The Interceders Encourager No. 3
Preaching And Revival
Invariably, people point to the relationship between prayer and revival, but only rarely is the relationship between preaching and revival emphasised, yet history shows that the two are very closely connected. All the great revivals to the end of the nineteenth century were linked with great preaching, and those living at the time would never think of one without the other.
Charles Spurgeon said, "The main instrumental cause of a great revival must be bold, faithful, fearless preaching of the truth as it is in Jesus… added to this there must be the earnest prayers of the churches." "Sustained gospel preaching," wrote Eifion Evans, "is the chief means that God uses when He sends an extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit in revival. In seeking revival, therefore, we seek God’s face to provide godly ministers, powerful preaching and persevering expectancy for God’s intervention."
In the history of Wales, revival can definitely be seen as linked with preaching, for during the lifetimes of the great preachers from the beginning of the ministry of Howell Harris in 1735 to the death of John Elias in 1841, there were at least sixty revivals. If the period were extended to 1860, the revivals could still be linked with particular preachers, such as Rees Rees, Humphrey Jones and David Morgan. But after 1860 there were only two major revival periods recorded in the next 45 years, as great preaching decline due to the influence of liberal ideas and the drift away from Bible standards. Moreover, the quick falling away in many churches after the 1904-1906 revival can definitely be linked with lack of strong Biblical preaching before, during and after the revival period.
In England, the great age of preaching, associated with George Whitefield. John and Charles Wesley, John Cennick, William Grimshaw and many others can be equated with the period of the evangelical revival, 1735-1791. After that, apart from the ministry of William Bramwell, the early years of the Primitive Methodists and the Bible Christians, later under Charles Finney and the effects of the 1858-1860 revivals in England, and the ministry of Douglas Brown in 1921 in East Anglia, no Bible based revival took place.
While it is true that there have been times when the Spirit has been poured out without any preaching taking place as, for example, at college campus revivals in the USA and in East Africa in the 1930’s, these have been limited and localised in their influence, while all revivals without strong preaching have had shallow results.
Bearing all this in mind, for a revival to be Word based, deep, wide ranging and long lasting, there has to be anointed preaching Iinked with the praying. There needs to be praying for the preachers to be raised up, and praying for the ministry of the preachers. "In what way does the Holy Spirit of God revive and quicken the Church?" asked John de Witt, "In most instances, the principal instrument by which revival has been given to the Church is the preaching of the gospel, indispensably linked with believing, passionate, consistent prayer, but nevertheless, the preaching of the gospel." "There are many who are praying for a world wide revival", wrote A.W.Pink, "but it would be more timely and more scriptural for prayer to be made to the Lord of the harvest that He would raise up and thrust forth labourers who would fearlessly and faithfully preach those truths which are calculated to bring about a revival." That is why we as Interceders are praying for preachers to be raised up.
"Many overlook the fact that prayer might be offered for ever by itself, and nothing would be done, because sinners are not normally converted by the direct contact of the Holy Ghost, but by the truth employed as a means. To expect the conversion of sinners by prayer alone, without the employment if truth, is to tempt God," said Charles Finney. If a farmer does not plough the ground and sow the seed, he cannot expect a harvest So it is as the hearts of people are prepared by the Holy Spirit and the word of God is sown and implanted, that a harvest is reaped. We cannot excuse ourselves from the responsibility to preach the-word.
The condition of the Church in Britain in the early 18th century was so bad that many despaired for the future of the Church and the nation. In 1738, Bishop Berkeley declared that morality and religion had collapsed to a degree that had never been known in any Christian country. The situation was changed only when holy anointed preachers, backed by fervent prayer, declared the greatness, the holiness, the judgment and the grace of God. Through this, the whole nation was transformed as an awareness of God came over the country.
The 18th century preachers had very different personalities, but they I shared the same concern, "the getting of men and women into a vital, saving and covenant relationship with Jesus Christ, and so supernaturally altered that holiness will characterise their whole being: body, soul and spirit." Those words were written by Duncan Campbell, a 20th century preacher, hut one who understood the preachers of old, and who inherited their mantle. They were all holy men of God, who walked in humility before Him, and spent hours in prayer. They all had a passionate concern to see people saved from their sins, to see righteousness restored and God honoured in this country. That is why God was able to use them as channels of revival. Through their experience, we can see the truths that the Holy Spirit used to convict and convert, and the attitudes in them that were the means of His truth being imparted.
The truths they declared were: The greatness of God; The holiness of God, The Law of God, especially the unchanging obligations of keeping it; The sinfulness of all people, especially the deceitfulness of the human heart The certain condemnation of alI lawbreakers; The reality of hell; The death of Christ on the cross as the only sacrifice for sin and the only hope of salvation; The necessity of regeneration as a supernatural work of God; The wonder of the grace of God in Christ; The true repentance and faith needed by all; The holiness that has to be displayed as evidence; The sufficiency of Christ for time and for eternity.
The preachers spoke with the certainty that what they said was the truth, and if people did not accept it, they would perish forever; that they had to he born again or they would never see the kingdom of heaven. They preached, believing that as God had raised them up to declare His Word, that He would honour His Word and save people. They preached earnestly with passion and feeling. They preached directly at people, denouncing their sins, without fear or favour. They uncovered all the excuses that people tried to hide behind, and showed the impossibility of salvation by self righteousness. They aimed at people’s hearts and consciences, and stressed the urgency of getting right with God before it was too late. They made the things of eternity real and vitally important. They spoke with the authority of the living God, and enforced His Word on their hearers, making sure that it struck home, so all their hearers were left in no doubt as to their true state and condition before a holy God.
We could quote many examples. We will look at just two. The first is of Michael Roberts, who, after wrestling in prayer for a whole night, spoke to a large crowd in Llanidloes on the judgment of God. He described the judgment with such vividness that a great solemnity came over the whole multitude. He pictured the ungodly as losing the trial, and being unable to stand. He spoke of them as overwhelmed with despair, the pallor of death on their face; and their knees trembling. As he pressed home his points, some swooned and fell down, others wept, and hundreds of men cried out like the Philippian jailer, wanting to know how to be saved. As a result of this one sermon, it is said that a thousand people joined the churches of Maldwyn.
The second example is of John Wesley. On one occasion, "when he preached, the crowd was melted and subdued until it resembled a routed army, shaken with fear and broken with emotion, men and women falling to the ground in a passion of distress….. There was something in his discourse, a note in his voice, a flash in his eye that thrilled the crowd with awe, awe that often deepened into dread. The word in the speaker was one of perfect calmness, but it was the calm of power, of certainty, of authority which ran back into the spiritual world."
It is not surprising that J.C. Ryle, writing in 1868, said, "In my judgment, we have among us neither the men nor the doctrines of the days gone by... Once let the evangelical ministry return to the ways of the 18th century, and I firmly believe we should have as much success as before." Apart from the fact that I would extend the period of the great preachers into the first part of the 19th Century, especially in Wales, Ryle was quite right. And if he was right in 1868 how much more do we need such preachers today?
In the late 18th century, the 19th Century and the early 20th century, the people of Britain were generally Biblically literate, with a basic understanding of and belief in Christianity. The Holy Spirit was able to use that knowledge, and bring the people to repentance and faith without too much difficulty. This also provided the grounding to enable revivals to occur fairly regularly. But in early 18th Century Britain, the population was Biblically illiterate, and therefore the preaching of the full gospel to ordinary people was necessary to bring them to an understanding of it, as well as to bring them to conviction and conversion.
Today we are in that same position. Many people have been praying for revival for years, but have seen no response. The heavens seem as brass, and iniquity abounds more and more. What are needed are holy men of God, like the great preachers of the past, who will stand and declare the unchanging truths of the gospel that were declared with such power in the past When they preached those truths, God moved in response, for "God will back up what He owns, what He acknowledges and what He has declared as His truth." (Stewart Dool) The reason why God doesn’t back up or confirm what is preached today is because it is a man centred gospel, a man pleasing gospel, a man accommodating gospel. It doesn’t confront sinful man with the greatness of God and man’s rebellion against Him, nor with the holiness of God and man’s sinfulness, nor with the Law of God and the dire consequences of breaking it; so God cannot back it up or confirm it. "If the great doctrines of the Bible are nor brought into contact with the conscience and the heart," said W.B.Sprague, I expect to look in vain for anything like an intelligent conviction of sin, much less for the peaceable fruits of righteousness. It is when the law of God is exhibited in-all its extent and spirituality, and the gospel in alI its grace and glory, that we may expect to see men brought to a sense of guilt and then belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that they may be saved." That is why today we are not seeing conviction of sin nor the fruits of righteousness. We need to remember that God has said that if grace is shown to the wicked, he will not learn righteousness. It is only when God’s judgments are in the earth that the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.(Is.26:9-10) The unrepentant have to realize the impending judgment of God, and come to understand their own sin, otherwise they will not seek the righteousness of Christ. Moreover, they cannot understand or appreciate the grace of God in Christ until they have first realized the enormity of their sin and the punishment that they deserve.
What qualities, then, should our preachers today have, to be like the true revival preachers?
1) They must have a deep personal experience of the grace of God in Christ. No one can take a person further than he has gone himself. Gilbert Tennent was such a powerful preacher partly because he had passed through many deep and heart searching convictions.
2) They must be humble, and always make sure that God gets all the glory for everything in them and everything done through them. They must be self deprecating, or God cannot trust them with revival.
3) They must accept the Bible as the Word of God. "To the law and to the testimony. If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." (Is.8:20) This was one of Wesley’s favourite verses. "People who will not accept the Word of God, the Bible, as authoritative, are doomed to darkness," he said, "and can never bring any light into this dark world."
4) They must know the Bible really well, be able to quote much of it, and have the deepest grasp of the truths of the gospel. It is obvious from the records that this was true of all the revival preachers. They were fuIly assured of what they were proclaiming.
5) They must have a deep conviction that what they are preaching is God’s truth, and everybody needs it, as it is a matter of life and death. They must be determined to bring their hearers to the realization that without the grace of God in Christ, there is no hope for them at all. They are guilty, lost and hell deserving sinners. In the Lewis Awakening, the burden of Duncan Campbell’ s messages was the severity of God in judgment, the glories of heaven, and the terrible reality of doomed souls in a burning hell. "Listen, you preachers of the gospel," he wrote, "I am convinced that we have to get back to this emphasis. We have been soft pedalling far too long, and the so destroying doctrine of universalism is eating at the vital part of our message."
6) They need to live in the light of eternity, and to be so taken up with the glory of God and the lifting up of Christ, that the things of earth fade into insignificance, and they preach without fear or favour.
7) They must have a very good command of the language they preach in, to enable them to use many different words to describe, to convict, to root out and pull down, to inspire, to rouse, to excite, to enthrall, to captivate the minds of their hearers, and lead them to eternal realities.
8) They must have a creative imagination, to be able to paint wonderfully descriptive pictures in words.
9) They must have a clear, strong voice, and preach with the authority of God.
Their words should be like fire, and like a hammer that breaks the rocks (Jer 23:29), like a sharpened sword or a polished arrow,(Is.49:2) and like a threshing
sledge with sharp teeth.(Is.41 :15)
10) They must have the power of persuasion, the ability to present arguments
with overwhelming logic by the Spirit of God.
11) They must speak directly at people, and use the word "you". They must clearly speak against sin, and be specific, and name the sins.
12) They must have real depth of feeling, so that they feel the truths of God, and preach from the heart. Without this, the preacher cannot reach the hearts of his hearers. They must preach with tears, especially when preaching about hell. The passion and the urgency must be felt before they can be communicated. The heart of God seen in Gethsemane must be at the centre of their lives.
13) They must be full of the Holy Spirit, and preach with His anointing, so the Holy Spirit can use His word as a sword.
14) They must have a single aim; the salvation of people and the glory of God, They must be willing to go anywhere and do anything to win people, and save them from going to hell. Howell Harris said that he would rather lead a soul to God than have £1000. In those days, that was about twelve years annual salary.
15) They must believe that because they are declaring the Word of God, and preaching the gospel of His grace, by the power of His Spirit, that God will confirm it as His work.
16) They must live holy lives before the world. Without this, everything will count for nothing. They need to be like Robert Murray M’ Cheyne, who prayed "Lord, make me as holy as a saved sinner can be," and who was used in the most remarkable way. "Where are the preachers today who are prepared to break every habit, cancel their newspapers and magazines, selI their television, burn their novels, downmarket their car, their house, their holidays, and strive for purity of heart above everything else." (Brian Edwards)
17) They must be men of prayer, This is the great essential for preachers, not just snatches of prayer, but hours spent in prayer. There is no substitute for this, Prayer must be the driving force behind the whole life. Many preachers would like to preach like George Whitefield, but they need to remember that he would often spend entire nights crying out to God for souls. All preachers would love to see people reacting to their sermons as Jonathan Edwards did, but they should note that he spent days and nights crying out to God in prayer before the first outpouring of the Spirit in Northampton, Massachusetts. The sermons of Daniel Rowland were the results of protracted wrestlings with God. The floor of John Elias’ study was wet with his tears. Henry Rees said that most preachers do not realize the thousandth part of the influence that praying has on preaching.
After reading thus far, and seeing the qualities that the revival preachers possessed and displayed, and therefore what qualities are needed now, many preachers may well feel that they are not suitable for the job. But they need to realize that it is the heart that really matters. If the basic qualities are there, and the willingness is there, God can lead you on. It was said of Giacomo Savonarola that nature had withheld from him almost all the gifts of the orator, yet, due to his unconquerable persistence in seeking the power of the highest, the effect of his preaching was so resistless that the reporter who went to write down his sermon, laid down his pen with an apology written later, "Such sorrow and weeping came over me that I could go no further." These are the kind of preachers we need today.
John Wesley’s first questions that he asked about his lay preachers were, "Is anybody convicted by their preaching? Is anybody made mad by their preaching?" If the answer to both of these was in the negative, the preacher was removed. If the same question were asked today, how many preachers would be removed? "True gospel preaching lays the conscience bare, and reveals sins as they will be on the day of judgment," wrote E.M. Bounds. "The preaching that does not do this, and is not aimed at the hearer’s conscience, is like a bullet fired into the air. Real preaching rebukes, reproves, exhorts, and is clothed with the terrors of the judgment. Its aim must be to separate and purge a person from his sins."
"But we are afraid of disturbing people today….There are those who say we mustn't’t frighten people," said Robert Barr. "I would to God that a wave of godly fear gripped our land... the Holy Spirit will have nothing to do with a message or a minister who is afraid of disturbing. You might as well expect a surgeon to give place to a quack doctor who claims to be able to do the job with some sweet tasting drug, as expect the Holy Spirit to agree that the tragic plight of human souls today can be met by soft and easy words. Calvary was a dreadful place- blood soaked wood, a bruised, lacerated and bleeding body hanging in a grotesque fashion, the sweat like blood in the garden, the cries of anguish. None of these were nice and pleasant because Jesus was dealing with something horrible, the sins of mankind. And that is what we are called upon to deal with today, the pride, the selfishness, the greed, the covetousness, the lies, the deceit, the foul language, the hatred, the violence, the cruelty, the rebellion against God and His ways. These things are…. horrible and abominable in God’s sight. They show the power of sin and the devil ruling in people’s hearts. That is why soft and easy words will never meet the need or deal with the problem."
Brother Yun, a house church leader from China, has visited many churches in the West, and has realized that the messages preached here, (along with most of the songs we sing), are weak and anaemic. They do not challenge or change people, but just make them feel good. Even in his day, Charles Finney realized that a weak, non challenging gospel was coming in. "Away with your milk and water preaching of the love of Christ that has no holiness or moral discrimination in it. Away with the preaching of a Christ not crucified for sin." Later, the Irish revival preacher, W.P.Nicholson, said, "Nothing is so alarming as the utter absence of alarm in our churches. Nothing is so awful in my mind as that sinners have no terror of sin or the judgment. Oh that God would so baptize with fire a thousand people as to render them incomprehensible amazement of power. Oh for a few men so dead to all things but God, and so filled with Him, as to make them more than a match for the rest of mankind."
It will not be easy to preach the whole gospel to Britain today. When the 18th century preachers presented the truths of God, at best they were heard in silence, but normally they were derided and attacked. We can expect no less today. But the likely opposition both inside and outside the churches makes it all the more necessary that the preaching should take place. We need men like Jeremiah who told people the truth about their sins, even though he was victimised for it, and nearly lost his life. We need men who are truly full of power by the Spirit of the Lord", and "will declare to Jacob his transgressions, and to Israel his sins." (Mic. 3:8) Paul told the Ephesian church elders that he had not shrunk back from declaring to them all the plan and will of God. (Acts 20:27) Why should he shrink from declaring it? Because he knew it was difficult and dangerous to tell sinners the truth about themselves. That is why most preachers do shrink back from declaring it today, because they are afraid of the consequences. For it means confronting people with the truth about themselves, not just on church premises, but everywhere, and going to where the people are, in pubs and clubs, at sports venues, at fairs and markets, in the streets and shopping centres, making God’s truth known in every way possible, by writing to local and national newspapers, writing to local and national governments. And the cost of doing this now is greater than it used to be, as laws have been passed in recent years making it more difficult, or even illegal, to preach what the Bible says: so preachers have to be prepared to suffer for that. But we are going to stand behind these preachers, and stand with them. It is time for the real Church to stand up and be counted.
We therefore need to pray for God to raise up preachers like those in the past who are holy, humble and a 100% in earnest for God, that they will rouse up the spiritually dead from the sleep of death.
Join with me in praying:
"0 for a trumpet voice, on all the world to call,
To bid their hearts rejoice, in him who died for all" (C.Wesley)
"Give the pure word of general grace, and great shall be the preacher’ s crowd,
Preachers who all the sinful race, point to the all atoning blood,
Open their mouth and utterance give, give them a trumpet voice to call
On all mankind to turn and live through faith in Him who died for all.
Thy only glory let them seek, 0 let their hearts with love overflow,
Let them believe and therefore speak, and spread Thy mercy’s praise below.
We need preachers who will scorn the praise and the criticism of others, who will lift up the standard of the cross, and shake the kingdom of hell.
It was said of Dafydd Morgan, the preacher used mightily by the Lord in the
1858-1860 Revival in Wales, that he went to bed a lamb, and woke up a lion. We need to pray for that to happen many times, and for God to change people, and make them into lions to preach His Word,
We also need to pray for preachers as they preach, We should pray for their anointing, and for the audiences they speak to, that their hearts will be softened or broken, and that the word spoken will accomplish what God desires, and will not return empty to Him .We need to pray that as preachers go out in the open air, and proclaim the gospel, (and there are some who are already doing this), they may see the hardest sinners broken and brought to the foot of the cross in real conviction of sin, as the revival preachers saw.
Humprey Jones, the man God used to start the 1858-1860 Revival in Wales, called the churches to hold prayer meetings every night. The people did so, and prayed with intensity that God would visit them again. As Jones preached, the people prayed, and the effect of the preaching and the praying was that the Spirit was poured out, and multitudes of people were savingly converted.
It is wonderful to read of Charles Finney, who experienced revival just about everywhere he went, but he had great intercessors praying for him day and night while he was holding his meetings.
Coming right up to date, Sammy Tippit, an American evangelist, s a network of intercessors who pray for him as he preaches. Since he started doing this, he has seen an incredible difference in the presence and power of God in his work.
The tragedy is that there are many evangelists and missionaries who are not closely linked with intercessors, and intercessors who are not closely inked with specific evangelists. The two must go together. Make sure you are backing up at least one front line evangelist in this country.
I am, therefore, issuing a call to all preachers to be what God wants them to be
a) To preach the truths that the Holy Spirit has used in the past to bring people to real conviction of sin, and to transformation of life.
b) To be the kind of preachers that God has blessed and owned and honoured in the past to bring about and sustain revivals.
Where are the preachers who will respond to this?
The main prayer force that lay behind the 18th Century awakening in Britain was the hundred years prayer meeting of the Moravians in Herrnhut in Germany that started in 1727. They began by praying for themselves, then the world, then their missionaries, and then the men that they contacted like John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, John Cennick and others. Thus these preachers had the backing of a body of earnest pray-ers and the Moravians were able to focus their prayers on particular individuals, and so spread the light of the gospel. Why should not The Interceders be used in the same kind of way? Pray for the Lord to bring preachers into our orbit, that we can pray for.
FOOTNOTE: If you know of preachers who agree with what I have written, or who might agree, and would like the prayer backing of The Interceders, please let me know. We need preachers who will commit themselves, (as you have committed yourself as an interceder), to preach the truths that God has honoured and will honour again, if we trust Him. It will not be easy, but I believe that God is wanting preachers to step out in faith, and commit themselves to this.
Please tell any preacher who is interested, to get in touch with me, as I have an invitation letter with a commitment form, similar to the Interceders one that you had, that I can send to them, and we will stand behind them in prayer.
Please pray that God will bring the true preachers and The Interceders together, and make them revival preachers, and use us all to change and heal this land, for His glory.
Yours in Him