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UNBELIEF – A HINDRANCE TO REVIVAL

(SERMON NUMBER 11 ON REVIVAL)

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Evening, October 12, 2014

“They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them” (Hosea 5:6).


Israel saw the danger they faced from the Assyrians. Then they sought for God. To appease God’s wrath, they brought many sheep and oxen to sacrifice. But they did not receive mercy from God. “He hath withdrawn himself from them” because of idolatry and other sins. They did not seek God when He could have been found. Now it was too late. God had withdrawn His presence from them.

“They shall go with their flocks and with their herds to seek the Lord; but they shall not find him; he hath withdrawn himself from them” (Hosea 5:6).

I thought of that verse as I watched a video of Billy Graham last Wednesday night. He was preaching in Sacramento, California in about 1983. His topic was “the Holy Spirit.” While he preached I thought of those words in our text, “He hath withdrawn himself from them.”

Now, you must understand that I love Billy Graham. I always have, and I always will. But I remember going to hear him preach in the Los Angeles Coliseum in August, 1963. When I got out of my car in the parking lot, I could literally “feel” the Holy Spirit, like electricity, in the air. As I walked into the Coliseum, the hair on my flesh stood up. I felt that the Holy Spirit was so intensely present that the whole experience was electrifying. Everyone in the vast stadium was absolutely quiet. You could have heard a pin drop as the huge choir stood to sing “How Great Thou Art.” Mr. Graham’s sermon was so powerful that I can remember most of it to this day!

In the following decades I attended six more Billy Graham crusades in different cities. But when I went to his crusade in Oakland, California in the early 70’s, there was very little power in his preaching. Then, in the early 1980’s, I happened to watch Mr. Graham on TV with my pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin. About halfway through the sermon, Dr. Lin said, “It seems like he has no power.” I don’t think it was because Mr. Graham was older. He seemed pretty vigorous. But something was missing. I felt the same way while I watched that video of him preaching last Wednesday night. He was preaching on the Holy Spirit. But something was missing. It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit Himself was missing. It seemed to me that “he [had] withdrawn himself from them” (Hosea 5:6). And it isn’t just when Mr. Graham preaches. I sense that the Holy Spirit is missing in most of the preaching I hear today from churches in the Western world. It makes me sick at heart – because I sense that God Himself has departed from our churches when we preach! How sad. How utterly sad! Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes when I think of it! Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “A man can preach without the Holy Spirit. I can expound this word with intelligence, but that is not enough. We need the demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Revival, Crossway Books, 1987, p. 185). Oh, how I need that power myself! Please pray for my preaching!

You know, we haven’t had a major revival in the English-speaking world since 1859. That’s more than 150 years. Before 1859, our churches experienced God-sent revival about every 10 years or so. But Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said,

There has only been one major revival since 1859. Oh, we have been through a barren period... people have lost their belief in this living God and in the atonement and in reconciliation and have turned to wisdom, philosophy and learning. We have passed through one of the most barren periods in the long history of the Church...We are still in the wilderness. Do not believe anything that suggests we are out of it, we are not (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Revival, ibid., page 129).

And that’s the reason I showed you those videos of the powerful revival in China, The Cross – Jesus in China (China Soul for Christ Foundation, click here to order it). I wanted you to see that revival is not only possible today – it is happening right now in other parts of the world. But since there is no classical revival in the Western world, I can’t send you to see one with your own eyes. I can only show you a video made far away, in China. I had hopes that you would long for revival if you saw those videos from China. King Solomon said,

“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (Proverbs 25:25).

I wanted you to see what God can do today, right now, in revival. Brian H. Edwards said,

It is not that revival can be caught like a disease, but that the effects create a longing and thirst among those who are told of them or see them. Most of those whom God uses in revival have themselves been made aware of what God has done in the past…We are foolish not to take advantage of learning all that we can about past revivals so that we are responsive to God’s possibilities for us. We need to have our eyes upon what God can do, our minds expanded and our vision set on the power of God’s mighty work. God is perhaps waiting for us to be responsive to what he has done in the past (Brian H. Edwards, Revival! – A People Saturated with God, Evangelical Press, 1991 edition, pp. 91, 92).

Hearing stories about past revivals, and revivals now happening in other places, should help us have faith that God can do these things here, in our own church. Unbelief is the greatest hindrance to revival among us.

Jesus returned to His home town in Nazareth. The people were “astonished” when they heard Him preach in their synagogue. But some of them said He was only a carpenter’s son. They were offended by Him. Then the Bible says, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). Dr. John Gill said, “not for want [lack] of power, or as if their unbelief was too mighty for him to overcome; but he would not because he judged them unworthy” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, volume I, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, p. 159; note on Matthew 13:58).

I know one man who actually went through a great revival but said he didn’t even notice it because he was a newlywed! I know of another man who went through a truly amazing revival in Virginia, but said it was only a “long invitation.” It seems to me that those men were too worldly to appreciate revival when it came! And they were certainly too unbelieving to pray for revival! May God help us to have more faith in His power!

The Apostle Paul said, “Quench not the Spirit” (I Thessalonians 5:19). Unbelief and worldliness quench the Spirit! Dr. Lloyd-Jones spoke of certain theologians “quenching the Spirit” and losing interest in revival (The Puritans, Banner of Truth, 1996 edition, p. 9).

The Disciples could not cast out a powerful demon because of their unbelief (Matthew 17:20). The Jews could not enter into the promised land “because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19). There is no doubt in my mind that revival can be “quenched” by the sin of unbelief.

The Bible gives page after page, showing the mighty acts of God, largely to increase our faith in Him. The entire chapter of Hebrews 11 is about the things accomplished through faith in God. I think one of the main reasons we don’t have revival is because of unbelief that God can send it now, in our time. That is why we need to hear accounts of revivals in the past, and in other parts of the world today. Then we can say with the father of the demonized boy, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). When God is about to send revival, He may increase your faith, as you pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. When you hear about revivals, pay close attention. Then pray for God to send a revival to our church. And I think it is perfectly right for you to pray, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”

Another thing you need to know is the fact that most revivals happen in a local church, like ours, or other small meetings. Most books about revival focus on the big, spectacular events - whole districts being ablaze for God, revival changing the course of history, etc. I think the authors of those books meant well, but I don’t think they realize the harm that can come by not telling us more about how these revivals started. By reading about all those spectacular events, you may come away in unbelief. It may give Satan an opportunity to say, “Something that big will never happen here!” That’s why I wish some of those authors had concentrated more on what happens in a local church when it begins to experience an outpouring of the Spirit. Dr. Lloyd-Jones noticed this when he said,

We are no longer preparing for the gathering of the church on Sunday...As the tendency to think in terms of big meetings and movements, rather than in terms of the local church has increased, so the frequency of revivals has decreased (Revival, ibid., p. 61).

I wonder if that didn’t happen when I showed you those videos on revival in China. They showed that the revival there is huge – actually nation-wide. I wonder if Satan may have said to you, “Something that big will never happen here.” As a matter of fact, that is probably true! We probably won’t ever have a national revival in America. I don’t say you should never pray for national revival, but please focus on this local church! The prophet Zechariah said, “Who hath despised the day of small things?” (Zechariah 4:10). Dr. McGee said, “We despise the day of small things. We Americans are impressed with the big and brassy...we measure success by the size of the building and the crowds that come in” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, volume III, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, p. 924; note on Zechariah 4:10).

When will we learn that God doesn’t usually work that way? He saved the whole human race with only 8 people in Noah’s day. There are no “big” meetings – only individuals – in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. God told Gideon to send the crowd home because He only needed 300 men to overcome the Midianites. The main revivals of history began with a handful of people.

On the other hand, huge “revival” meetings have not produced real revival in our time. I read where Billy Graham admitted that revival did not come out of his evangelistic crusades. Look at Explo ’72 – Campus Crusade for Christ gathered 200,000 young people in Dallas, Texas to hear Billy Graham preach for six nights. What came from it? Nothing much. A year later Mr. Graham preached to more than one million people in Seoul, Korea, in June, 1973. That was the largest crowd to hear a preacher in person in the history of the world to that time. What came from it? Nothing much. I’m sure a few people were saved in Dallas and Seoul – but no revival came from those gigantic meetings.

Yet almost every major revival starts with a few people. In Northampton, Massachusetts, in Jonathan Edwards’ church, only a few hundred people were present when the First Great Awakening began there, which changed the entire English-speaking world. On New Year’s Eve 1738 seven Oxford graduates and about sixty others met for prayer in a room in London. The world-wide expansion of the First Great Awakening came out of it. In 1806 five college students prayed under a haystack, and the world-wide missionary movement from America began, one of the greatest revivals of all time. In 1727 about 400 people met for prayer on the estate of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf in what is now the Czech Republic. A revival began that sent thousands of missionaries to the ends of the earth. Also, from this Moravian prayer meeting, John and Charles Wesley were saved. Thus the huge Methodist revival, as well as the Salvation Army, came out of this prayer meeting of only 400 people in Czechoslovakia! On September 23, 1857 six men prayed for one hour together at the North Dutch Church, on Fulton Street in New York City. They agreed to pray together for one hour each Wednesday. The Third Great Awakening had begun, and hundreds of thousands would be converted throughout the world. The Fulton Street Revival in New York also helped to inspire the ministry of C. H. Spurgeon in London, England, three thousand miles away!

I have been reading about revivals for many years. I can’t remember even one that started in a large evangelistic meeting after the First Great Awakening. Not one! Remember there were only 120 people praying in the upper room when the Spirit of God was poured out on the Day of Pentecost! Christianity spread from that small meeting to the very ends of the earth!

We preach the Gospel here every Sunday. We tell lost people that Jesus died on the Cross to pay for their sins. We tell them that Jesus rose from the dead to give them life eternal. But those facts must be made real to them by the Holy Spirit. He must convict them of sin. He must draw them to Christ so their sins can be cleansed by His Blood. I hope you will pray for God to pour out His Spirit on our church in a real revival! I hope you will pray for revival every time you pray. Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit to do this work in the hearts of sinners. Oh God, we pray for an outpouring of Thy Spirit to convict lost people of sin, and to draw them to Thy Son. We pray it in His name. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Breathe on Me” (by Edwin Hatch, 1835-1889;
altered by B. B. McKinney, 1886-1952).