The Flame of Revival
March 31st, 1963 @ 8:15 AM
THE FLAME OF REVIVAL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-31-63 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Flame of Revival, which is an introductory sermon to these days of soul-winning appeal. Our formal and protracted series of services begin this coming Wednesday and will continue through Friday of this week, then our all day prayer meeting Saturday. Then beginning Sunday, each day and each night through next week, the services will be in progress here at the church at seven-thirty o’clock in the evening, and of course, beginning next week at noonday at the Palace Theater; closing in the great tremendous climactic Easter Sunday night service in the Memorial Auditorium that will hold eleven thousand people. If I could give another title to the sermon this morning, it would be, The Three Characteristics of Pentecostal Revival. They are prayer, they are the power of God, and they are the consecrated personality of the witness of the preacher, of the people who testify to the grace and glory of our Lord.
In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, "And when they were come in, they went into an upper room, where abode Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, and Philip, and the rest of the named disciples. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication" [Acts 1:13-14]. Then the second, the power of God:
And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven the sound as of a rushing mighty wind . . . parting tongues of fire. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance . . . And those who were present were all amazed, and marveled, saying, Behold, how hear we every man in his own tongue, wherein we were born? Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and Mesopotamians, and Judeans, and Cappadocians, and Asians, and Pontians, and Phrygians, and Pamphylians, and Egyptians, and Libyans, and Cyrenians, and Romans, and Jews, and proselytes, and Cretians, and Arabians, all in his own tongue, the message of the wonderful works of God. And they were amazed and said, What meaneth this? [Acts 2:1-14]
. . . Then Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said. . .
When he was through with his sermon [Acts 2:15-36], they were pricked, they were cut in their hearts, and they said to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? And Peter said, Turn, repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Christ because of the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you, and to them that are far off, and as many as the Lord our God shall call. And then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there was added unto them about three thousand souls [Acts 2:37-41].
This is the flame of revival. There is one part of it in which we have an assignment, and that is the assignment of intercession and of prayer [Acts 1:13-14]. A revival that is prayed down from heaven is a revival that comes to a people who intercede and who ask of God.
There is a sense in which Christian people frame the destiny of the world. And there is a very real sense in which the life of the nation depends upon God’s Christian people. The great revival of 1740, called the Great Awakening, led by Jonathan Edwards and led by George Whitefield, so fused the colonies into one great spiritual unit that they found strength for the fearful and tragic days that lay ahead. The next forty years beyond the Great Awakening were trying beyond compare in the lives of the early colonists. There were the fierce Indian Wars. There was terrible political turmoil, and there was the Revolutionary War for Independence. But as the people faced that tragic hour, they were prepared for it by the Great Awakening of 1740 and the years that followed. When the revolution came to France, it resulted in anarchy and in a drift toward atheism. But when the revolution came to the United States of America, we emerged from it a great Christian people.
That same thing happened to America in the great revival of 1857 and 1858. In the Fulton Street Church of New York City, there was a lay missionary hired, named J. C. Lanphier, who was employed by the church to visit among the people in downtown New York City, and to invite them to the house of God, and to distribute tracts. All the other churches had moved out, but the Fulton Street Church remained. In his discouragement working among the people in that vast city, J. C. Lanphier found courage in prayer. And it occurred to him that others might also find encouragement in prayer. So on the twenty-third day of September, in 1857, he announced a noonday prayer meeting in the Fulton Street Church; and it was to last for one hour. People could come and go as they wanted, and wished, and must, as we do at the Palace Theater services.
When the day came for the announced prayer meeting, he was the only one there; and he prayed by himself. After a half an hour, another somebody came in, and another, until finally there were six. The next week there were twenty-one. The next week there were forty. At the end of the third week, they decided to have it every day. So in the Fulton Street Church in New York City, every day at twelve o’clock, lasting an hour, they had a noonday prayer service for all who wished to seek the face of God. It spread like wildfire. The church was crowded to capacity. The other churches in New York City were crowded to capacity.
The great prayer meeting spread throughout New England and down toward the south, and finally toward the west. In the tremendous revival meeting of Charles G. Finney in Boston, a visitor arose and he said, "I have just made the journey from Omaha, Nebraska, to Boston." And he said, "I have found a prayer meeting two thousand miles long." Nobody led it; it was a great movement of lay men and women. And it resulted in one of the great spiritual awakenings of America. And it was that spiritual strength that guided our nation through the dark days of the Civil War.
In 1863, the darkest hour of the war came for the Union. And the United States Senate unanimously voted a resolution, petitioning the president to designate a national day of prayer and humiliation. President Lincoln responded promptly with the following proclamation, and I quote from the president’s proclamation: "Now therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do by this proclamation designate and set apart Thursday, the thirtieth day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting, and prayer." And that proclamation was faithfully observed by God’s people in the North. It was a result of the great preparation for those dark days by the prayer meeting and the great revival of 1857 and 1858.
That same revival guided in the darkest days of the Confederate and defeated states. Encouraged by the mighty Christian leaders, Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, there was a revival that spread throughout the armies of the Confederacy, as has never been witnessed before. More than one-third of the men of the Confederate armies were devout and praying intercessors before God. And the Richmond Advocate wrote, and I quote from the Richmond Advocate, in that same year of 1863:
Not for years has such a revival prevailed in the Confederate states. Its progress in the army is a spectacle of moral sublimity over which men and angels can rejoice. Such camp meetings were never seen before in America. The bivouac of the soldier never witnessed such sights of glory and days of splendor.
And in that revival that guided our men in the Confederate armies, they found strength for the desolations that followed after their defeat in the contest of battle.
There is no strength that can come to a people or a nation like the strength of a renewed faith and a new commitment and a new dedication to God. There is no blessing of power that can fall upon a people like a revival; looking to heaven for strength, and for encouragement, and for comfort, and for help in the hour of need. I need not describe for you the fearful and dreadful days that lie ahead; the indescribable ordeal that America faces. Our enemies are over-spanning this world. More and more and more our nation is fighting with its back to the wall; surrounded on every side by these who hate and sow the seeds of bitterness against our American people.
I need not describe for you the awful enemies that ravage on the inside. Our people are losing that individual initiative that made our people great. We are more and more turning, by the thousands, by the millions, to lives of crime, drunkenness, debauchery, alcoholism, juvenile delinquency. It is the verdict unanimous of history that, when a nation forsakes God judgment, and destruction are soon to follow. No mightier thing could a people do in this hour of dread and foreboding and vast illimitable national need than to cry unto God.
Did you notice, did you notice in the passage of Scripture I had you read, did you notice how Daniel identified himself with his people? Daniel was one of God’s holiest men. Daniel was a prophet in whom the Spirit of God mightily, wonderfully, beautifully moved from the days of his boyhood. But Daniel identified himself with his people. And when he confessed his sins, he confessed the sins of the nation as they were his very own [Daniel 9:3-19].
Nehemiah, God’s great layman, did the same thing. He identified himself with his people, and he confessed the sins of the people as though they were his very own [Nehemiah 9:32-38]. We have a like responsibility unto God. We are not to separate ourselves from our republic, from our nation, and from our people, as though we looked upon them, and them as being vile and reprobate and sinful, while we are separate and apart. No, the fate of a nation, the fate of America, is our fate! The fate of our republic is the fate of our children! What happens to America happens to us! What happens to our people happens to us! What happens to our nation happens to us! We cannot separate ourselves from our people! And when we struggle, when we intercede, when we pray, and when we plead, when we work, and when we cry for our people and our nation, we are crying, and praying, and pleading, and praying for ourselves, for our homes, for our families, for our children. We’re all bound up together in this great appeal to God that the Lord will deliver our nation and bless our people.
Revival; revival is God’s answer to a people who open their hearts to heaven, who seek the wisdom of God, who look in faith and expectancy to the great and mighty Deliverer from above. You know it’s a paradoxical thing; it’s an amazing and a strange thing that a church that is prepared for revival, revival is in it already, and a nation that looks to God in prayer is revived already. It’s an amazing thing, that when we set our hearts to the will and purposes of God, the Lord is blessing us already. The showers, the downpour of the blessings of the presence of God are already upon us. Spurgeon, for example, sometimes would come to his church, and he would say, "Marvelous blessings, marvelous blessings are in store for us today, for I see heavenly dew fallen all around." What he meant was that the spirit of intercession and of prayer was felt on every side, and he knew God would do some mighty work that day. No wonder God blessed Spurgeon. Twice a week, every week for years, there were more than four thousand who met for hours in prayer in the great Baptist church in London. Every time Spurgeon stood up to speak; there would be more than five hundred people in another room gathered to pray for the message of the preacher.
In this great revival in the Hebrides islands, out from the shores of Scotland, in 1959, for months burdened men and women prayed all night long in agony for the lost. In one of these villages in New England, where nobody had been saved for years, and no accession has been made to the church for years, there was a band of men who gathered together in prayer, and they would single out the most ungodly, unlikely citizen in the community and pray for him; and the man was wondrously brought to Jesus. Then they’d pray for another one. And within a year, they had prayed into the kingdom of God more than two hundred of the men in that village and in that community. Isn’t it a strange, paradoxical thing? When people give themselves to intercession, the revival is already come. These are the instruments of the power of God in preserving and in keeping and in saving a people. This is the flame of revival. "And they all continued with one accord, in prayer and supplication" [Acts 1:14].
Now I speak of the second part of this Pentecostal visitation: the power of God. The sixty-second Psalm says, "Power belongeth unto God" [Psalm 62:11]. However we may plan and prepare, except the Spirit of God breathe into these appeals and methods, they are so much inanimate, impersonal machinery. One of the startling, surprising things about these Christian men, eleven of them in number, a hundred twenty altogether [Acts 1:12-15], they faced the vast assignment of the conversion of the whole Roman world [Acts 1:8]. They had no armies, no navies, no prestige, no influence; they had nothing except the promised power and presence of the Holy Spirit of God [Acts 1:8]. And that’s the second part of the flame of revival: the power and the presence of God among us. At a staff meeting in our church, I said to the group, "You know, time after time after time, and year after year after year, I see, I share in, I witness all of these protracted series of services and all of the ingenious methods by which these departments of evangelism and our preachers seek to get people into the house of the Lord and get them converted. But, oh! I would love to see, I would love to see a meeting, a revival, not a product of the ingenious methods, however smart and shrewd of our own human thinking, and arrangement, and planning, I’d love to see a revival where God came down in glory and in majesty and in wonder, and so filled our souls that our hearts would nearly break because of the overwhelming glory: the power and the presence of God.
I have copied this from John Wesley’s journal: "Monday, January 1, 1739. Misters Hall, Kinchin, Ingham, Whitefield," that is George Whitefield, "Hutchins, and my brother Charles," the great hymn writer:
Were present at our love feast in Hetter’s Lane, with about sixty of our brethren. About three o’clock in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground. As soon as we recovered a little from the awe and amazement at the presence of the Majesty, we broke out with one voice, ‘We praise Thee O God; we acknowledge Thee our Lord.’
When Robert Murray M’Cheyne, having visited the Holy Land for six months, came back to his pastorate at Dundee in Scotland, he discovered a great revival going on under the ministry of a young twenty-two year old man by the name of William C. Burns. Sometimes the congregation would remain in prayer until four o’clock in the morning. And when word came to the Aberdeen presbytery of what was happening in the church at Dundee, there was violent condemnation, and the pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, was called before the presbytery to give an explanation of what was happening over there in the church at Dundee. Now I copy from a part of his defense: he said,
Ever since my return, I have frequently seen the preaching of the Word attended with so much power, and eternal things brought so near, that the feelings of the people could not be restrained. I have observed at such times an awful and breathless stillness pervading the assembly, each hearer bent forward in the posture of rapt attention. Sincere men covered their faces to pray, that the arrows of the King of Zion might be sent home with power to the hearts of sinners.
Dr. Jewett said of the incomparable soulwinner, Dwight L. Moody – I quote from Jewett:
Moody’s excellency was in an earthen vessel. And many doctors of divinity have wondered at the strange association. This unlettered, unlearned man, speaking in such mighty power and with such illimitable heavenly effect –
I continue the quotation –
There were thousands of speakers more eloquent than Moody; but the treasure was not in those eloquent speakers in overwhelming glory. Moody may have been uneducated, untutored, and unskilled in public speaking; but when he spoke, but when he spoke, the power of an unseen world seemed to fall upon the audience.
The indescribable presence of the living Lord, the power of God; there is no human heart and there is no congregation but senses that difference, when a man is speaking in the flesh and when he’s preaching in the power of the Spirit, when the services are routine and regular and expected or when they are filled with the moving of the Holy Spirit of God. And we are pleading for the presence, for the enduement, for the visitation, for the Pentecostal blessing from above. What a difference! What a difference.
An observer, listening to George Whitefield as he spoke at Kingswood to over twenty thousand miners who had poured out of the pits, their faces black and unwashed from the soot and dust of the coal mines, an observer said: "There were two things I could never forget. One, I can never forget the rapped stillness, the hushed awe of that twenty thousand assembled mining group as they listened to the preacher preach. And the second thing, I could never forget the furrows on their faces, the white streaks on their faces, washed by the tears that rolled down their cheeks. Ah, the descriptions of the marvelous reactions of a people visited by the power of God!
In the revival of 1905 and 6, in the country of Wales, under Evan Roberts, by the thousands they would march through the villages and through the towns in Wales, singing the songs of God to the top of their voices. And that same thing happened in 1959, in the great revival in Ulster, in Northern Ireland. Everywhere people were singing in glory and in gladness this song:
Where’er we meet, You always say
What’s the news? What’s the news?
Pray what’s the order of the day?
What’s the news? What’s the news?
Oh, I’ve got good news to tell
My Savior has done all things well.
And triumphed over death and hell.
That’s the news! That’s the news!
The Lamb was slain on Calvary
That’s the news! That’s the news!
To set a world of sinners free.
That’s the news! That’s the news!
‘Twas there His precious blood was shed.
‘Twas there He bowed His sacred head.
But now He’s risen from the dead.
That’s the news! That’s the news!
His work’s reviving all around.
That’s the news! That’s the news!
And many have salvation found.
That’s the news! That’s the news!.
And since their souls have caught the flame
They shout Hosannas to His name.
And all around they spread His fame.
That’s the news! That’s the news!
[traditional revival hymn]
I have to quit, and I’ve just come to my third: in the flame and power of Pentecost, a dedicated witness. First, the praying of the people [Acts 1:13-14]; second, the power of the visitation of God [Acts 2:1-41]; and now, the dedicated witness. Isn’t it a strange thing, this man Simon Peter, cowered before a little girl who asked him, "Aren’t you a Christian? Haven’t I seen you with Him? You talk like Him." And Simon Peter cursed and swore, "I never heard of Him until tonight. I never saw Him in my life. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I don’t know Him" [Matthew 26:69-75; Luke 22:54-60 ]. That was Simon Peter, but after Pentecost, bold and courageous, like a lion, God’s faithful witness. There are ten thousand times ten thousand places in which we have opportunity to say a good word for Jesus, but we don’t ever do it. We don’t ever do it. Worldliness, and compromise, and sin, and indifference have clogged our souls and stopped our witness.
O Lord, O Lord! For liberty, for freedom, for the faithful testifier and speaker for God; I don’t think God wants us to be fools, crazy; they weren’t. They weren’t. These were men who were mighty under heaven to turn a world right side up; or as they said it, "upside down." That’s our blessed ableness, if God’s in our souls. O Lord, as God shall give us opportunity, in the office, in the business, among the people we meet, as the Lord shall open a door for us, give us that holy unction, that heavenly assurance, that sweet dedication to the Lord to say a precious word God can bless for our Savior. And it will amaze you and it will surprise you how interested people are if somebody expresses a hope.
O Lord, bless my tongue, bless my hand, bless my feet. O Lord, bless my soul, as we offer unto Thee in these days of appeal, heart, soul, mind, hand, foot, tongue, to talk, to work, to greet, to invite, to witness for Thee. This is the flame of revival.
On the first note of this first stanza, somebody you to give his heart to the Lord, come into the fellowship of the church, a couple, a family, one, on the first note of this first stanza, would you come and stand by me? As God should open the door and should say the word, "Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to God." Or, "We’re putting our lives with you in this blessed church today." Would you make it now? Would you make it now? On the first note of that first stanza, would you come today, this morning, while we stand and while we sing.