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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 17, 2014

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a careful student of revival. He studied the history of revivals, and even experienced revival in his own congregation in Wales in 1931. In a lecture he gave on the great evangelist Howell Harris (1714-1773) the “Doctor” said, “We are again in a condition of darkness and deadness so similar to that of the early years of the 18th century” (D. M. Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996 edition, p. 302). In another book, Dr. Lloyd-Jones spoke of “the terrible apostasy that has increasingly characterized the church for the last hundred [now 150 years] years” (Revival, Crossway Books, 1987, p. 55).

In my own experience of 55 years in the ministry, I have seen a dramatic downturn in the life and power of our churches. The churches today, for the most part, hardly resemble the churches of my youth – and the change has not been a good one. Indeed, “we are again in a condition of darkness and deadness.” Indeed, we are in a “terrible apostasy.”

I am convinced that this awful condition has come about largely because pastors have forgotten what makes a person a Christian. In my experience, very few preachers know anything practical about conversion and the new birth, but I’m not going to speak on that tonight.

Many of those who speak on revival know that we need the Holy Spirit to do something to revive our churches! But very few know exactly what it is that we need the Holy Spirit to do. They don’t know what they need the Holy Spirit to do because they don’t realize the horrible depth of the problem facing them. They think that most of their people are saved and they think they know how to lead new people into a salvation experience. Yet I do not know of any major preacher who has sufficient light on this subject. As a result, vast numbers of our churches are filled, wall to wall, with lost people! We have written in depth on this problem in our book, Today’s Apostasy (click here to read it).

I am not going into the problem of revival in a general sense tonight. My focus will be to speak on what we should pray for if we want God to send revival to our own local church. One of the traps we can fall into when we read books on revival is to expect a huge change in all the churches – at least in a very large number of them. And when we don’t see that happen we feel hopeless.

We must understand that every true conversion is a miracle. Dr. Cagan and I went over a list of those who were hopefully converted. We found that there have been hopeful conversions every month. That is, the miracle of conversion has occurred every month in our church for over a year. I’m not talking about “decisions” of course, I’m talking about real conversions. What we are praying for in revival is for more conversion miracles, for God to come down and convert more people to Christ.

Now, what exactly should we pray for? I believe that our main concern should be to pray for the Holy Spirit to come down in greater power. I realize that many people will reject whatever I say on that subject. There was so much false teaching on the Holy Spirit in the twentieth century that I can’t blame them. And yet the Holy Spirit is the source of individual conversions, as well as revivals. Today church members think of the Holy Spirit causing people to “speak in tongues,” or be able to make a lot of money, or be physically healed. But none of that has anything to do with the central work, the main work, of the Holy Spirit. Please turn in your Bible to John 16:14. Here we see the main work of God’s Spirit. Jesus said,

“He shall glorify me” (John 16:14).

The Greek word translated “glorify” means to “honor, esteem, magnify, praise” (Strong #1392). The work of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Christ, to cause us to esteem Christ, to magnify Christ, and cause us to honor Him.

When people have a false conversion, it is always because they have rejected Jesus Himself. As Dr. Cagan pointed out in our book, Today’s Apostasy,

People with a Catholic background will generally think in terms of salvation by works: quitting some sins, going to church, following Jesus, loving Jesus, confession, and generally “being good.”

People with a Baptist, evangelical or Reformed background will often trust baptism, saying the “sinner’s prayer,” or mentally believing Christian doctrine, such as being able to recite the “plan of salvation,” or the “Westminster Catechism.”

People with a charismatic or Pentecostal background usually think in terms of feelings and experiences. If a person has had an experience with what he thinks is the “Holy Spirit,” feels God’s blessing in his life, or feels peace or joy in his heart, he considers himself saved.

Many times people like that come to us for counselling, seeking assurance or another feeling when in fact they have never been saved by trusting Christ (Today’s Apostasy, Hearthstone Publishing, 2001 edition, p. 141).

Here is the way that often comes out in our church. When the pastor asks them to tell about the day they got saved, they will invariably start out with a long “shaggy dog” story, often giving their thoughts about a sermon they heard earlier, and many other details, which may even include feeling they were sinners. They usually tell quite a story, usually going into great detail, leading up to their so-called conversion. Then they stop abruptly. They almost always end by saying, “And then I trusted Jesus,” or “And then I came to Jesus.”

Then we ask them to tell us a little bit about Jesus, and about what happened when they came to Him (or trusted Him). That’s when the whole thing falls apart. They can’t say much, if anything, about Jesus Himself. In his book, Around the Wicket Gate, Spurgeon said, “There is a wretched tendency among men to leave Christ Himself out of the Gospel” (Pilgrim Publications, 1992 edition, p. 24). I tell them I want them to keep coming and listening to the Gospel. I want to make sure that Jesus is central in their testimonies. No matter how interesting someone's testimony is, if Christ is not central, they are still unsaved!

The Holy Spirit does two main things in every real conversion. The first thing is in John 16:8-9,

“And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: Of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9).

Conviction of sin is the first work of the Spirit of God. We have tended to make conversion a trivial thing, a small thing, that a person can have by mumbling a few words, or learning to say certain things. God help us! We have left out the Holy Spirit! We have forgotten that He must convict us of our deep-seated sin and rebellion against God! Dr. Lloyd-Jones described conviction as seeing the plague of your own heart, and the foulness of the nature you have inherited from Adam. Conviction is seeing your hopelessness, and your utter despair, before this holy, righteous God, who hates sin with the whole of His being (paraphrased from Revival, Crossway Books, 1987, p. 42). That happens, more or less, in all who are truly converted. Dr. Lloyd-Jones said, “Any man who is awakened and convicted of sin must be in trouble about this. How can he die and face God?” (Assurance, Romans 5, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1971, p. 18).

So that is the first thing the Holy Spirit does in a real conversion. He disturbs people. If you have not been deeply disturbed about your sinful nature, you will not think much about the Lord Jesus Christ. You hear words about Him dying on the Cross, but they mean very little to you. Why? Because you have never been convicted “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). And yet the lost sinner must not rest in conviction alone! Conviction alone will not save you!

I recently spoke with a young man who had been under deep conviction of sin for several days. I told him to go to Jesus for salvation through His Blood. He seemed to do that. He seemed to have come to Jesus. I waited a few weeks and then asked him to tell me how he was saved. He went on and on about his sin. There was no question that he had been under deep conviction. But he ended by saying, “And then I came to Jesus.” I asked him to tell me a little more about Jesus. He stumbled around, but it was very obvious that, although he had been convicted, he had not found peace through the Saviour and His Blood!

Often people will ask me, “How do you come to Jesus?” To answer that question, we must look at John 6:44,

“No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44a).

You must be drawn to Jesus by God the Father through the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, the Spirit of God will only draw a sinner to Jesus when he is under conviction of sin, and calling out for mercy. When the Holy Spirit draws someone to Jesus, it often seems like they were blind before, and now their eyes are open – and they see the beautiful Saviour, holding wide His arms to embrace them! They could sing with John Newton (1725-1807),

I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
   (“Amazing Grace”).

So, when we speak of revival, we must think in terms of the Gospel. Revival is nothing more, or less, than the Spirit of God making people feel their sin, and then drawing them to Jesus for salvation through His Blood. When that happens to one person, as it does every few weeks in our church, that is conversion, the miracle of conversion! John W. Peterson made that clear in one of his songs, 

It took a miracle to put the stars in place;
   It took a miracle to hang the world in space.
But when He saved my soul,
   Cleansed and made me whole,
It took a miracle of love and grace.
     (“It Took a Miracle” by John W. Peterson, 1921-2006).

And when that miracle happens to a number of people at once, say 10 or 12 people at once in a local church, that is revival! It’s as simple as that! What happens in a single conversion happens to several people in a short period in revival. When the Holy Spirit comes in revival power, He always glorifies Jesus in the lives of several converts!

“He shall glorify me” (John 16:14).

Listen to Dr. Lloyd-Jones one more time.

      Revival, above everything else, is a glorification of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the restoration of Him to the centre of the life of the church...There is no value in so-called Christianity which does not exalt Him, and live for Him, and live to testify [of] Him...particularly His atonement, His death upon the cross, His broken body and His shed blood. Again I am quoting to you pure fact which you can check for yourselves. You will find that in every period of revival, without exception, there has been a tremendous emphasis upon the blood of Christ. The hymns that have been sung most of all in periods of revival, have been about the blood... The very...heart of the Christian gospel is this, “Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Romans 3:25)...I see no hope for revival while men and women are denying the blood of the cross... (Revival, ibid., pp. 47, 48, 49).

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains;
Lose all their guilty stains.
   (“There Is a Fountain” by William Cowper, 1731-1800; to the tune of
      “Ortonville,” “Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned”).

When I survey the wondrous cross
   On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
   And pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
   Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
   Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
(“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” by Dr. Isaac Watts, 1674-1748).

At the risk of being misunderstood, I feel that I must say that this is where the charismatics and Pentecostals have gone wrong. They tend to focus on the Holy Spirit Himself. Jesus’ death on the Cross is not the main thing. They are excited about healings, slayings in the Spirit, signs and miracles. No matter how much they may protest what I say, they do not make the substitutionary death of Jesus on the Cross the main subject! Conviction of sin, and pardon through Christ’s Blood are not central. But I must also say that we who are evangelicals and fundamentalists are no better! We are busy teaching the Bible verse-by-verse to the lost people who claim to be Christians in our churches. This is where we have all gone wrong. The very center of the Christian Gospel is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The greatest preacher Christianity has ever produced said,

“I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

We will never have revival when men and women can only say, “And then I came to Jesus.” God help us! If that’s all you can say about the Lamb of God who was tortured and crucified to save you, then I think you are as blind as a Jehovah’s Witness or a Muslim! They, too, speak of Jesus! Where is the Blood? Where is the matchless love that drove Him from the high courts of Heaven to be flogged, spat upon, and nailed to a cross?

Sometimes I think I’ve failed you. Somehow I didn’t teach you to love Jesus enough to talk about Him at least a little. Somehow I couldn’t get you to love Jesus. I couldn’t get you to really feel, and be able to say,

I love Thee, because Thou hast first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ‘tis now.
   (“My Jesus, I Love Thee” by William Featherstone, 1842-1878).

Oh, dear friends, let us fast and pray again next Saturday until 5:00. Let us fast and pray for the Holy Spirit to do two things – convict of sin, and glorify Jesus by drawing sinners to Him, for cleansing in His Blood. Amen.

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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: John 16:7-14.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“There Is a Fountain” (by William Cowper, 1731-1800; to the tune of
“Ortonville,” “Majestic Sweetness Sits Enthroned”).