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by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, August 29, 2010

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28).

Today it is common, when we hear of revival, to think of illustrations of it in the Old Testament. For instance, today II Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted,

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).

I used to think that way myself. But I came to agree with Iain H. Murray. In a section of his book on revival titled “Confusing Old and New Testaments,” Murray says that “what is being promised [in II Chronicles 7:14] is not revival, for the promise has to be understood…in relation to the time when it was given. It is of Old Testament Israel and her land of which healing is there spoken. The promise cannot be of revival, for revival has to do with the abundant giving of the Holy Spirit and that giving, as Old Testament Scripture made clear, lay in the future. It was in the future for Joel, for Ezekiel and all the prophets: ‘It shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh’ (Joel 2:28). The blessing was to follow the Messiah’s death…The mission of the Spirit had to await the fulfillment of Christ’s mediatorial work in his suffering and glorification. Thus we read, ‘The Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (John 7:39); ‘It is expedient for you that I go away; for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you,’ John 16:7” (Iain H. Murray, Pentecost Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998 edition, pp. 13-14).

Again Iain H. Murray said, “It would appear that the confusion which has arisen over making II Chronicles 7:14 a text on revival has come about through a failure to recognize the great change in spiritual privilege which was to follow the coming of Christ…Of course there are important lessons to be drawn from God’s mighty acts in the Old Testament era but when these are made the basis for interpreting the New Testament teaching we are bound to go wrong. Pentecost inaugurated a new age, a new era…of grace which was impossible before Christ’s promise to send the Spirit was fulfilled. Thus we read in Acts 2:33, ‘Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear’” (Murray, ibid., pp. 15, 16).

Just before He ascended back to Heaven, Jesus told the Apostles that they should “wait for the promise of the Father” (Acts 1:4). None of the conditions of II Chronicles 7:14 were repeated to them. It is true that they prayed during the ten days between Christ’s ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:14), but none of the other so-called “conditions” are mentioned in Acts 1. “Suddenly” (Acts 2:2) the Holy Spirit came (Acts 2:2). Peter quoted Joel 2:28,

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:16-17).

What was the result of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit? The preaching of Peter was empowered by the Spirit, and the lost multitude was “pricked in their heart” by the Spirit, and cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” This was the first revival, not the beginning of “the church” – the church was already there! – but the first revival. The era of revivals had begun! Times of revival have come at various intervals throughout Christian history.

I have had the blessed experience of being in two major revivals, and seeing some smaller ones. Both of them began with the same “suddenness” as the revival at Pentecost. No preparation was made beforehand. “Suddenly” the Holy Spirit was there – and many hundreds were converted. Since then we have often seen people try to “work up a revival” – but I have never seen a revival come that way.

We have recently seen a “touch” of revival in our two churches, Calvary Road Baptist Church, and our church. A number of hopeful conversions happened in a short time. How did it happen? It came “suddenly.” Suddenly the Holy Spirit began convicting and converting sinners as Dr. Waldrip preached in his church camp. Then we combined the meetings with our church – and more were “suddenly” convicted and converted under Dr. Waldrip’s preaching. It was unplanned. No preparation was made. It was, as Jonathan Edwards would say, a surprising work of God’s Spirit!

I have come to believe in the “Old School” view of revival. Thus, I believe that “a revival is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, brought about by the intercession of Christ, resulting in a new degree of life in the churches and a widespread movement of grace among the unconverted” (Murray, ibid., pp. 23-24). Yet, in the revivals I have seen, the order has often been reversed, with “a movement of grace among the unconverted” coming before there is “a new degree of life in the churches.” I believe it is important to say this because too often we may think that the “new degree of life” among the saved somehow produces (or at least has to precede) the conversion of the lost. This is not the case. It is God who produces both the conversion of the lost and the new degree of life among the saved. And God can do one before the other, in either order, or both at once! God is sovereign. He can send revival in any of those ways.

In the revivals I have seen there was no preparation other than the regular work of the church. Suddenly, during the regular work of the church, there was an unexpected move of God’s Spirit, convicting and converting the lost and quickening the prayers and zeal of the Christians. Iain Murray said, “The sheer unexpectedness of such events [in revival] bears equally against the view that revivals are conditioned by the preceding actions and efforts of Christians. Those who believe that a certain line of conduct or prayer must secure revival have history against them. Revivals come unheralded. They are, as Edwards witnessed in Northampton in 1735, ‘The surprising work of God.’ Of the Great Awakening of 1740 it is said that ‘it broke upon the slumbering churches like a thunderbolt rushing out of a clear blue sky’” (Murray, ibid., pp. 22-23).

There are two things that characterize preaching in times of revival. I used to think that we should preach on revival itself, or on prayer, or on commitment. I now believe that the preaching attending revival is Christ-centered and law-centered. I base this on the Book of Acts – which is largely a record of various revivals in the first decades of Christianity. A study of the sermons in the Book of Acts will reveal that every sermon but one was centered on the law of God and the Gospel of Christ – His crucifixion and His resurrection. During the Third Great Awakening (1857-1860) and the years of blessing that followed, Spurgeon was undoubtedly the leading preacher. By as early as 1856 he was preaching every Sunday to crowds of 20,000 at the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall. It seems to me that Spurgeon’s preaching was at the very heart of the Third Great Awakening, and was even used to usher it in. This is commonly believed by many. Spurgeon’s sermons were wildly popular, and were read by tens of thousands throughout the world in printed form. Spurgeon’s sermons were Christ-centered – centered on the vicarious atonement of Christ in the place of sinners, on the Blood of Christ and on His physical resurrection from the dead, accompanied by strong law-warnings against sinners facing eternity without salvation in Christ.

The great Puritan preacher Richard Baxter said that pastors need “the skill necessary to make plain the truth, to convince the hearers, to screw truth into their minds and work Christ into their affections.” I believe that our preaching must do exactly that. It must be simple and plain. It must “screw truth into their minds and work Christ into their affections.”

Furthermore, instead of always praying, in a general way, for revival, I believe our prayers should mostly be concentrated on the lost – praying for them to be convicted and converted – praying for them by name – that they might glorify God in the newness of life. And yet there is a place for praying for revival. It should not be central, but it should be constant. Charles Simeon said, “The work of conversion must be very gradual among you, unless God pour out his Spirit in a most extraordinary way upon you” (Murray, ibid., p. 24).

The proof of whether or not you were converted in these meetings is not only in the words of the testimony you give. The greater proof is in the way you act, the way you live. If you have truly been converted, you will be enabled to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Do you have newness of life in your prayers? Do you have newness of life in your evangelism? Do you have newness of life in caring for the lost as they come into the church? Do you have newness of life in your Bible reading and in your prayers? These, more than anything else, reveal whether or not you had a real conversion.

Please stand and sing hymn number 7 on your song sheet. Let me hear you sing it!

Give us a watchword for the hour, A thrilling word, a word of power,
A battle cry, a flaming breath That calls to conquest or to death.
A word to rouse the church from rest, To heed the Master’s strong request.
The call is given, Ye hosts, arise, Our watchword is, evangelize!

The glad evangel now proclaim, Through all the earth, in Jesus’ name;
This word is ringing through the skies: Evangelize! Evangelize!
To dying men, a fallen race, Make known the gift of Gospel grace;
The world that now in darkness lies, Evangelize! Evangelize!
   (“Evangelize! Evangelize!” Words by Dr. Oswald J. Smith, 1889-1986;
      sung to the tune of “And Can It Be?” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: John 4:34-36.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“The Price of Revival” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).