The Heart Prepared For Revival
By Arthur Wallis
"Break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you" (Hos. 10:12).
Although God is the source of all revival, there are conditions that He expects His people to fulfill before they are ready to receive the outpouring of the Spirit. Hosea sets these before us in one of the most comprehensive statements on the way of revival to be found in Scripture. "Break up your fallow ground" – that is heart-preparation; "for it is time to seek the Lord, till..." – that is prevailing prayer; "He come and rain righteousness upon you" – that is spiritual revival. Here then are set before us the two all-inclusive conditions: heart-preparation and prevailing prayer. We cannot rightly separate them, for, as the verse suggests, they are intimately related. Sometimes when souls truly seek God they are shown their sin and barrenness, and heartbrokenness follows. With others, it is out of a time of heartbrokenness that they really begin to pray.
In this article we shall consider the heart prepared for blessing.
"Break up your fallow ground" is the figure that the prophet uses to impress this need of heart-preparation. What is fallow ground? It is simply ground which has in the past yielded fruit, but has now become largely unproductive through lack of cultivation, land that is lying idle. Seed may be sown upon it in abundance, the heavens might pour out a copious rain, but what would be the good of either so long as the ground is in this uncultivated state? As we look out upon the state of the church today, as we look within at the condition of our own hearts, we cannot but admit the accuracy of Hosea’s figure. Vast tracts of fallow ground in the hearts of professing Christians surely constitute the greatest barrier to the rain of revival. The characteristics of fallow ground must now be examined more closely.
Firstly, it is hard. The soil has become tightly packed; the clods are thick and coarse; men and animals have heedlessly crossed it so that it possesses a hard and brittle crust. Here is the way God describes the hearts of believers when they have become insensitive to the sins that grieve the Holy Spirit, and unresponsive to His still small voice. Here are hearts that have grown cold toward the Lord and His people, and indifferent toward the souls of the perishing. They are marked by formality in their fulfillment of spiritual obligations; and cold orthodoxy in their contention for the faith. This state of heart will often lead to a belligerent and graceless defense of minor points of doctrine, or to a holding fast the tradition of the elders. These are they who "strain out the gnat and swallow the camel" (Matt. 23:24); they "tithe mint...and pass over judgment and the love of God" (Luke 11:42). They profess much and possess little; they have all the right expressions but few of the right experiences.
In this state believers may diligently attend the ministry of God’s Word, the heart may be sown continually with the incorruptible seed, but there is no fruit unto holiness, for like the wayside ground in the parable, the seed lies upon the surface, and is quickly devoured by the agents of the evil one (Matt. 13:4). Such are "ever learning, and never able to come to the [experimental] knowledge of the truth" (2 Tim. 3:7). Perhaps this is the main reason why there appears to be so little effectual result from so much ministry of the Word. It is all too true of the church today, "Ye have sown much, and bring in little" (Hag. 1:6).
This hardness of heart is also revealed by unbelief in the display of God’s power (e.g., see Mark 3:5; 6:52; 8:17; 16:14). Are we who profess to be His disciples covering our unbelief about the possibility of revival by murmurings about "a day of small things," "the end times," or "the Laodicean age"? Let us search our hearts, lest He should say of us, "Ye do err, not knowing...the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). Is it not evident that this state of heart must be dealt with before there can be a manifestation of God’s power in revival? With the lesson of Israel before us (Heb. 3), who entered not into the promised land because their hearts were hardened in unbelief and disobedience (vv. 18-19), we do well to heed diligently these words of the Holy Spirit, "Today if ye shall hear His voice, harden not your hearts…" (v. 15).
Secondly, fallow ground is weed-covered. One of the main objects in cultivation is to eliminate weeds that would overrun the good seed or the growing plants. Thorns and thistles are part of the curse and typify sin (Gen. 3:18). Such weeds abound on fallow ground, so Jeremiah exhorts the people, "Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns" (4:3). Evidently they did not heed his words, for he said later, "They have sown wheat, and have reaped thorns" (12:13). Christ also described ground in the parable of the sower where thorns sprang up and choked the good seed. Where the diligent cultivation of the soul is lacking, one may be sure that thorns and thistles abound. As the gardener well knows, the weeds need not be willfully encouraged in order to flourish; they are the product of sloth, indifference, and neglect. A greater than Solomon, even He that searcheth the hearts, might have to say of many, "I went by the field of the slothful...and, lo, it was all grown over with thorns" (Prov. 24:30-31).
There is only one way we can begin to deal with all that we know is grieving to God, checking our growth, and hindering revival, and that is by breaking up the fallow ground. It is time to cease excusing our sins by calling them shortcomings, or natural weakness, or by attributing them to temperament or environment. It is time to cease justifying our carnal ways and materialistic outlook by pointing to others who are the same. Those "measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves with themselves, are without understanding" (2 Cor. 10:12). We must face our sins honestly in the light of God’s Word, view them as He does, and deal with them as before Him. Until we do, it would be well that God should withhold the rain of revival, "for the land which hath drunk the rain that cometh oft upon it...if it beareth thorns and thistles, it is rejected and nigh unto a curse; whose end is to be burned" (Heb. 6:7-8).
Thirdly, fallow ground is of necessity unfruitful. Despite abundant sowing and copious showers, the ground remains largely barren because of its condition. The fruit that God expects the believer to bring forth is not religious activity, or even zealous Christian service, so much as Christ-like character – "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control" (Gal. 5:22-23). Fruit is practical holiness in thought, word, and deed; fruit is likeness to Jesus Christ. It is possible to be zealously active in Christian service, and yet, when Christ comes to us as to the fig tree, yearning for fruit, He finds nothing but leaves. Who can measure His intense longing for fruit from those who are "God’s husbandry" (1 Cor. 3:9)? All God’s dealings with us, in mercy or in judgment, are designed to produce "fruit," "more fruit," "much fruit" (John 15:2, 5). How much does He find? How much is choked by weeds? Peter explains clearly how to avoid becoming fallow ground, by "adding on your part all diligence" to produce the fruit of righteousness, "For," says he, "if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
If Hosea’s figure of fallow ground is an accurate description of our own hearts, and if we are deeply concerned to remedy the situation, then we must face this command, "Break up your fallow ground." There is a sense in which God may break us in order to bless us, but here God places the onus upon us by commanding us to do it. It is as dangerous to expect God, by some sovereign act, to do for us what He has commanded us to do for ourselves, as it is to strive to do for ourselves what He has promised to do for us. In the path of spiritual progress there is no little emphasis in Scripture on the part the believer has to play. We read, "Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye doubleminded" (Jas. 4:8), and again, "Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor. 7:1). Thus it is with this question of heart-preparation; the responsibility is ours.
God’s contention with Israel was that they were "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation that prepared not their heart" (Psa. 78:8). If we are to have revival it must come from heaven, it must be the result of divine intervention, but how can we expect God to rain righteousness upon us before we have broken up the fallow ground? The words of Samuel should come as a challenge to the people of God today: "Prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve Him only: and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines" (1 Sam. 7:3). Are you ready to obey?
To "break up the fallow ground" of our hearts means to bring them to a humble and contrite state before God, for this is the only state of heart that God can revive, the only state that is ready for the rain of revival. "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" (Isa. 57:15).
It was in the form of pride that sin first broke into the universe through the heart of Satan, and bore fruit at once in self-will and rebellion (Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:12-17). It was through temptation to pride that Satan first seduced Eve (Gen. 3:6), and thus breathed this deadly poison into the human race. Pride finds expression in the lifting up of self and the justifying of self before God and man. It is the subtle, evasive influence behind many of the works of the flesh. It quickly leads to disobedience to God. When thwarted or humiliated it gives way to envy and bitterness. In order to justify itself it will not hesitate to slander, or speak evil of others. In the pursuit of its ends it may readily stoop to hypocrisy and deceit. Pride is fruitful of all manner of disorders and divisions amongst the people of God. It is perhaps the greatest enemy of revival, and the most difficult to diagnose and deal with. The most deceitful thing in the world is the heart of man, and only God can truly know it. Pride is woven into the warp and woof of it, and only the Spirit of God can expose it. We dare not try to search our own hearts, but can only cry to God with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any way of wickedness in me" (Psa. 139:23-24).
Many of the afflictions we are called upon to endure, whether spiritual, mental, or physical, are but the mighty hand of God upon us to bring us low before Him. "Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee...in the wilderness, that He might humble thee, to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart..." (Deut. 8:2). Whether these wilderness experiences serve this divine purpose or not will depend on our attitude to the hand that afflicts us. If we can kiss that hand, and say, "In faithfulness Thou hast afflicted me" (Psa. 119:75), His purpose is surely being achieved. But the hand that softens one may harden another, just as the sun that melts the wax will harden the clay.
Are you resisting God’s dealings with you? Remember, His powers of resistance are infinitely greater than yours. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. Be subject therefore unto God" (Jas. 4:6-7). If you are conscious of any spirit of pride, now is the time to deal with it. Before you read another page bow your knees before the Father and confess to Him all that you know of it. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you" (1 Pet. 5:6). James reminds us that there must be transparent honesty, sincerity, and openness over this step, for he says, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord" (Jas. 4:10). If we simply did it in the sight of men we could be secretly proud of being humble; but there can be no trifling with God, for "the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7), "and by Him actions are weighed" (1 Sam. 2:3).
To humble ourselves is not to take a place lower than that which befits us, but simply to take our rightful place before God; not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but "to think soberly" (Rom. 12:3). It means that we occupy that station that becomes us as creatures before our Creator, as sinners before our Savior-God, as children before our Heavenly Father. Are we willing to take that place? This is where breaking up the fallow ground begins. This is the first step, costly but indispensable, towards revival; and those unwilling to face it may as well cease to think or talk about revival any more. Do you acknowledge the importance of the step but feel that the exhortation does not apply to you? Then you may be the very one who most needs to heed the command. "If My people, which are called by My name, shall humble themselves...then will I hear... forgive...and heal" (2 Chr. 7:14). The revival under Josiah took place when the king gave the lead in abasing himself before God: "Thus saith the Lord...because thine heart was tender, and thou didst humble thyself before God...I also have heard thee" (2 Chr. 34:26-27). This has ever been the pathway to blessing. When the people of God humble themselves in repentance, God will exalt them in revival.
God not only revives "the spirit of the humble" but also "the heart of the contrite ones." When in humility we take our rightful place before God, He can then deal with us as He was unable to deal with us before. The heart is now ready for that breaking up out of which revival flows. To the soul humbled before God, or at least ready to be humbled, there comes a fresh revelation of the infinite holiness of God and the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Well may that one cry out:
Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
How pure the soul must be
When, placed within Thy searching sight,
It shrinks not, but with calm delight
Can live, and look on Thee.
– T. Binney
The light that streams from the throne illuminates the Cross. The heart is melted by that measureless love that found expression in the sacrifice of the Redeemer. The sin – one’s own sin – that nailed Him there is seen in terrible contrast.
In His spotless soul’s distress
I perceive my guiltiness;
Oh, how vile my low estate,
Since my ransom was so great!
– R. Chapman
Nothing can more effectively bring a soul to that state of heart that God can revive than a vision of the Cross. It is in such an experience of God that the heart is broken over its sin, its unbelief, its coldness, and brought to repentance. The channel that God uses in revival is the channel of a broken heart.
The Hebrew word translated "contrite" has the root meaning of "bruised" or "broken to pieces." Job uses it when defending himself against the accusations of his friends, "How long will ye vex my soul and break me in pieces with words?" (19:2). It would be well if the words of the Almighty would have this effect on our hearts, but this cannot be until there is a fresh dealing with God, as many instances in Scripture reveal. The contrite heart is that in which all that is rocklike and resistant to the will of God has been reduced to powder, because of submissiveness to the action of His word and providences. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise" (Psa. 51:17).
Contrition involves repentance toward God, for all sin is primarily against Him (Psa. 51:4). There must be confession, without which there can be no forgiveness or cleansing (1 John 1:9), and to confess means to identify ourselves with our sin before Him, to point to it and acknowledge, "Lord, that is mine."
Often our sin has not been a private matter between God and us; others have been involved. For instance, the sin of which we are convicted may be that we have wronged another by some deceitful or unkind act. It may be that bitter, wounding words were spoken to or about another. It may be we have harshly criticized others, secretly pulled their characters to pieces, exaggerated their apparent faults, or presented them in the worst possible light. It may be we have said or done no such thing, but our sin has been in the attitude we have taken up towards another: we refuse to forgive from the heart someone who we feel has wronged us; a spirit of envy, of bitterness, or of malice has dominated our thinking in relation to that person. Where the Holy Spirit convicts us of such sins against others, confession to God alone does not and cannot meet the case.
The Lord Jesus said, "If...thou art offering thy gift at the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way, first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift" (Matt. 5:23-24). God cannot accept and bless our gifts of worship, of service, or of substance, nor can He bestow upon His children His fatherly pardon until first we have dealt with such wrong relationships. The terms of Christ’s command are plain: "first be reconciled" and then come to God.
Since all sin is primarily against the Lord, there must always be confession to Him. Where others have been affected or wronged, the Spirit of God will indicate any confession that needs to be made to them. The sensitivity of the Holy Spirit is needed when confessing to another whom we have wronged, that we do not wound by our confession. Sometimes confession must be accompanied by restitution, that is, the restoring of that which we have wrongly obtained or retained. It involves undoing, as far as possible, the result of every wrong that has affected others.
It is a deeply solemn matter to seek God’s face for revival, for He may deal with us as He does not deal with others. No sacrifice made in the interests of revival can be accepted as a substitute for implicit, unquestioning, wholehearted obedience. "Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22). Finney put his finger on the root of the matter when he described revivals as "a new beginning of obedience to God." "Oh that My people would hearken unto Me, that Israel would walk in My ways! I should soon subdue their enemies, and turn My hand against their adversaries" (Psa. 81:13-14).
Pathway to Revival
Here then is the first great condition of revival, that brokenness of heart that is sensitive to the least touch of the Spirit, and that has only to know the will of God to do it. One may cross fallow ground and not see where the feet have trod – no impression has been made. But when the plough and the harrow have done their work, and the soil is soft, then the print of the foot is clearly seen. When our hearts are sensitive, responsive, and impressionable to the movements of God across our lives, we may be sure that the fallow ground is broken.
My reader, have you come to this point? Are you willing for God to bring you there? If so, the first step is with you. There must be, in the words of saintly Robert Chapman, "a looking back, and a dealing afresh with God respecting past iniquities." This is the way to a humble and contrite heart.
Having faced what is implied in this command to break up the fallow ground, let us nevertheless remember that ploughing is not reaping; that breaking up the fallow ground is not the coming of the showers; that repentance is not revival. The one is but the pathway to the other. The farmer has no interest in ploughing save as the indispensable means to the harvest.
To make brokenness an end instead of a means is not only to miss that fuller end that God desires, but may also lead us into an unhealthy introspection, if not into definite bondage. But how are we to know when the breaking up has been done to God’s satisfaction? He alone can reveal this to us, as Isaiah tells us – "For his God doth instruct him aright, and doth teach him" (Isa. 28:26). We cannot, of course, put these different processes of preparation into watertight compartments, for they are too intimately related, and dependent the one upon the other. As the man who is sowing or reaping now, will, in a few months hence, be ploughing once again; so God has often to bring the yielded servant back from his sowing or reaping to a deeper and more thorough ploughing. But with all these divine cycles there should be progress. If a movement does not lead to reaping one may question whether it is revival in the full sense of the word.
– Condensed from In The Day Of Thy Power by Arthur Wallis, © 1956 by Arthur Wallis. Used by permission of his family.