This sermon is number 1 in a series of 8
The Revival We Need - Part 1
"What Is Revival?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2009 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Our Father, we come before You now very conscious within ourselves of a deep need for Your grace, for Your strength, for Your power, for Your enablement, for Your anointing. We acknowledge, our Father, all of us together this morning, that without Thee we can do nothing. We are impotent, but we come to the omnipotent, almighty El Shaddai - the God with whom nothing is hard or impossible. So Lord, we pray that in the midst of our deep weakness, and so many of Your people touched this morning with the frailty that is, Lord, something that we carry in our flesh through this life - weakness, infirmity, emotional brokenness - but Lord, we are in the right place, and we bow before the right One now. We ask for Your divine aid and Your presence, O God come into our midst, presence Yourself with us now that we may go out of this place having heard a word from the Lord, and that we will be the different for it. For we ask these things in the Saviour's name, Amen.
Now, as has already been said, this is a revival week, and I have entitled the series really 'The Revival We Need'. Very early on, as I directed my thoughts towards this week, I felt I should preach on Sunday morning now on 'What Is Revival?'. Now let me say, before I say anything else, that I am no expert on the subject of revival. Indeed, last year I was invited to a convention on revival to speak, and I felt unable to attend for a number of reasons - not least a sense of being unqualified. How could I speak on a subject that I had never experienced, that I felt I needed to experience, and that other men are far more qualified in speaking on. Now I am going this year to that convention, not because I feel any more qualified to speak on it, but because I feel the Lord has directed me to go, and the Lord has provided the means to go - but I still very much feel out of depth. I suppose we should be worried if we were addressing a subject like this and we didn't feel out of depth.
But I have learned a lesson - and it might help some of you, I don't know - out of this true sense of unworthiness and inability to address this subject: the Lord reminded me that I constantly speak of Him, and I constantly speak of Christ, and how much more out of depth can one be than as a creature speaking of the Creator, or as sinners speaking of our Saviour? I now realise that if we're going to experience revival, we must speak of it. If we're going to experience revival, we must pray for it, and hope that we one day will see it. We speak of divine Persons because that's what God has called us to do, to be His ambassadors, to be His representatives. We speak often of heaven, and none of us have experienced that yet, but we preach on it all the time and we anticipate it with great hope. So we must speak on the revival we need.
Now this week I want to deal with issues related to the revival we need. This morning we're looking at 'What Is Revival?'. This evening I'm going to preach a solid gospel message - Christ-centred Gospel preaching - that's what we need: 'A Revival in Christ-Centred Gospel Preaching'. Tomorrow evening, in the will of the Lord, I want to preach on 'A Revival in the Bible'; Tuesday night, 'A Revival in Prayer'; Wednesday night, 'A Revival in Holiness'; Thursday night, 'A Revival in Love'; and Friday night, ' A Revival in the Holy Spirit' - and I will be bringing the Gospel in every evening as well. But none of those subjects each evening are an answer to this question that's before us this morning: 'What Is Revival?'. Those subjects each night, if you like, are descriptions rather than a definition of what revival is. Often when we try to define it, we simply find ourselves describing it, not defining it.
To illustrate that for you, if you think of the attributes of God - we could go through many of them - but the attributes of God are not God Himself. Do you understand? They are ways of recognizing God, but they are not God Himself. They describe Him, but they do not define Him in essence. Again, to illustrate, the doctrine of the Trinity is truth, and we believe it with all our hearts. It helps us to understand the Godhead, which is a divine mystery, but the doctrine of the Trinity is not the Godhead itself. We know that God is indescribable in His attributes, God is indescribable in His essence - that's why we call God 'transcendent', it means He is beyond us, we cannot intellectually conceive of Him. That's why we call God 'holy', thrice holy, 'holy, holy, holy' - and 'holy' just simply means 'unique', separate from us, beyond us, indescribable. So when we often try to define God - and we should never try to do that, because that is an utter impossibility; if we could define God, we would be God ourselves - but when we try to define God we end up describing Him. That's all we can do, is describe Him!
Brian Edwards, in his book 'Revival', gives a good description of revival. It goes like this, it's quite long: 'A true Holy Spirit revival is a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a large number of God's people, accompanied by an awesome awareness of the presence of sin with a passionate longing for holiness and unusual effectiveness in evangelism, leading to the salvation of many unbelievers'. Now that is a description, a very good description, of revival - but we're wanting this morning to get beyond descriptions to try and define what revival is in essence. This has been before me now for weeks, and I've been asking God in my heart: give me, Lord, what revival is in a nutshell. I asked the Lord, and the Lord answered me and gave me the answer - and He pinned it to a verse as well in Isaiah 57. So I want you to turn with me to Isaiah 57 and verse 15 - what is revival? Isaiah 57 and verse 15, now let's read it slowly and let it sink in: "For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones".
Now my wife could tell you this morning that two or three Saturday mornings ago I was in bed reading and praying, and the Lord just enforced this upon my heart - and as I received this from Him, I give it to you this morning: what is revival? First of all, revival is a reaching high - a reaching high. Look at the first part of the verse: 'For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy', look at it, 'I dwell in the high and holy place'. Revival is a reaching high. Now, if you know anything about revival, you will know that revival often begins with an awesome sense of dissatisfaction with yourself. It's only right that that should, in a sense, be our starting place; and a desire to have a higher experience of the Christian life. 'Lord', we say, 'Plant my feet on higher ground' - and boy, do we need that!
Our theme this week is 'The Revival We Need', and if you are any weight of salt of a Christian at all you will know that we need a revival. We need a revival! Individually, corporately as a church, and right across our land nationally we need to see a revival! We ought to feel this dissatisfaction with the way things are in our homes, with the way things are in our hearts, with the way things are in the house of God, with the way things are in the nation - that will lead us to desire a higher experience. We must, as has often been preached down through the years, break up the fallow ground. Now, you rural folk know better than me from East Belfast what it is to break up the fallow ground - but I've read a wee bit about it. This is the ground that has become hardened, it has become calloused and coarse through lack of rainfall and lack of farming over the years. It's like concrete, it's rock hard! If there's ever going to be any fruit that comes from it, that ground first of all needs to be broken up. So, whether the farmer uses a pick or a plough or some other instrument, it has to be broken up. It's a very painstaking exercise, there's a lot of sweat, but it has to be done!
Charles Finney, the revivalist, he talked about how we need to sit down at times, periodically, like spiritual MOTs; and write down our sins that we can recall of commission and omission, and weep over them. Really that's what breaking up the fallow ground is: to come to terms with the things that we know we have committed against God, and not really felt, and not really dealt with. We have to take time over this, and yet what I want to say to you this morning is: there is something more than that. Yes, revival, what is it? It's a reaching high for a better experience of the Christian life, and there must come this breaking of fallow ground, but we need to read all of that verse in Hosea 10:12: 'Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you'.
So this 'reaching high', though it is a given that we must be looking for something better in our Christian experience, we must have a dissatisfaction with the status quo as it is now; this 'reaching high' that I believe God wants us to have is a desire for a higher knowledge of Him, a desire for a greater knowledge of God! Now listen, if ever there was a definition of revival - not a description now, a definition - it is this: revival is when God comes. I don't want you to miss this, listen: revival is when God comes. Now let me explain that: God is always with us, God is omnipresent. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, and He hasn't left. He is with us among His people, where two or three are gathered, the Lord Jesus says, He is in the midst. But what we are talking about is something other than this, something different, something special.
Let us never get to the point, either, of thinking that God is not at work. Boy, God is at work today! He's at work in His church, He is at work in Ulster, and His work is not always blessing, His work is disciplining; His work is not always planting and sowing and reaping, His work is also pruning. I believe that's what God is doing, to a large extent, today in our land. God is at work, and we must not despise whatever God is doing at this present moment, even in this day of small things - but revival is a special manifestation of God's presence and God's power. God is with us, God is working, but this is on another level, this is another realm, this is another dimension where God comes down in mighty power!
Now listen, this is what this 'reaching high' is: more than a reaching high for something better in our Christian experience, there must be a reaching high for God, a desire for Him! You see, our desire for revival should ultimately be a desire for God. Let me repeat that: our desire for revival should ultimately be a desire for God. The authenticity of our desire for revival is only relative to our desire for Him. Do you hear what I'm saying? You see, you can desire revival of sorts and not have a real desire for God, but that's not really a desire for revival at all - for, let's face it, who in their right mind, whether they were saved or not, wouldn't desire conditions to be better in our world, or things to be better in our province? Who, with their eyes open, and their heart soft at all, could not wish for conditions to be better in the church of Jesus Christ in our land? Who wouldn't want their family and their friends and their neighbours to be saved? But that's not the question concerning revival, the question is: who wants God? That's a different thing!
Revival comes when Christians are longing for God - let me add - and God alone. You see, revival is a desire for and the realisation of the divine presence - a reaching high for the high and lofty One who inhabits eternity. Isaiah actually displayed this in his 64th chapter when he cried in his wonderful revival prayer: 'Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence, As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!'. 'At thy presence!', what was Isaiah doing? He was reaching high for God Himself, God Himself!
I challenge you today - and I have to say to you, dear folk, that you have been such a blessing to me, because I have never met a group of people who had such a desire for revival as you. I feel like the wee fellow here, standing up before you - but I'm asking my own heart and, as I preach to you, I'm preaching ten times more to myself: do I have a desire for God above all things? I'm sure you know as much about Duncan Campbell as I do, but I feel that Duncan Campbell gave one of the best definitions of revival that there has ever been when he said that 'Revival is a community of people saturated by God'.
People who have experienced revival say that 'God was everywhere'. I was preaching last Sunday morning, not this sermon now, but another message on revival. I met a man there - I quoted Duncan Campbell - I met a man at that meeting who knew Duncan Campbell, and who had spoken to him. In his later years, he said, he had the privilege of spending some time with him, and he said that he kept saying over and over again: 'Everything is real in our churches today except God!'. Oh, how right. Brian Edwards says: 'When we are reading the serious, yet exciting, stories of God in revivals of the past, the only response possible is an awesome: 'God has come''. God has come! Is that the longing of your heart? Can you say with F. Brook:
'My goal is God Himself, not joy' - Oh, we all want that - 'nor peace,
Nor even blessing' - who wouldn't want all those things? - 'but Himself, my God'
What is revival? It is a reaching high, not just for a greater experience of our Christian life, for more blessing, but for God Himself - even if we don't get all those other things. You see, a lot of us, the desire of our Christian life is for something rather than Someone, it is for an 'it' rather than Him. Do you understand what I mean? You see, your 'it' could be an experience, and a good experience at that. It could be a doctrine - and boy, do we need more doctrine in these days - but that could be your 'it'. It could be a church, it could be a specific type of church, it could be this church, it could be work you're doing for the Lord, it could even be a scheme of Bible interpretation - perish the thought, it could be revival itself! But an 'it' will not do, it must be Him! Do you understand?
A.B. Simpson put it well when he said: 'I wish to speak to you about Jesus, and Jesus only. I often hear people say, 'I wish I could get hold of divine healing, but I cannot'. Sometimes they say, 'I have got it'. If I ask them, 'What have you got?' the answer is sometimes, 'I have got the blessing', sometimes it is, 'I have got the theory'; sometimes it is, 'I have got the healing'; sometimes it is, 'I have got the sanctification'. But I thank God we have been taught that it is not the blessing, it is not the healing, it is not the sanctification, it is not the thing, it is not the it that you want, but 'it' is something better. It is 'the Christ'; it is Himself'. He continued: 'Plenty of people get the idea and do not get anything out of it. They get it into their head, and it into their conscience, and it into their will; but somehow they do not get Him into their life and spirit, because they have only that which is the outward expression and symbol of spirituality'. It was A.B. Simpson that wrote that wonderful hymn, you can find it in Redemption Songs I think:
'Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling;
Now it is His Word;
Once His gifts I wanted,
Now, the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing,
Now Himself alone.
All in all forever,
Jesus will I sing;
Everything in Jesus,
And Jesus, everything!'
Now that's what revival is, if ever there was a definition: a reaching high for nothing but God, and Christ alone! The late Henry Jowett was a very well-known preacher in his day, and he attended, at the end of last century, the coronation of King Edward VII. He recorded how, in Westminster Abbey, he sat there observing the assembly gathering, the seating of Princes and Princesses, and dignitaries - Dukes, Duchesses - and others of lesser nobility, and how homage was paid to them. But he writes: 'But then the King arrived, and all eyes turned away from those of lower rank and were fixed upon him' - then the King arrived! Is that what we're looking for? Nothing else will do, anything else is a substitute - and that means idolatry, if we're not looking for Him and Him alone.
What is revival? It is a reaching high, but here's the second and the last thing God laid on my heart: it's not just a reaching high, it's a bowing low. Read the verse again: 'For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place', that's where He dwells, a high and holy place, but look, 'with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones'. There must be a reaching high to the high and lofty One, but there must be a bowing low. Here's what God did in my mind and heart, He married those two things, and this is the message: the reaching high can only be attained by the bending low. Do you get that? The reaching high can only happen, it can only be achieved, it can only be acquired by bowing low!
We all want to see many sinners coming to Christ, our friends and our family, and we're breaking our hearts for them, we're crying to God that they may be saved: but you know, that is only ever the result and the effect of Christians coming to Christ. People being saved is only a side-effect in revival, because revival, awakening, begins in the personal experience of individual Christians who have their hearts revived! Now how does that happen? Let me give you it in three ways, how we bow low in order that we might reach high.
Three things, first of all: brokenness, brokenness. It was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who said: 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit'. We need, as Christians, to experience brokenness. What is brokenness? Brokenness is a dying to self, a dying to selfish attitudes if you like. Paul said in Galatians: 'I am crucified with Christ', he said, 'Nevertheless I live, yet not I' - he's saying, 'I'm not physically dead, but the old man in me is crucified with Christ, my old nature is dead and it is Christ and His life that lives through me. The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me'. So the message of brokenness in the New Testament is that there is not one cross, but two crosses - and we are meant to be on the other one!
In a sense it's the same cross, for there, when our Lord Jesus died, our old nature was put to death with Him. Our cross is to recognize that we are dead with Him, and alive unto God through Him. Self has been put to death, if you're saved, on the cross - but we have a job to reckon it dead. How is your self? It's a very nebulous term, isn't it? Let's put a bit of flesh on it: self is when we are critical of others; self is when we are envious of others with more than ourselves, in whatever capacity; self is when we - oh, and the deep conviction that comes over me - when we are irritable, when we express annoyance at the least things, when we are resentful towards others for whatever reasons, when we are anxious, when we worry. But self is also when we are shy, overly shy, when we are self-conscious, when we are reserved to the extent that we won't speak for Christ, we won't step out for Christ, we won't be unashamed for Christ. Then when we relate to others, here's where self comes in: self is when we are hard, when we are unyielding in our attitude to others.
Sometimes in this great theme of revival we become so personal about ourselves and so introverted that we forget that how we behave towards others has got as much to do with why we're not experiencing personal revival as how we behave or don't behave towards God. Others! Genesis teaches us that, in Genesis 3 man sinned towards God and his communion and fellowship was broken, but what happens in Genesis 4? Man sins towards his brother and murders! As soon as fellowship is cut off with God, it's so often the case that our fellowship is cut off with our fellow man. You know, self is so often manifested in our lives through unyielding to others, our unyieldedness to God can often be measured by our unyieldedness to others!
Do you know - we're talking about brokenness now - do you know what God's, probably God's number one way of breaking us is? Using other people, and sometimes other Christians. Now this is staggering, it frightens us, we become uneasy because we don't react well when other people try and vex us - particularly the Lord's people, because we think 'Well, they should know better, and I shouldn't be taking that from them of all people'. But this is the way God humiliates us at times, He allows it to happen for our good - why? So that there would be a deeper channel carved out of our lives, so that the life of Christ may flow through, so that our selves may be put to death.
I don't think I've grasped this yet myself, because I'm sure - like many of you, if not most of you - when these vexing trials come into my life, particularly caused by other people, my natural reaction is to want to fight it, to want to resist it. 'I'm not going to allow this to break me!', when what God actually wants me to do - and some of you have been experiencing great perplexities and difficulties and tests this week - God actually wants us to embrace them! Embrace them into our hearts to allow those things to break us - why? Because when our earthen vessels are broken, the light of His glory will shine forth! You see, when we try to do things in our own strength, we've missed the plot - it's not by power, nor by strength, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord. There is a breaking process, a wearing down process, where God deals with our self and breaks our self - do you know what this means? This matter of brokenness is the case of being a thousand choices every day of our lives, how we react to things in our attitudes.
You know, revival, personal revival, can be a continuous thing - it ought to be. Norman Grubb wrote a book many years ago 'Continual Revival', brokenness is a daily occurrence. Our Lord said: 'Take up the cross daily, and follow me', that means there's meant to be a daily brokenness where we bow before our Lord and we lose ourselves. Self-denial is when you don't put salt on your chips, and you don't put butter on your bread, and you go off chocolate for a couple of weeks - that's not what the Bible is talking about. Denial of self is when you lose yourself, everything! People say, 'Boy, that would make you miserable! No wonder nobody is joining your churches these days!' - wait till I tell you, this is what Christians in particular need to realise very very quickly: it makes you miserable not to lose yourself to Christ! How many Christians are going around our land bitter, why? Because they are resisting, they're unyielded not only to God but to their brothers and sisters in Christ. They're not able to bury the hatchet, that old iron Adamic will is asserting itself!
But you know, something else, this brokenness relates to how many Christians try to live the Christian life - and the imperative word there is 'try'. You're trying, perhaps, to live the Christian experience by self - and that's why you're getting frustrated, that's why it's like the Grand old Duke of York: when you're up, you're up; and when you're down, you're down. It's like a roller coaster experience, because you're looking to inner strength, you're not willing to be broken. Now listen: there's only one remedy, whether you're saved and struggling and selfish, or whether you're a lost sinner and you're bound by sin and habits, and you're on your way to hell, there's only one answer - and that's at the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. That's the only place, because it's only there you see your sin and your self really the way it is - where it broke the blessed Son of God, you're not likely to be broken until you see Him broken for you, until you see your own inability to do anything about your spiritual life, and you bow beneath the cross of Jesus and say: 'Lord, bend that stiffnecked 'I', help me to bow the head and die, beholding Him on Calvary who bowed His head for me'.
Are you broken, Christian? Are you allowing yourself to be broken? Here's the second thing: after breaking there is cleansing. First John chapter 1: 'If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanseth us' - goes on cleansing us - 'from all sin'. Don't struggle with your sins, there's a message for someone here today: you're lost and you think you can't get saved because you can't handle sin, and you know sin has got you in its grip - that's a lie of the devil! You've got to understand: you can't struggle with sin, you can't wrestle it down onto the canvas and overcome, you've got to bring the sin into the light - Christian you've got to bring your sin and yourself into the light, you can't put it to death, you've got to bring it to the cross and confess it to the Lord. When you bring it into the light, He sees it, He cleanses it, and His blood will go on cleansing you from it. More than that: His blood will deliver you from it.
There's got to be brokenness and cleansing, and you'll only find those two things at the cross of the Lord Jesus. Here's the third thing: filling. This is revival, what is revival? It is a reaching high for God, but that can only be attained by the bending low in brokenness, in cleansing, and in filling:
'Emptied that Thou shouldest fill me,
A clean vessel in Thy hand;
With no power but as Thou givest
Graciously with each command.
Channels only, blessed Master,
But with all Thy wondrous power
Flowing through us, Thou canst use us
Every day and every hour'.
Is that not what we need? Andrew Murray said: 'Just as water ever seeks and fills the lowest place, so the moment God finds you abased and empty, His glory and power flow in' - but God does not fill dirty cups, God does not fill selfish cups. Anything that springs from self and sin, as Roy Hession put it, all of those sins were put into the other cup which the Lord drank to the dregs at Calvary. If we allow Him, in His light, to show us what is in our cups - our self and our sin - and then give it to Him, He will cleanse them in His precious blood. That's what we need: brokenness for our sin and our self, we need cleansing in the blood of Christ, and we need filling.
Here's a lesson I learned very early on in my Christian experience, and it has never left me. It's very very simple: the only life that pleases God is His own life. Did you hear that? The only life that pleases God is His own life, and that's what revival is: the life of the Lord Jesus poured into the human heart! A reaching high for God that is attained by a bending low in brokenness, cleansing, and filling with the full life of God itself. Personal revival must precede widespread revival. This reaching high for a greater experience, reaching high for God in greater knowledge, can only be attained by a bending low - and we have Isaiah 57:15 for it, but we have the Lord Jesus Himself. He said in John 14: 'If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him' - it's the same thing. The God who inhabits the high and lofty place, inhabits that transcendent sphere with the man, the woman, the teenager, the boy or girl who bends low in brokenness, cleansing and confession.
What is revival? A reaching high that is only attained by the bending low. I heard a lovely story, and with this I finish, of a family - a father and a mother - who went on holiday in a boarding house. The wee girl was taken into her room, and she was all delighted with it - and there was a picture of the Lord Jesus above the headboard. There was a dresser in front of the bed with a mirror, a vanity mirror in front of it is. The next morning when she woke up, she shouted: 'Mummy, Daddy! I can see Jesus!'. She could see the reflection of the picture of the Lord in the vanity mirror in front of her, and she was so enamoured by it that she shot up, and then she couldn't see Him! Then she lay down again, and then she saw Him; then she shot up again, and she couldn't see Him - and then she lay down, and with her eyes fixed on that mirror and that picture of Christ, she shouted into her Mum and Dad: 'Mum, when I lie down I can see Jesus, but when I sit up I can only see myself! Every time I see myself I can't see Him!' - that's it, that's it! Revival in a nutshell: a reaching high to the high and lofty One will only come, God will only come into my personal life - what He does with this church and this community, that, in a sense, is up to Him - but what He does with me is up to me, what He does with me can affect so much...if I allow Him to affect me.
May God bless His word to our hearts, and may this week we experience something - oh that we wouldn't just be talking about this, but that we would experience something with God's help.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Lifeboat Mission in Moy, Northern Ireland, by David Legge. It was transcribed from the first recording in his 'The Revival We Need' series, entitled "What Is Revival?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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