Revival or Revolution
October 20th, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
REVIVAL OR REVOLUTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-20-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Now almost always the message preached from this pulpit is an exposition of a passage in the Word of God. It is not so today. The sermon is a topical sermon. It is entitled Revival or Revolution. And the text that I use, in the Book of Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 19, is just an outline in itself of the importance of the message brought today concerning revival. The great lawgiver closes his address to his people with these words, Deuteronomy 30:19:
I call heaven and earth to record this day . . . that I have set before
you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that
both thou and thy seed may live:
That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest
obey His voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto Him: for He is thy
life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land
which the Lord sware unto thy fathers.
What an amazing presupposition, that whether they lived or died, whether they possessed their land or lived to see it wasted and destroyed, lay in their loving God, in their obedience to heaven’s will! Isn’t that an unusual and amazing thing; for as we equate history, to us, a nation lives or dies according to the strength of its battalions? Like Napoleon said, “God’s always on the side of the biggest battalion.” And to us the destiny of a nation lies in its Air Force, in its colossal megatons, in its great military superiority. To us a nation lives or dies in its brute strength. But the revelation from heaven says that whether a people live or perish lies in the imponderables of Almighty God! Now this sermon today, Revival or Revolution, is just an illustration of that revelation from the Book in history leading up to our present day and this present hour.
There was a time when the Lord looked down from heaven, and France was a cesspool of iniquity, tyranny, oppression. And there came to pass what a schoolboy reads in his textbook, the French Revolution, one of the most violent bloodlettings the world has ever known. From 1789 to 1794, France was bathed in violence, and in murder, and in blood.
And in the days of that violent French Revolution, the great God and Judge of all the earth, looked across that small, narrow channel to the nation of England. What did God find in England? The Lord looked down from heaven and saw in England, Charles Wesley singing songs of Zion; “Jesus, Lover of my Soul,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” And when Charles Wesley got through his singing, then his brother John Wesley, arose to preach the gospel of the Son of God. And while Charles and John were in one section of England, George Whitefield was on the banks of another river, or in the commons of another town, preaching the same glorious gospel of the Son of God.
What happened? What happened? While France was bathed in blood and the people were wasted and destroyed in murder and in violence, the most violent thing in the pages of history, what do you think was happening in England? Do you suppose God will devote to waste, and to blood, and to destruction, a nation singing?
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior hide,
Till the storms of life be past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.
[“Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” Charles Wesley, 1740]
The Lord bowed down His ear to hear. Even the angels stopped to listen to His saints in the earth. And there’s not a historian who writes, but that has the unanimous verdict, “England was spared, England was delivered from the great and horrible sweep of that murderous revolution because of revival; the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God.”
Now we are going to carry back through the ages; this is the Lord, this is the Lord God, this is the Judge of heaven, and He reigns in every age, and He lives in every generation, and His character changes not [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8]. The Lord God looked down from heaven on Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the lush Jordan plain, and the Lord said, “I will go down to see if it is according to the cry of violence that is come up to Me” [Genesis 18:20-21].
And the Lord sent His messengers, and two of His angels entered the gates of Sodom. And Lot, who was the mayor of the city, invited these illustrious guests; they looked like emissaries from heaven. Lot invited the illustrious guests into his home [Genesis 19:1-3], and that evening, the men of Sodom, who were vile and wicked, filthy beyond description, the men of Sodom gathered around the door of Lot’s house, and said, “We watched those men walk through this city, oh, they are enticing looking, they are handsome, they are very appealing to us, appealing beyond any men we ever saw in our lives. Now bring them out. Bring them out. We’ve committed ourselves to an orgy of sodomy tonight, bring them out!” [Genesis 19:4-5].
And Lot walked outside and stood on his porch and said, “Men of Sodom, men of Sodom, I have two daughters who are virgins. I will bring them out to you, and you do with those two virgins whatever pleases you in your sight, but not against these men, not against these men.” And the men of Sodom said, “Why, listen to that fellow, a sojourner, and he’ll be a judge over this [Genesis 19:6-9]. Get away! Stand aside [Genesis 19:6-9]. We’ve already made up our minds. We’re going to have an orgy tonight. We’re going to have a party tonight like nobody in this earth ever saw. Now bring us out those two men.”
And when they began to beat the very life out of Lot, those angels took Lot and pulled him inside the house [Genesis 19:10]. And the Lord God looked down from heaven and said, “It is enough. It is enough. It is enough! The filth, and the vice, and the dirt, it is enough, it is enough, it is enough!” And the angels seized Lot and took him out of the city with his wife and those two virgin girls [Genesis 19:16]. Fire fell from heaven, brimstone, burning, and to this day the very place is a scene of waste and destruction and uninhabitable dirt [Genesis 19:24-25].
The Lord God looked down from heaven on another great city, Nineveh, and the Lord said, “Such a vile and such an evil empire cannot cloud up My earth, My earth. I am going to wipe it off the face of the earth.” And He called one of His prophets and said, “You come here and you tell them, you preach to them, you cry against it” [Jonah 1:1-27] Well, when he finally got there [Jonah 3:1-2]—three days journey through that city [Jonah 3:3], that city was sixteen miles across, three days journey—when Jonah entered that city, God’s prophet, he cried against it! [Jonah 3:4].
And what happened? What happened? News came to the king of Nineveh; “The Judge of all the earth has put us in the scales of His balance. And God says we are to be wasted and destroyed!” The king said, “Let every man in this city and every beast in this city cover himself with sackcloth. Let every man cry unto God. Let every man turn from his evil way. It may be that God will turn” [Jonah 3:5-9].
And the Lord looked down from heaven on that great city, Nineveh, and even though His prophet had preached the word, “Unconditional, forty days and God will destroy the city” [Jonah 3:4], the Lord God looked down from heaven and there was the king on his knees, dressed in sackcloth, importuning the mercies of glory [Jonah 3:5-9]. And there were his ministers, and there were his noblemen, and there was the maid and the butler! And even the animals were covered in sackcloth. And the Lord said, “I cannot devote to ruin a city bowed before God like that. My arm fails me. I cannot strike!” And the great God in heaven withdrew that judgment of perdition, and destruction, and waste [Jonah 3:10].
The Lord Jesus came to His own people, showed them in Himself the goodness and the mercy of God [John 14:9]. This is the love of God, the tenderness of Jesus [Matthew 19:14]. This is the pity of God, the tears of Jesus [Matthew 11:29]. This is the sympathy and understanding of God, the gentleness of Jesus [Mark 8:2; Luke 19:41]. These are the words of God, the omnipotent words of Jesus [Matthew 8:27; John 7:46]. This is the power of God, the healing and the blessed ministries of Jesus [John 3:2]. And those vile and wicked people took the Son of heaven outside their city gates [John 19:20; Hebrews 13:12], and in blasphemy and repudiation and rejection, they nailed Him to a tree and lifted Him up beneath the sky [Matthew 27:32-50]. And the Lord said, “It is enough. It is enough. It is enough!” And within that very generation, the Roman legions came with their battering rams and with their sharp swords “and the blood,” Josephus says, “ran down the streets of Jerusalem waist deep,” one of the most fearful carnages ever recorded in the story of man.
Antioch, Antioch, 390 AD, Antioch; because of a violence in the city, Antioch lay under the interdiction of the Roman Caesar, Theodosius. And in those days of terror and threatened judgment from the greatest empire in the earth, when it looked as though the city by punishment would be destroyed, John Chrysostom, John the Golden Mouth, the princeliest preacher who ever lived, the king of the expositor of the Word of God, John Chrysostom, stood in his church and began to preach as never a man preached in this earth, and Antioch experienced one of the great revivals of all time.
The people by the thousands, and by the thousands, and by the thousands turned in faith to the living God. And the Lord looked down from heaven upon that vast ancient city of Antioch, and He listened to His golden mouth preacher declaring the great grace of God to a people who will repent and turn and believe. And the Lord saw the people down on their faces, and down on their knees, and down in their souls, humbled and bowed in repentance and looking unto God, and the Lord spared the city.
It never varies. It never varies because God never changes [James 1:17]. And in my day and in my time, in my lifetime, the oppression and the sordidness that lay in the government of the czar in Russia was indescribable. These who lived in luxury, in affluence, and these millions and millions and millions who lived in abasement and in poverty; and the church, and the church with its priests, like Rasputin, did no other thing than lend itself as a pawn in the hands of the czar to oppress God’s people, and to keep them in abysmal ignorance and poverty. Even Stalin was trained for the priesthood of the church in the seminary. And there came upon that nation, in blasphemy and in blood and in terror, one of the most horrible revolutions that has ever been recorded on the pages of mankind! And the repercussion of that atheism and that blasphemy is a curse and a threat to this world to this present moment and this present hour. That violence between a Stalin and a Trotsky—why, some of you children ought to remember when Trotsky was murdered in Mexico City with a pickaxe stuck in into his skull and into his brain—oh, the violence, indescribable, the violence of those revolutions!
And in those dark and somber days, America was called by the great Judge of the earth into that valley of decision [Joel 3:14]; enemies to the west of us, enemies to the east of us, enemies before us, enemies behind us. I don’t do any other thing but tell you an honest judgment. When America was called into that conflict, it seemed to me there was no other outcome but an overwhelming and disastrous defeat for us and for little tiny England up there, a little island, bastion, surrounded and held in the iron hand of a world dictator. It looked to me as though it must end in disaster for us, for us. France was gone; Italy, gone; seemed to me Russia was gone; our enemies on the other side of the sea declaring war against us with a great maritime power and our battle fleets on the floor of the Pacific ocean!
In those days, in those days, I was the pastor of a church in Oklahoma. And the word was broadcast in America: when D-day comes, when our men storm the bastion of continental Europe, whenever that hour is, whenever that hour is, all America is to turn their faces to God in intercession, and in prayer, and in appeal for heaven’s help and God’s remembrance. The word came to our little city about two o’clock in the morning. I dressed; I went down to the church immediately. Before I arrived, I began to see the cars by the blocks and the blocks lined up all around it, and even though I had hastily dressed, by the time I entered the building it was filled to capacity; down on their knees, down on their faces, pleading with God to bless the men of America who were fighting with their lives for the destiny of our people.
We could have lost. There never was a military machine ever devised like the one against which we were hurling our flesh and our blood. The issues are not in the hands of the biggest battalion; the issues lie in the hands of Almighty God. And whether America lives or dies, whether we exist as a nation or are destroyed from the face of the earth lies in the great and ultimate decision of Almighty God. And when the Lord looks down from heaven, and He sees and searches the hearts and souls of our people, God will not devote to destruction that nation sending out missionaries, singing the songs of Zion, down on their knees praying, faces turned toward heaven.
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand, thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train.
[“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” Charles Wesley, 1758]
O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
[“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, Charles Wesley]
This is the destiny of our nation: revival or revolution. And when God’s humblest saints pour their lives into that spiritual appeal, they are doing more for the life of our children, and our children’s children, the hope of our people, than all of the navies and air forces and hydrogen bombs that can be assembled by the scientific might and the industrial genius of the nation.
Far-called our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our strength and pomp and glory of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget.
[adapted from “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
Let us pray. O, blessed Lord, we are not oblivious of these lessons writ so large on the pages of history. These chapters in these books of history are nothing but the outworking of God’s judgments to the spiritual mind that can understand it and to the spiritual eye that can see it. O, Lord, for a calling back to God, our people cannot survive in drunkenness and debauchery, in blasphemy and desecration. If we live, we live in Thee. “See,” said the great lawgiver,” I have set before thee this day life and death, cursing and blessing. O, that there were such an heart in them, that they might choose life, that I might bless them . . . and that they might inherit the land which I sware unto their fathers” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20]. Grant it, Lord, even to us, heaven’s blessing and favor in our day and time, to our children, our families, our people. Humbly we ask, in Thy dear name, amen.
While we sing our appeal, somebody you, to give your heart in turning to Christ today, stand by me, come down here, stand by me. A family you, put your life in the fellowship of the church today, stand by me. If God for any reason would put it in your heart to come, stand by me, right down here, before men and angels, “Pastor, here’s my hand, here’s my hand. I’ve given my heart to God [Romans 10:9-10].” Or, “Preacher, we’re putting our lives with you in the fellowship of this great congregation.” Or if you’d just like to come, “Pastor, I’d just like to kneel, and let’s have a prayer together. I’d like to give my life anew to the Lord.” As the Spirit of Jesus shall make the invitation to your heart, come, while we stand and sing.
Revival or Revolution Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Fate of a nation ultimately lies in sovereign choice of God
1. French Revolution
2. Revival in England- Wesley, Whitefield
II. Judgment of God-warnings
1. Sodom and Gomorrah, Ninevah
2. Israel, Judah
3. Jesus and Jerusalem, John Chrysostom and Antioch
4. Communism, United States
III. Meaning of Revival in the past and today