The Heart-Cry For Revival That Earth Needs
By Richard Owen Roberts
Edited from a message delivered at the "Heart-Cry for Revival" Conference near Asheville, North Carolina, May 23-27, 2000.
Let me begin by addressing to you a problem that I think we have to realistically face. This nation of America was founded in the spirit of revival. In the earliest days of the New England colonies they sought the face of God for revival and by the grace of God, they experienced incredible revival long before this nation was established in a formal fashion. The heart-cry for revival existed so that in the New England colonies in the 1600’s, they were moved upon to cry unto God for gracious outpourings of the Holy Spirit, and He responded to them.
Virtually everyone has some awareness of the moves of God in America in the 1700’s. There was that incredible stirring that began in New Jersey, it appears, under Theodore Jacobus Frelinghuysen, the Dutch Reform man. It touched the Presbyterians in the log college gatherings, and swept through New England under the ministry of Edwards and Whitfield. We call that movement the First Great Awakening, beginning about 1732 and running on wave after wave after wave until the death of Whitfield in 1770.
Then everything was interrupted by the War of Revolution, but by 1792 the burden was back in place for revival. Outbreakings of the Spirit’s stirrings began in many parts of the then existing colonies and kept on into the 1800’s, and wave after wave after wave of revival occurred until 1858 and 1859.
But since then, there have been no national stirrings at all in this nation. There have been some lovely touches of the Holy Spirit, some sweet and precious things of the Holy Spirit. For instance, in 1904 and 1905, as a spillover from the great revival in Wales, there were stirrings in parts of this country, especially parts that were heavily populated by people of Welsh descent. But there has been no national revival since 1859.
Have you ever asked why? It seems to me that we are grievously offensive to God when we don’t raise the right questions. Why did our God so magnificently bless this nation in the 1600’s and in the 1700’s and in the 1800’s and why has He allowed us to slip into a deep and profound and agonizing decline morally and spiritually since then? I know not everyone will agree with what I’m calling wisdom in asking the question, "Why?" and certainly many will disagree in the answer that I propose. But I would like to suggest three things, not that this covers the whole, but three things of tremendous consequence.
A First Answer To "Why?"
First, about 1826 there arose a Scottish man by the name of Edward Irving, who has been labeled by thoughtful men since then as an "enthusiast." That is not the same idea as the term enthusiastic. An "enthusiast" is a person who has such a high sense of himself with his own calling under God that he will not submit his notions to others. He will push ahead with his convictions whether right or wrong, whether building and constructing for good or whether destroying all.
Edward Irving was an "enthusiast." He was captivated by the whole concept of the Kingdom of God and began a teaching that has become extremely popular, an interpretation of Scripture that moved into a future age, many passages of Scripture which should be interpreted and applied and prayed over in the here and now. He introduced concepts concerning the return of the Lord and related passages and gave them a slant that led people to the conviction that we really cannot expect anything great, anything gracious, anything glorious in this age. But the great blessing, he said, is to come in a future age.
That particular teaching, although censored by the Church of Scotland, nevertheless caught on among many and was widely spread by some who rejected other views that Irving held. Irvings’s view on millennialism was popularized, so that the views that were introduced for the first time to the world under Irving, have become the predominant views of this generation.
Think of the question I’ve put in front of you: why are revivals so rare? Well, if many of the passages of Scripture that speak about the Spirit of God coming in great power, and the Kingdom of God building at phenomenal rate, and the whole earth coming to bow before our Saviour-Redeemer--if these passages are put off into another age, it has an amazing effect upon prayer for revival. It tends to shrivel the heart-cry for revival. If, in other words, you come to the conviction that in these last days, things are going to get worse and worse and worse, it will profoundly affect your whole life and your whole ministry.
During those generations of which I spoke when revival after revival after revival was visited upon the people of God, they had a conviction that God was on the throne and that as long as God was on the throne, there were to be anticipated outpourings of the Spirit of God. I say there is something grievously wrong in supposing that things are only going to get worse and worse. Why not believe that the power of Christ is as great today as it ever was, and the probability of an incredibly wonderful outpouring of the Spirit of God is ours to long for and to agonize for and to cry unto God for?
So this wrong influence in theology is the first of the influences that I believe have led us to this tragic place where we’ve seen no massive revivals in this nation since 1859. Because we of America are exporters and much of the world is under our influence, it’s not only America that has suffered from a lack of revivals, but much of the rest of the world has been robbed of the blessing of divine hope in the unfulfilled promises of God by this erroneous emphasis in theology.
A Second Reason Why No Revival
The second thing I introduce is that soon after the rise of this Irvingism and then the various cults and sects that came out of that, here in America occurred the rise of Finneyism. Charles G. Finney was a good man and a godly man. But he believed that a revival was like a crop. If you plow and plant and cultivate and water, you’re bound to have the harvest. Some men took Finney’s views and pushed them to extremes and came to believe that we can have revival any time we want it, and all we have to do is get busy and plant and cultivate and water and we’ll have it.
[Editor’s note: In a panel discussion, Richard Owen Roberts explained more fully about this. He commented: Charles G. Finney was a great and a godly man and he himself was wise enough to know that he had to stay in his prayer closet; he had to completely depend upon the Lord. All great men have around them their satellites, and you never have a satellite who is as great as the one he revolves around. I’m speaking now purely in the spiritual realm. Finney had his satellites, the men who surrounded him and that worked around him. When Finney said something that they thought meant thus and so, they carried what Finney said to an extreme that Finney himself would not carry it. Because they were lesser men and they did not have the same absolute dependence on God that Finney had, they then went rushing out and they did something they thought Mr. Finney was encouraging, and they did it without the power of God.]
Revival is God in the midst of His people. Revival is God being God; God doing exactly what He wants to do when He wants to do it. He cannot be controlled; He cannot be manipulated; He cannot be forced; He does exactly what He pleases.
A Third Error
A third error has come on much more recently. This is the error that turns the focus of revival from God to phenomena, to experience. This element doesn’t know what a revival is. They think it has to do with some phenomena. What it boils down to is that when a national conference called a "Heart-Cry for Revival" is announced and held in May in the year 2000, there’s a mighty small representation of the Church that attends.
I’m telling you there’s an explanation for why revivals are so rare. Part of our burden must be to offer a heart-cry for revival which earth needs. What our earth needs is a heart-cry for revival that is based upon the promises of the Word of God, and that has not given up hope.
Psalms 1 and 2
Let us turn to the Book of Psalms and read two Psalms together: Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 (included below). There’s a relationship between the two Psalms; they go together. All you have to do is glance to see that Psalm 2 is twice the size of Psalm 1. That seems inconsequential but it is a fact worth noting. Psalm 2 has four stanzas, and Psalm one has two stanzas. Psalm 2 ends as Psalm 1 begins.
Psalm 1:1: "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly." And look at how Psalm 2 ends: "Blessed are all they that put their trust in Him." One begins with a beatitude and the other ends with a beatitude.
Then it must also be said, Psalm 2 begins as Psalm 1 ends: "For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish." "Why do the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing?" Indeed it must be said that the same issue is dealt with in each psalm. Psalm 1 comes at it from a personal standpoint, an individual standpoint. "The man..." Psalm 2 comes at it corporately. It is a picture of the world and its stance.
Focus in on Psalm 2; as mentioned one moment ago, there are four stanzas of three verses each. The first stanza portrays man against God. The second stanza (verses 4-6), portrays God against man. The third stanza describes God for man, and the fourth stanza, man for God.
Let’s take the four stanzas and weigh them as best we can. I won’t go into the details of Psalm 2 being a Messianic Psalm. This Psalm is often recited in the New Testament, and indeed it is truly a Messianic Psalm. Let us take it stanza by stanza.
First Stanza: "Why do the heathen rage?" or as another translation puts it, "Why are the Gentile nations in an uproar?" Surely everyone here is aware that the heathen do rage against God. We Christians are informed frequently by the world around us that we are out-of-date, that we’ve lost track of reality; we’re going around pretending there is a great and awesome God who is to be feared. The world says that is sheer nonsense. The world says God is a figment of one’s own imagination; there is nothing to be concerned with in terms of a great and eternal God; it’s all in one’s imagination.
Why do the heathen rage? Why are they so sure that there is no God to be concerned with? And why do they imagine, we are asked in verse one, a vain thing? And surely the world around us does imagine a vain thing. They imagine that it is possible year after year after year, to live as if there is no God and never suffer any consequence for their vain imaginations.
Notice the next line: the kings of the earth take their stand. It is not describing something that happens accidentally. It’s describing a conspiracy. They gather together; they band as one; they set themselves against God. There is a determined conspiracy in the world to stamp out Christ and Christianity. We’re all aware that we are faced with that kind of a world. The rulers gather together against the Lord and against His anointed. Some officials in Washington, D.C. have demonstrated their contempt of God, and of God’s rule and authority. Does that prove that we’re at the end of time? Does that suggest that we all ought to run and retreat? Does that suggest that it’s all over as far as righteousness is concerned? As I noted already, that is the interpretation of many.
Look at verse 3. Think of the arrogancy of these words: "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us." Many of us are old enough to have lived through all that has happened in terms of casting off the yoke, tearing off the cords. Can you not envision right now in your own mind, situations in which you’ve heard people say they would not be chained by this old-fashioned morality? They would not allow any such thing as ten commandments to dictate their behaviour. They were free men, free to do whatever they please. Nobody has any right to interfere or to lay laws upon me, they say.
It’s not just an occasional individual here or there that has taken that stance. The world has conspired to overthrow the yoke of God, and to release itself from any bondage to His moral law, and they feel that in doing so they have been successful. They look at us and they sneer and they say, "Those stupid fundamentalists; those ridiculous and old-fashioned evangelicals--they aren’t smart enough to know they had their day and their day is gone." And some who number themselves as Christians believe the world, and the world says, "Your day is finished."
But look at the next stanza, starting with verse 4: does it say, He who sits in the heavens--the One who is enthroned in the heavens, He quakes? He lives in fear? Oh, My whole kingdom is in jeopardy; oh, what will I do? If they get any larger, I’ll have to disappear? Ha! He who is enthroned in the heavens "laughs." I wonder why we don’t laugh with Him.
And the next line: "The Lord shall have them in derision." He Himself will scoff at them. It does not matter how many millions join in this conspiracy to overthrow the Lord and His law, He scoffs; He holds them in derision. He doesn’t even rise up in agitation. He merely holds His enemies in derision.
But then, verse 5, He speaks unto them in His wrath; He rebukes them in His anger. He vexes them with His sore displeasure. All those who now laugh at our God will suddenly discover that our God has laughed at them. They are not the winners; they are the losers. They are not triumphing. They have their day, but their day is numbered. Our day is not numbered. We don’t have a limitation of time. We have by the grace of God all of eternity to join in the triumphant praises of our exalted, victorious King! The world doesn’t know that. They don’t even believe it when we tell them the message.
But now we come to the heart of the Psalm, and to the reason I have introduced it. Verse 6: "Yet have I set my King upon my holy hill of Zion." The king is already installed on His throne. It’s not that somehow the Church can be triumphant and somehow stand against all these forces of evil; Christ may be able to mount up on His throne--No! No! No! It is not that at all. He is already installed on His throne. But in the light of that, how can we live with such defeat? How can we be satisfied with the notion that things are just going to get worse and worse and worse.
God does already triumph. Why indeed, do the heathen rage? Most assuredly all their acts against God are acts of foolishness. I am reminded of that little parable Jesus told about two kings going to war. One king looks across at his opponent and he sees the monstrous size of the opposing army, and in an act of wisdom, he gets a white flag and he runs up the white flag. He sends an ambassador to the other army to request terms of peace.
When one army surrenders to another army, which army arranges the terms of peace? Not the loser, you can be sure, but the victor. And part of the message we need to carry into the world is that they are in a battle not merely that they are going to lose, but a battle that is already lost. They would do well immediately to shoot up a flag of surrender.
But instead, we act as it we are the ones in danger, as if we’re the ones that are going to have to surrender. Indeed, multitudes among us have already surrendered to the world. These haven’t all abandoned their religious profession, but they certainly are not victors with Christ in this conflict.
I’m saying to you that at the very heart of revival is the conviction that revival indeed will happen again and again and again until the very end. And I believe we do God a grave injustice when we act as if it is too late for any mighty acts of God to happen again.
Notice verse 7: "I will declare the decree. The Lord has said unto me, thou art my son. This day have I begotten thee." Spurgeon summarized the verse by saying, "God’s anointed is appointed and shall not be disappointed."
Look at the next statement, verse 8: If You want the heathen for Your inheritance, if You want the uttermost part of the earth as Your possession, You ask it of Me. Do you think the Saviour ever asked for the heathen as His inheritance and for the ends of the earth as His possession? I say absolutely He did.
When we were instructed last evening to pray in the pattern of the Lord’s prayer, "Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in Heaven," were we not part and parcel of the conviction that the inheritance of our Lord Jesus Christ has as its principal parts the utmost part of the earth as His possession, and the heathen themselves as His inheritance?
But is He getting that today? Well, not like He deserves. Not like He’s been promised, because we’ve contented ourselves as a Church with a lot less than God intended His Son should have. Some Christians have had as their most eloquent heart-cry, "O God, take me out of this mess, for all around me is wickedness and confusion. Just hurry up and come and deliver me from all the sordidness of the earth."
That’s pretty self-centered. When you reflect upon the Father having offered the Son as His inheritance, the heathen, and as His possession, the uttermost part of the earth, you ought to lay aside for ever all pessimistic views and you ought to say, "We have been brought into the Kingdom for such a time as this, to see our Saviour triumph in the midst of these oppressive and wicked people."
Is Revival A Realistic Possibility?
I’m really asking the question, is revival a realistic possibility? Have we any solid biblical grounds on which to beseech God to move in a powerful way? And I say to you, absolutely!
One of the most encouraging things anyone here could do would be to acquaint himself with the great literature of the church during the 1500’s, the 1600’s and the 1700’s, where a view that was full of hope was demonstrated. Why were revivals so common in those years? It was because the men and women of those days believed that Christ was to have as His inheritance the heathen and the ends of the earth as His possession. But now we’re ready to surrender that to Satan. And we live for the most part as if God ought to be satisfied with what He has given to the Son. We can’t hope for any more in these last days. God forgive our folly in that type of thinking. Focus upon the great hope that is set in front of us.
Stanza 1: man against God; stanza 2: God against man, laughing, holding them in derision; stanza 3: God for man; when Christ is offered the heathen for His inheritance, is not that God for man? What an incredible thing that millions, even billions of people scattered throughout the earth, multitudes of whom have never even heard the Name of Christ, are nonetheless to be His inheritance, and parts of the world that have long been under the reign of darkness are part of His possession. The only way this is going to be realized in our day is in a great revival that stirs the Church out of its apathy and causes the Church to go out triumphantly taking the message of the cross to the ends of the earth.
Let us look at the last three verses, the fourth stanza: verse 10, "Now, therefore, O kings, show discernment; be wise, now therefore, O ye kings." Surely part of the message that we need to carry to all the leaders of the world is, Your conduct has been full of folly; but now, act like wise men. Use those wonderful brains that God has given you. Turn them up full volume; listen; take warning.
Look again at verse 10. "Be instructed ye judges of the earth," He warns. "Worship the Lord with reverence. Serve Him with fear; rejoice even with trembling; kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way when His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him" (verses 11,12).
My dear friend, I am deeply agitated in my heart when I think of the multitudes of professed Christians who, in the midst of their fear and pessimism, see no hope of this wicked world coming to Christ. I am disturbed to the core of my being when I listen to many of the spokesmen of the Gospel telling us that if we want revival we just have to get busy and have it. And then, I’m likewise agitated when I encounter with frequency the many who are claiming that a noisy meeting full of excitement and having a good time, is revival. No! Revival is God in the midst of His people, and the whole world bowing down before His Throne and acknowledging Jesus Christ is Lord.
New Testament Scripture of Hope
But I want to introduce a second Scripture out of the New Testament--a Scripture that seems to me to be absolutely alive with precious hope. It is, I believe, one of the most profound promises of revival to be found anywhere in all the Scripture. I make reference to Romans, chapter 11.
Some read Romans 11 and they push it off into some distant time. You don’t have to embrace my viewpoint, but I am responsible before God to preach it as I see it. And I’m telling you, we have not seen a revival for a very long time because we have allowed ourselves to lose sight of our Lord Jesus Christ, the triumphant King, already gathering the nations together as His inheritance and the ends of the earth as His possession.
Part of the heart-cry for revival that is desperately needed in our land is a heart-cry that believes that in our day there can come again such a glorious season of divine blessing that something that has never yet happened in the history of the church, will yet happen. Never, never has the Jew been provoked to such jealousy by the Gentile Church that Jews have come flocking to Christ, and yet that’s the promise of Romans 11.
There is stirred up a longing in my heart for such an expression of love to Jesus Christ and faith that the Jew would be provoked to jealousy and would come flocking to Christ, saying, "It’s not fair that a blessing originally given us should now be theirs so exclusively; we insist on being in on this great blessing." And I believe that the heart-cry for revival includes a prayer of such depth and earnestness and consequence that its very heart is a yearning that the Gentile Church will become so truly godly and Christlike and filled with the blessings of our Father in Heaven that the Jew will say, "We must get in on that blessing!"
Is it happening in your life? Is it happening in your church? Is your heart full of hope that indeed the whole world will bow before our Saviour, or have you been content to leave that for some future age?
It is necessary for me to remind you that our Fathers saw great revival because they believed that the whole earth was to bow before the Lord Jesus Christ, and they prayed with that kind of a heart-cry. I would urge you to go back and to see where the Church was in the glorious days of Reformation and revival, and to ask God if He will not give you a heart that believes that Christ is to have the heathen for His inheritance and the utmost part of the earth as His possession, and the Jew be bowed in submission to our Lord Jesus Christ, and in love with Him because the Gentile Church is so aflame with the glory of God that the Jews must get in on the blessing.
Lord, You know the backgrounds from which we come. You know those who find ready agreement with what has been offered in this hour and those who must indeed struggle inwardly with it. Our burden is not that one man’s will prevails, but that the will of our God and Father prevails. I ask, Lord, that you will so dispose our hearts that no matter what our convictions about eschatology, fresh hope will grip us, and we will begin to have a heart-cry for revival that the earth needs.
Give to each of us a quiet and the calm heart that is set upon the determination to allow the Spirit of God to so move and work that revival may come again in our generation and we believe that at the very heart of all true praying for revival is Your glory. We grieve and we moan within our heart; we feel agony that You are robbed of Your glory by a church that wallows in defeat. So come among us in ways where the glory will be everlastingly Thine, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.