Revival or Revolution
April 21st, 1968 @ 10:50 AM
REVIVAL OR REVOLUTION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-21-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, on KIXL, and on television, on Channel 11, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Revival or Revolution; one or the other, revival or revolution.
The reading of the text is in the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy. If I had time we would read most of that chapter; every syllable and sentence, every word and paragraph is pertinent to our day, our generation. I read my text, verses 19 and 20:
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, 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…
“See, I have set before thee life and death . . . therefore choose life, that thou and thy seed may live” [Deuteronomy 30:19]. It is no strange or unusual departure from the Word of God to avow that in religion we handle the very lives of the people, the nation, our families, and our children. The destiny of a nation lies in the imponderables of Almighty God. Whether we live, whether we die lies in His sovereign judgments. I could not think of a more poignant or apropos or emphatic illustration of that than an incident every schoolboy has studied in world history. In 1789 to 1794, there occurred what up until that time was the most bloody revolution the world had ever seen: the French Revolution.
The godless and atheist Robespierre and men like him plunged the nation into a bloodbath. They took a harlot, a prostitute, and placed her on the high altar in Notre Dame and said, “This is our god and this is our freedom,” and they brought to the guillotine in murder and in blood the finest flower of the French nation. It was one of the most horrible spectacles the world ever saw.
At that time and in that same century and in that same generation, the same problems and social pressures that brought to pass the revolution in France also obtained in England: the oppression of the poor, the effete and ephemeral and gaudy life of a kingly court, and the spirit of rebellion on the part of an oppressed people. The same economic and social pressures that brought to pass the revolution in France also obtained in the life of England.
But in that generation and in that century in England, there came out of Oxford a man by the name of Charles Wesley, and he taught England to sing,
Hark, the herald angels sing!
Glory to our newborn King.
Peace on earth and mercy mild.
God and sinners reconciled.
[“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley]
And Charles Wesley taught England 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]
Charles Wesley taught England to sing,
Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Christ for favored sinners slain.
Thousand thousand saints attending
swell the triumphs of His train.
[“Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” Charles Wesley]
Charles Wesley taught England to sing,
O, for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glory of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace.
[“O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing,” Charles Wesley]
And God looked down from heaven and saw England singing the songs of Zion.
And there came out of Oxford John Wesley and George Whitefield. The churches were closed to them; the indifference and the hardening of heart and the disillusion and dissipation of the faith in the pulpits of the churches is inexplicable and unimaginable to me. It is always been. It is today. It was then. And John Wesley and George Whitefield, denied a pulpit, went out into the squares of the cities, on the riverbank, wherever people would congregate together, and there preached to them the gospel of the great Son of God.
And England experienced in that eighteenth century one of the greatest revivals of all time, and England was spared the horrors and the bloodshed of a terrible French Revolution. Revival or revolution: and I am avowing that that sovereign grace and choice of God is found in all national life as in all history. For these few moments we shall follow it this morning. We shall compare city with city and nation with nation.
In the days of Sodom, God sent two of His angels that He might see if the sin of it and the iniquity of it was as it had come up before God’s throne of grace. And those two angelic figures, angels in the form of men, entered into the city of Sodom, and Lot the mayor sat in the gate, and he entertained them in his home. And the men of Sodom gathered around the door and said to Lot, “Those are handsome men. They are interesting men. They are attractive men. Bring them out to us that we may enjoy them” [Genesis 19:1-5].
And Lot said, “Oh, oh! not so. Here are my daughters. Take them, and violate them, and abuse them, and do as pleases thee with my daughters, but with these men, no, no!” And the men of Sodom said, “This man tells us what to do. Bring those men out, for they are attractive and appealing, that we may know them.” And the men pulled Lot back into the house, lest Lot himself be destroyed [Genesis 19:6-10]. And the Lord God looked down from heaven and said, “It is enough. It is enough!” And He wiped Sodom off the face of the earth and buried it in the depths of the Dead Sea: the judgments of Almighty God [Genesis 19:24-29].
We shall compare Nineveh. Nineveh was the capital of the most bitter and ruthless scourge that the world had ever seen. There have never been armies that were as merciless and cruel as the wing bulls of Asshur. And the Lord God looked down on the iniquity and the sin of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, and in His mercy—God always warns—and in His mercy God raised up Jonah against his will [Jonah 1:1-3], sent him to preach, and Jonah entered the city and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be destroyed” [Jonah 3:4].
The king heard the message and stepped down from his throne, and the king called his people to prayer and to repentance. He dressed himself and his city in sackcloth. They sat in ashes. They even dressed the beasts of the field in sackcloth, and the king said, “Let every man turn form his evil way, for it may be that God will spare us that we live” [Jonah 3:5-9]. Then occurs one of the most poignant, one of the most significant trusting sentences in the Word of God: “And when God saw that Nineveh repented, God repented” [Jonah 3:10]. When God saw that Nineveh turned, God turned, and He spared the city and the nation; revival or revolution. By the way, Jesus pointed back to revival in the days of Jonah as the greatest the world had ever seen, repenting at the preaching of Jonah [Matthew 12:41].
We shall now compare two nations: Israel, to whom God sent Amos [Amos 5:1-6:14]—and Israel stubbornly continued in their idolatry and in their iniquity and in their rebellion [2 Kings 17:5-18]. And in 722 BC the Assyrian army came and destroyed Israel’s kingdom forever and plowed up Samaria, the capital, into heaps [2 Kings 18:9-12]. And in that same day and in that same time, that conquering Assyrian horde came down into Judah and shut up Jerusalem like a vise [2 Kings 18:13]. And the king of Assyria, Sennacherib, sent a letter to Hezekiah, God’s king and God’s faithful servant, and said, “Deliver to me your people, and your women, and your children, and your nation, or thus and so; as I have done in destruction to the other nations who refused to bow before me, so I will do to you” [2 Kings 19:9-13].
Hezekiah took the letter and laid it before God in the house of the Lord [2 Kings 19:14]. And in those days there was a great, mighty, gifted court preacher by the name of Isaiah, and God said to Isaiah, “Go tell King Hezekiah I have seen his tears, and I have heard his prayers, and My hand shall guard and keep this city and this nation” [2 Kings 19:20-28]. And that night, and that night one angel of the Lord passed over the great armies of Assyria—one angel, not two; one angel—and when Sennacherib, the marshal, the chief of staff, the general, the king of the nation, when Sennacherib awoke the next morning, one hundred eighty-five thousand of his soldiers were corpses [2 Kings 19:35; Isaiah 37:36].
Revival or revolution; in the days of the Lord Jesus, repudiated by His own [John 1:11], and crucified in Jerusalem [Luke 23:26-46], the Lord said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how oft would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” [Luke 13:34-35]. And in 70 AD the Roman legions came as the Lord had prophesied, built embankments against the walls of the city, and destroyed Jerusalem and the nation [Matthew 24:2].
In 390 AD there was riot in Antioch. There was treason and sedition and sacrilege in Antioch, and word came of the rioting in Antioch to the ears of the emperor. And Theodosius prepared an army for the destruction and the chastisement and the punishment of Antioch. And in those days and at that time there was a mighty preacher, a pulpiteer of superlative gifts by the name of John Chrysostom, John the golden mouth. And John stood up in his pulpit. He said he had in his church one hundred thousand members, a vast edifice, and the people stood shoulder to shoulder listening to that flaming evangelist.
Like a Savonarola who lived a thousand years after him in Florence, so John Chrysostom called those rioting and seditious and sacrilegious people to repentance and to confession. And when the Roman Caesar with his legionnaires came to Antioch, what they found was a great revival. The people were singing God’s praises, the people were importuning the blessings and the presence of the Almighty, and Theodosius, their emperor, spared them and saved them. It is revival or revolution.
And in my own day and in my own time, I have lived through and I have been old enough to remember through some of the same unfolding of God’s sovereignty in human history. I can remember the socialist revolution in Russia in 1917, and I can remember the story written in human blood all through the years since; the civil war between Stalin and Trotsky, and the murder of Trotsky with a pickax in Mexico City. I can remember all of the millions and the millions and the millions that died under the inhuman hand of Soviet atheism.
And our nation in this same century and in this same generation also faced disastrous and threatening attacks. Soviet Russia is not the only nation that has faced terrible internal problems and pressures from the outside—only Russia faced their problems in atheism, without mercy, in cruel exile and murder, firing squads. Never before, in human history has there been so much bloodshed at the hands of a people’s own government as has been shed in Russia.
Our nation has lived in the same generation, and in the same century, and at the same time. And all of us who are old enough can remember the dark and trying days when we were attacked to the west and our navy was sunk to the bottom of the sea, and we were attacked in Europe. And when we assumed arms against so entrenched a foe, we had no army, we had no navy but the one at the bottom of the sea, and our people were unprepared. And I remember in those days that there were calls to prayer and calls to intercession and godly calls in the pulpits, in places of government, in Congress, in legislature. And the appeal was made that when the word was sent out that our American forces were storming the bastions of Hitler in continental Europe, when D-day came, the moment we heard, we were to find our ways to God’s house and pray for the armed might of America.
Word came to me, where I was pastor, at 2 o’clock in the morning. When I got up at 2 o’clock in the morning and went down to the church, to my surprise, the church was filled. For the size of the city, the church would be very much larger than this. Had a balcony all the way around like this, and at 2 o’clock in the morning when I went down to pray, the church was filled. And the Lord God that judges the nations of the earth looked down; looked down and gave into the hands of America the greatest military victory the world has ever known.
The reason Russia was triumphant was because of the uncounted billions of dollars of military equipment we placed in their hands. It was an American victory. It was a gift from heaven. And God bestowed upon our people a place of influence and power and glory as the world had never seen! And since the crowning glory of God’s blessings and benedictions upon our nation, since that day of triumph, something has happened to the soul of America.
Something has happened to our nation and to our people. I don’t recognize it. Large sections of its young people are strange to me, and the preachments from the pulpits of America, I cannot believe: men mocking God’s words, men avowing that God is dead. And there is a tidal wave of materialism and secularism that is engulfing America that is indescribable were it not so tragic. So sad; America is losing its soul. And some of the strangest persuasions of our people—where do you find a voice in responsible quarters calling our nation back to God, pleading for a return to the Lord, expectantly waiting for a great revival? Where? Instead, we have persuaded ourselves with those cheap propositions we can solve our problems. We will solve them with money: we will get our federal government to pour into the hands of the poor all of the money they need. So they have a poverty program.
One of the things that, thank God, I have been able to do in this much going around and much traveling is to compare peoples with our own nation. Did you know there are millions, and millions, and millions, and millions of people in this world who live on less than $100 and $200 a year? The whole increment from a man’s toil and labor will be less than $100 or $200 a year; millions of people! Yet in America a family is described as poor if they don’t have an income of at least $3500 a year.
And America sets itself, sets itself, through government agencies, to solve all of the problems of the so-called poor by monetary programs! Compared to the millions and the millions and the millions of the poor in this earth, the poorest in America live as kings and as rich men. Yet, because we face internal problems, we think, with the power of the government to tax, we can take and give to the poor and that will solve all of our problems.
I had so much to say. I will close. Do you see what I am driving at? Can you see what I am preaching? Power, governmental agencies, all of these approbatical programs, they don’t solve our problems. Whether we live or die lies in the sovereignty of God, and the same Lord God that judged France in the days of the French Revolution, and the same Lord God that judged Sodom in the days of the cities of the plain, and the same Lord God that judged Israel, and the same Lord God that judged Jerusalem, and the same Lord God that judged Nazi Germany and the Tojo of Japan, is the same Lord God who sits sovereign above the nations of the world today, and that includes America [Psalm 33:12].
The strength of a nation lies in the moral fiber of its people. And God judges a nation by their doing God’s will in the earth. And when we turn aside from the Almighty and when we are disobedient to the mandates of heaven, there is not anything that awaits us but insurrection, and riot, and internal decay, and final disastrous disintegration and defeat. It is everlastingly true: “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it; 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.
[“Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling]
Oh, that we might see in our day and in our time a great turning to God, a great outpouring of the Spirit of mercy and grace, that our eyes might see it, that we might experience it, that our children might be introduced to it. Lord, do it and begin here in this dear church. Begin here, Lord, with us. Revival, Lord, revival, a great turning to God, and let it start here, Lord, with us, with our families and with our children. Do it, Lord, do it.
We are going to sing our hymn of appeal, and a family you, to put your life with us in this dedication, would you come this morning and stand by me? A couple you or one somebody you, in the great throng of our people, in this balcony round, on this lower floor, as God shall say the word, as the Lord shall lead in the way, as the Spirit shall make the appeal, would you come and stand by me? “Here I am, pastor, this is my wife, these are our children. All of us are coming today,” or just you by yourself: “I have decided for Christ and here I am.” In the balcony round, there is time and to spare, if you are in that topmost seat, come. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, make it now. As God shall say the word and lead in the way, as the Spirit of Jesus shall make appeal to your heart, come this morning. Come now. Do it now. Decide now, and when we stand up in a moment, stand up coming. And may the angels attend you as you come. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.