Revival or Revolution
April 21st, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
REVIVAL OR REVOLUTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-21-68 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Revival or Revolution. Nor could I think of a more appropriate message at this time and significant hour in which the life of our people is cast. Revival or Revolution; the reading is in the thirtieth chapter of the Book Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy chapter 30, beginning at verse 11; Deuteronomy chapter 30, verse 11:
For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off.
It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it? Neither is it beyond the sea, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?
But the word is very nigh thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;
In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;
I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall utterly perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.
I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that 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 . . . to give them.
Now the text, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, 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” [Deuteronomy 30:19-20]. When we speak of faith and religion and God, we are handling the very life of our people, our children, the destiny of our nation, for whether we live or die lies in the imponderables of God.
The fate of a nation lies in the sovereign choice of the Almighty. To us there are many historical contingencies; there are military problems, there are economic solutions, there are political drifts and decisions—but the ultimate answer in the fate and the life of any nation is in the hands of Almighty God. And whether we live or whether we die lies in the imponderables of God. And the message this morning, most of it will be a pertinent and truthful illustration of that in the history that is so familiar to every school child; and I’m sure to all of us in this great auditorium and who are listening on radio this morning.
In 1789 to 1794 there occurred one of the bloodiest revolutions in human history. It is called the French Revolution. And under the godless Robespierre and others like him, France was literally bathed in blood. It was an atheistic and a godless revolution. They took a harlot, a prostitute, and placed her on the high altar of Notre Dame and said, “This is our freedom and our liberty.” The French Revolution was godless, full of murder and treachery and blood. It horrified the conscience of the civilized world. The same conditions that brought to pass the French Revolution; the tyranny of a kingly court, the oppression of the poor, heavy taxation, the flaunting of the cheap, ephemeral, effete, dilettante life of the well-to-do noble people finally became unbearable to those who were starving and who lived in squalor and poverty.
Those things that brought on the French Revolution were the same and identical factors in the life of the English nation. But at that time and in that exact day there arose out of Oxford University a movement, a revival, led by three men: Charles Wesley, John Wesley, and George Whitefield.
And Charles Wesley went up and down the land teaching the people to sing:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.”
[“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley, 1739]
And he taught the people to sing:
Jesus, Lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is nigh.
[“Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” Charles Wesley, 1740]
He taught the people to sing:
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,” John Cennick, 1752]
He taught the people to sing:
O for a thousand tongues to sing,
My great Redeemer’s praise.
The glory of my Lord and King
The triumphs of His grace.
[“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” Charles Wesley, 1739]
And God looked down from heaven; and could God Himself devote to the guillotine and to the sword and to revolution a people and a nation singing songs like that?
And up and down the land, though they were put outside by the church—isn’t that an unusual thing? No church in England would allow John Wesley or [George] Whitefield to preach in the pulpit, no church. I cannot understand the backslidden condition that can overwhelm God’s churches. So those preachers, John Wesley and George Whitefield, went out into the squares of the cities and the towns, and on the riverbanks and where the colliers were coming out of the coal pits. And in great open places, they gathered the people together and preached to them the gospel of the Son of God.
And instead of revolution, England experienced its greatest revival. Now I am preaching this morning that this is not an unusual or an unique or a strange phenomenon. This is the hand of God in all human history. Now look at it, look at it. We are going to compare cities and states through the centuries and the centuries, and you will find this pattern that I have described in the French Revolution and the English revival. You will find it throughout all human story.
We shall begin with Sodom and Gomorrah: the Lord sent His messengers down to Sodom to see if it was as vile and as wicked as had come up before the Lord in heaven [Genesis 18:20-22]. And those men whom God had sent, they were angels in human form [Genesis 19:1]. They were guests in the home of Lot [Genesis 19:2-3]. And the men of Sodom said, “Lot, we never saw such handsome men, nor have we ever looked upon such interesting men. Bring them out, bring them out that we may know them,” sodomy, “know them” [Genesis 19:4-5]. And Lot went out and said to the men of Sodom, “Take my daughters and do with them as you please, but do not bother these men” [Genesis 19:6-8].
And the men of Sodom said, “Who made thee a ruler over us?” And had it not been that the angels pulled Lot in, they would have destroyed Lot and have harmed the men: “sodomy” [Genesis 19:9-10]. And the Lord God looked down from heaven and said, “It is enough. It is enough!” And God, God—that sounds strange in the ears of these modern, effete theologians—God wiped Sodom off the face of the earth and buried it in the bottom of the Dead Sea [Genesis 19:24-29]. That’s God. I don’t care how people in this modern pusillanimous day say, “Oh, God could not be a God of wrath.” God is a God of judgment as well as a God of love. And it was God that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. God said, “It is enough. It is enough” [Genesis 19:24-25].
Now I want to contrast Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of Assyria, and there never were hordes as merciless and as cruel and as ruthless as the bitter and hasty Assyrian [Habakkuk 1:6]. They were the scourge of the human race, and God raised up a prophet by the name of Jonah and sent him against his will, and sent him against his will to preach to the Ninevites, the capital of ancient Assyria [Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-3]. And Jonah entered into the city and lifted up his voice and carried God’s message, saying, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4].
And the message came to the ears of the king, and the king stepped down from his throne, and he took off his clothes, and clothed himself with sackcloth. And he commanded the people of the empire to sit in ashes and in sackcloth, and for every man to turn from his evil ways. And he clothed the beasts of the field in sackcloth, “For,” said the king, “It may be that God will look upon us, and forgive us, and save us” [Jonah 3:6-9]. And this to me is one of the finest verses in the Bible, “And when God saw that Nineveh repented, God repented” [Jonah 3:10]. It shows you what repentance means. And when God saw that Nineveh turned God turned, and God spared the city and the empire [Jonah 3:10]. Revival or revolution? It’s always one or the other.
Now let’s follow it through: because of the sins of Israel, worshipping golden calves under Jeroboam [1 Kings 12:28-30], and because of the sins of their dynasties as Ahab and Jezebel, Amos came and brought God’s message to the people [Amos 3:13-15]. But they did not hearken nor did they hear [Amos 4:6-12], and in 722 BC the Assyrian army came and destroyed Israel forever; and destroyed Samaria and plowed it up into heaps [2 Kings 17:6-23].
In those days that Assyrian army came down to Judah [2 Kings 18:13]. And in Jerusalem, there stood up an eloquent preacher by the name of Isaiah, God’s prophet and court minister, and he delivered God’s message to the people [2 Kings 19:20-21]. And in those days, in the days of Isaiah, there was a godly king named Hezekiah [2 Kings 19:1-2]. And when the general of the army and the king of the Assyrians wrote to Hezekiah what he was proposing to do in the destruction of the land, and the nation, and the capital, and the people, Hezekiah took the letter and went up to the house of the Lord and laid it before God, and importuned God’s mercies in behalf of the people [2 Kings 19:14-19].
And God said to Isaiah, “Go tell the king I have heard his prayers and I have seen his tears” [2 Kings 20:5]. And that night, and that night God sent one of His angels—not two—one of His angels. And He passed over the army of Assyria. And when Sennacherib awakened the next morning, he found one hundred eight-five thousand of his troops, corpses [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36]. And God spared and delivered the city and the nation: revival or revolution.
We continue on. Jesus said to Jerusalem:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not!
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
And the Lord predicted the coming of the Roman legions and building their embankments against the city wall and destroying the holy city of Jerusalem [Luke 19:43-44]. And that came to pass in 70 AD, and Jerusalem was destroyed and the nation was destroyed.
Now in 390 AD John Chrysostom, God’s greatest expositor and the man, I suppose, with the greatest pulpit gifts of any preacher of all time—John Chrysostom is in the pulpit of the great Christian church at Antioch; a church John Chrysostom said had one hundred thousand members, a gigantic building where the people came and stood listening to the Word of God. Well, in 390 AD the city came under the wrath of the Roman Caesar, Emperor Theodosius; sedition and rebellion and treason and sacrilege; the city was torn by riot, riot.
It’s an amazing thing what happens to a great city when it is torn by riot! Antioch was torn by riot, and it developed into insurrection and revolution and sedition and sacrilege. And when it came to the ears of the emperor he prepared his army, and that meant the destruction of the city. But in those days, while the emperor was preparing his expedition to destroy Antioch, in those days John Chrysostom, like Savonarola of Florence a thousand years later, John Chrysostom stood up in that pulpit and called the people to repentance, and to commitment to God, and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and a great revival broke out in Antioch! A tremendous revival broke out in Antioch. And when the emperor came and the Roman legionnaires, what they found was not riot and insurrection and treason and sacrilege, but what they found was a whole city turning in revival faith to God. And the emperor never touched it, forgave them, and God spared the city; revival or revolution.
In my own day and in my own time I followed through, even though I was young as it developed, I followed through every step of the bloodbath of Russia, from 1917 to this present hour. Nor has any story ever been filled with such bloodshed, and such treachery, and such deception, and such godlessness as the modern history of Russia. The Russia of my day and my time; a Rasputin, using the church to oppress the people for espionage and for deception and for destruction, and the Stalinists and the Trotskyites warring against each other; Trotsky finally murdered with a pickax in old Mexico City, and Stalin, with his millions and millions and millions, sent to Siberia, devoted to death, betrayed, murdered. The modern story of Russia in war, in peace, alike has been one of godless revolution.
I can remember when the very life of this nation was threatened and in jeopardy. We were attacked from the west at Pearl Harbor and plunged into a war in the Pacific. And at the same time we were drawn into the war in this Nazi plunge in Europe, and we were attacked from both sides, and we were unprepared. We had no army. Most of our great warships had been destroyed and lay on the bottom of the sea. And the people were untrained in military warfare. We were unprepared.
I remember as typical, I remember the announcement came to all of the ministers of the land, “When our troops land in Europe on D-day we are asking all of the people to gather in their churches and pray, pray, pray. Whenever the time comes, day or night, pray.” And where I lived, where I was pastor, the word came about 2:00 o’clock in the morning that our troops were storming Hitler’s bastions on the continent of Europe. I got up, dressed, drove downtown to the church and to my amazement at 2:00 o’clock in the morning it was full, full, full. And the church for that size town was a very large church, built like this. The spirit of intercession and revival was among our people. We were looking to God, and God crowned America with victory, and gave into our hands the finest of all the opportunities for world leadership that the world has ever known.
Now what has happened to us? There is a decay in the heart of America that is unspeakable. It is in our pulpits. Men don’t believe the Bible who preach in God’s churches. The whole nation has lost its rapport with God. We are somebody else and something other. Something has happened to America. Look at us for just a moment, just a moment. We have come into this materialistic, secular idea that money will solve our problems. This is one thing that my much traveling around has done for me. I can compare, compare, compare.
There are millions and millions and millions and millions of people in this earth who live on less than two hundred and one hundred dollars a year. Their entire income is between one hundred to two hundred dollars a year. There are millions and millions and millions of people in this globe who live on less than two hundred and one hundred dollars a year. But in America we are rioting over poverty because if a man does not make three thousand, five hundred dollars a year, he is categorized as being poor, poor—as though our problem is poverty. There are no poverty-stricken in America, as we think of it and know it across the seas. This is the most affluent people and the most affluent nation in the earth, and yet we think our problem is poverty. Why, the poor in America are rich as kings compared to the poor of the rest of the earth.
Another thing about us, we are somehow persuaded that power, power is the solution to all of the specters of pride that might ever develop in the destiny of our land and our people. If we build great navies, and if we build great armies, and if we build great air forces, and if we find technological answers to how to destroy, why, we shall find self-preservation. What does God’s Book say? “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” What does God say? Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” [Psalm 127:1].
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget.
[from “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
The greatest armies and navies and air forces in the world cannot preserve our people if our hearts are dead, and if our souls are alienated and estranged from God. The strength of a people and of a nation lies in God; always in God. And if we cease to be a God-fearing and God-honoring people, we shall perish. “I have set before thee this day blessing and cursing, death and life: choose life that both thou and thy seed may live” [Deuteronomy 30:19].
I haven’t time to speak of one other thing that I wanted to mention. I will just say it and stop. And then we are persuaded in this cheap, veneer kind of a civilization in which we live in, that culture and education will solve all of our problems; culture and education. And if we train these people and teach these people and educate them, and on and on and on, we will bring in the millennium; that character is a matter of education, and all of these disciplines of life that bring us into the millennium; they are matters of education. My brother, the most cultured and educated of all the nations that ever lived were the Nazi Germans! And they were the most ruthless, and the most cruel, and the most merciless. In no way and in no avenue of political power, or military power, or financial power, or economic power, or educational advancement and achievement, are we going to find our salvation; it will never be. It will never be.
Our salvation lies in God! It is revival or revolution. And where shall we begin? Right here, right here, right here; we shall begin with us. This church, and you, and these people; and the Lord look down from heaven and intervene. “Come down, O God! Split that sky wide open and in glory, Lord, come down, come down. May the mountains themselves flow down at Thy presence,” that the world may see that God rules, that He is the Sovereign above all history, and in His hands are the decisions of life and death, time and eternity. May we pray?
Our Lord, I’m not alone in the burden I feel for our country and our America, for our cities and our people. To me, as to those who love Thy name and read Thy Book, the answer is so plain: the solution to our problems lies in God. There never has been a nation, there never has been a city that turned to God, but that God saw it. And God never devoted to the sword a city or a people calling upon Thy name. God intervenes. God does. And our Lord, we have set ourselves, this church—if another church will join us, if another people will join us, if no one joins us—we have set ourselves to seeking God’s face, importuning God’s intervention, God’s presence. O Lord, look down from heaven as Thy people pray, as we visit, as we call to repentance and faith, and may that sweeping outpouring that will save a nation, may it begin in us. And Lord, if there are those this morning who ought to give themselves to Thee, and put themselves with us in this common endeavor and determination and commitment, speak to their hearts and send them to us now, and we will thank Thee forever, in Jesus’ saving name, amen.
Now, while we sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, you, if you are to come, come and stand by me. “Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus” [Romans 10:9-10], or, “Today I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this dear church.” As God shall say the word and as the Spirit shall press the appeal, come. In the balcony round, the throng in that balcony, there is time and to spare, we’ll wait for you. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, preacher, and here I come.” Do it now. Make the decision now and when you stand up, stand up coming. God bless you and attend your way as you come. Now, may 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