 10,000 Americans. [By] 1985 this figure had declined so drastically that it [was] painful to report. [By 1985 there were] only 12 churches for every 10,000 Americans, less than half the former amount… [and] between 3,500 and 4,000 churches close their doors each year in the USA (Woodrow Kroll, D.D., The Vanishing Ministry, Kregel Publications, 1991, pp. 31-33).
This loss of about 90% of the young people in our churches, and the fact that nearly 4,000 churches close their doors every year, presents us with a very dark and hopeless picture of Christianity in America. This awful condition is true throughout the Western world. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,
There has been only one major revival since 1859…May God give us grace to examine ourselves, and be honest with ourselves…Do we realize that God’s displeasure is upon the church? Why has there been such a long interval since God came down amongst His people in revival? Why this appalling long period? Why are things as they are? Why is the church counting for so little? (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Revival, Crossway Books, 1992, p. 129).
We should ask, as Gideon did,
“If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? And where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of…?”
In the first part of this sermon, delivered last Sunday night, I answered these two questions. I said that we have had almost no revivals since 1859 because a major change concerning conversion occurred during the latter part of the nineteenth century. I pointed out the fact that Charles G. Finney (1792-1875) insisted on “instant decisions for Christ,” and his new methods quickly replaced the older evangelism. Preachers no longer told the lost that they were totally depraved and could do nothing to save themselves. Instead, people were marched down the “aisle” by the thousands and pronounced saved – without the Holy Spirit convicting them of their depraved natural state,
“dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1).
As a direct result of this change, which started during the time of Finney, evangelism was ruined, and major revivals virtually ended after 1859. Finney’s new approach, of replacing real conversions with “instant decisions,” filled the Protestant and Baptist churches with millions of lost people who had never been convicted of their sinful, totally depraved natures, nor truly converted to Christ. Things got so bad that by the early 20th century Billy Sunday could deliver an entire “evangelistic” sermon without once mentioning the gospel of Christ! Read it! It’s called “Get on the Water Wagon.” All they had to do was “come forward” and shake hands with Billy Sunday! The great evangelistic preaching of Whitefield, Wesley, and Edwards was turned into a pep rally, resembling a political, patriotic event more than the great meetings of Wesley and Whitefield. “Decisionism” reigned as the churches were filled, like an assembly line, with unsaved people by the hundreds of thousands. Preachers stopped asking even a few basic questions of those who came forward. They were instantly admitted to church membership – no questions asked!
Even the Calvinist churches stopped preaching soul-searching sermons, calculated to be used of God to convict the lost of their depraved hearts and sinful minds. Instead of preaching that
“the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7),
the “new” Calvinists resorted to verse-by-verse Bible teaching, “Lordship salvation,” and salvation by believing the Westminster Catechism. If you think I am being too hard on the Calvinists, read a few sermons by Jonathan Edwards and ask yourself if you know of any Calvinistic churches where his sermons could be preached today!
And, then, there are of course the charismatics and Pentecostals. I didn’t mention them last week. But how is their “evangelism” any different from the main, non-Calvinist, body of evangelicals? I see no difference. Oh, I know they throw their hands in the air, and sometimes they even fall on the floor. They say that this is what happened under Edwards, Wesley and others in the First Great Awakening. But where do we see the first work of the Holy Spirit?
“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin…”
Where do we see Pentecostals or charismatics under the kind of conviction of sin that kept our forefathers awake all night, lest they fall into the mouth of Hell? Where do we see the things described by Brian Edwards (Revival! A People Saturated with God, Evangelical Press, 1991) among the charismatics today? Brian Edwards said,
Revival…begins with a terrible conviction of sin. It is often the form that this conviction of sin takes that troubles those who read of revival…people weep uncontrollably, and worse! But there is no such thing as a revival without tears of conviction and sorrow (Brian Edwards, ibid., p. 115).
…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. My own cook tried to make a confession, broke down in the midst of it, and cried to me across the room: “Pastor, tell me, is there any hope for me, can I be forgiven?” And then he threw himself to the floor and wept and wept, and almost screamed in agony (ibid.).
Scenes like these are typical of almost every recorded revival. There can be no revival without deep, uncomfortable and humbling conviction of sin (ibid., p. 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 of 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 (ibid.).
In October 1791 there was a powerful work of God… during the preaching of Thomas Charles one Sunday evening, and by ten o’clock that night, “There was nothing to be heard from one end of town to the other but the cries and groans of the people in distress of soul” (ibid., p. 118).
In 1741 Peter Thatcher pastored a small church in Middleborough, Connecticut. A strong sermon was preached in Thatcher’s church by a Rev. Crocker and revival came. Peter Thatcher said,
Many now melted down…some cried with terror, which flew like lightning into every breast…I have [said Thatcher] written accounts of seventy-six that day struck, and brought… to inquire what they must do to escape condemnation…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…to hear the young people crying and wringing their hands and bewailing their [sins] was affecting. O! how heavy now did their contempt and neglect of Christ appear to them… Their mouths are at once filled with arguments to justify God in their eternal damnation…This [was the] work of the Spirit, to convince of sin and unbelief…near one hundred and seventy, the following year, joined the church (Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening, Banner of Truth Trust, 1997 reprint, pp. 130-131).
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… we must be fully aware that this deep and painful conviction of sin is an inevitable part of true revival (Brian Edwards, ibid., p. 119).
A few months ago I read about a charismatic “revival” in Florida. It was in an article written by the editor of a famous charismatic magazine. He said that a “revival” was happening there in Florida. I wrote to him and asked him if people were being convicted of sin. Was it the kind of conviction of sin that happened in the First and Second Great Awakenings? He did not answer me. Well, of course, how could he give an answer? He would have to say “no” if he were an honest man! So, we must say “no” as well – no, these Florida meetings were not revival in the Biblical and historic sense – not at all. As Brian Edwards said, “There is no such thing as a revival without tears of conviction and sorrow” (ibid., p. 115).
When you see men “pricked in their heart” crying out “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) then (and only then) can you properly speak of revival! Only then will you have anything approaching Pentecost!
Michael Horton has written a good book called Christless Christianity (Baker Books, 2008). I only wish he had stressed conviction of sin even more than he did. But his main thesis is true. If men do not feel that they are sinners, why do they need Christ? Why do they need to be justified by His death on the Cross, or cleansed by His Blood? You see, the whole meaning of Christ’s substitutionary death (and resurrection) really becomes unnecessary if you don’t emphasize man in sin. If you don’t stress the fact that “they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9), as the Apostle Paul did in Romans 3:9-20, why do men need
“Christ Jesus, whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood”? (Romans 3:24-25).
Just tell them to “Get on the Water Wagon.” Just have them raise their hands, come forward and say a “sinner’s prayer.” Just tell them to “make” Christ their Lord. Just teach them the Bible verse-by-verse. Just tell them to believe the Westminster Catechism. Just tell them to jump around and laugh. A “Laughing Revival”? Absurd – if you have even a cursory knowledge of the First or Second Great Awakening! In fact, all the modern forms of “decisionism” are so heartbreakingly absurd that it brings tears to my eyes as I write this!
For a real revival and real conversions, a good place to start would be to read Psalm 139:23-24 every morning and every night for six months, until it burns into your soul and convinces you of the wrath of God and your own total depravity, sinful by nature and practice.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Then perhaps you will see your need for Jesus.
“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
(“Hallelujah, What a Saviour!” by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).
(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers’ sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”
Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Psalm 139:23-24.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Where Will You Spend Eternity?” (by Elisha A. Hoffman, 1839-1929).