Why Revival Tarries
March 17th, 1968 @ 8:15 AM
WHY REVIVAL TARRIES
Dr W. A. Criswell
2 Thessalonians 2:3
3-17-68 8:15 a.m.
For these Sundays past I have been preaching through the Book of Daniel, and after this period in which now we are entering, I shall go back to the Book of Daniel and continue preaching through it. It will be an extended series; it will be for a long time. But beginning this morning I am turning aside from the expositions of the words and revelations of that book and am turning to this season in which we are prostrating ourselves before God. We are beseeching heaven in intercessory prayer, and in every way that our church is capable of doing, we are preparing the way for an outpouring of the Spirit of Jesus. We are getting ready for revival, and to make a good ready, is revival itself.
The title of the sermon this morning is Why Revival Tarries. And on the radio, you who share this service of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and the message of the pastor this hour, think with us and pray with us as we open our hearts to the truth of God. In one of those strange coincidences that you find in the Bible, the first letters that Paul wrote and his last letters are here together. The New Testament was put together like this: the Gospels were first, introducing us to the life of our Lord. Then after the story of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts, they put together all of Paul’s letters, thirteen of them. Now, the arrangement was somewhat doctrinal—the great doctrinal epistles were placed first—and possibly also the length of the letters. Then the pastoral epistles were placed last.
Now that through at the last of the collection of Paul’s letters, the first letters that he wrote: 1 and  Thessalonians, and then 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus; all of those are right together. Now, when I open my Bible and read these last letters of Paul, and the first letters of the apostle, there is something in them that is common. I point that out because it is not something that Paul spoke of in his last letter, and did not mention it in his first letter. There is something in Paul’s revelation to us of the course of the Christian faith that was constant throughout his ministry, and that was this: that there would be an apostasia, an apostasy, in the churches of Christ.
Now in the second chapter of the second Thessalonian letter, in the third verse, he refers to the great apostasia, the apostasy. Literally the word means “a standing away, a falling away,” and in the second chapter of Thessalonians, it is translated that “There shall come a falling away.” And the Greek word is apostasia, an apostasy. “There shall come a falling away” [2 Thessalonians 2:3].
Now when I turn through the Holy Scriptures, 1 Timothy is the next book, and in the fourth chapter of 1 Timothy, Paul writes, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly,” pointedly, “that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” [1 Timothy 4:1]. There’s that same word, apostasy, except it’s in a verbal form here. They shall fall away from the faith; they shall depart from the faith [1 Timothy 4:1].
Now when I turn the pages and in 2 Timothy, the next book, in the first verse and following of the third chapter: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemous [2 Timothy 3:1-2]. Then the verse 5, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” [2 Timothy 3:5]. What a pointed, and thrusting, and piercing, and apt description: “having a form of godliness,” all of the accouterments, but without the power from God [2 Timothy 3:5].
Now the subject of the message against the background of what Paul has revealed to us, Why Revival Tarries; as most of you know, September a year ago, August and September a year ago, I made an extended journey through all the countries of northern Europe: England, Scotland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and then back through Austria and East and West Germany. And being a clergyman, a preacher, I was a thousandfold sensitive to and sought out the religious life of the people, visiting the churches, always going to the services. And I have not recovered yet from the chill that entered my very soul from what I saw. With no exception, all of it of a pattern, all of it alike.
One of the great cathedrals of the world, one of the most famous churches of all Christendom, in which one of God’s mightiest reformers led in the days of the Reformation and turned his whole nation God-ward and Christ-ward, I sought out that great cathedral and attended the services on Sunday. They use one little part of it. The great structure is a dust-catcher, and I had the feeling as I was there that it remain like a sepulcher, like a mausoleum, and the services that are held there are very definitely put apart—the physical arrangements and the use of the building are just a portion, and the rest of it is empty, a vacuity, a chilling thing to my soul.
Well, in another of those countries, I shared in our Baptist services, just a little handful of people in a great capital city. And in another one of them, the pastor of the First Baptist Church and the leading church is also a senator in his national parliament, a very distinguished and learned man. And he said to me that in his nation, our Baptist people had gone down numerically one half in the last few years. And in the capital city of another one of those nations, the First Baptist Church, in the midst of a teeming city, had one baptism last year, had one baptism last year. And as I asked about the people and their attendance at church, I was uniformly told that there are not more than two percent, there are not more than two percent of the people who attend church. And as I would talk to guides and interpreters and people that could understand my language, I would always have the same response when I would speak of Christ, or a church, or invite them to come and attend with us at a service, always the same sentence: “I am not interested.” And to try to them or witness to them, “I am not interested.”
Now in Russia, on a Sunday in Russia, you will find the people in the streets, milling by the thousands and the thousands and the thousands, just milling, walking up and down the streets, thousands and thousands of them, masses of them. Now our little Baptist witness in that vast country; our churches, almost without exception, our churches are—all of it, of course, is government-controlled and government-owned. You cannot own anything in a communist nation; the government owns everything, and they assign you what you shall have, where you shall live. They assign it to you, the government owns it, and they assign the congregation its place, and it will be behind a high wall in a most out-of-the-way place. And when I talk to some of those Intourist guides who would take us to church, always it was the same reply: “But look at these people; look at these people. They are so poor and they are so ignorant.”
The great mass of people in Russia have no interest in religion, like the rest of the world. The tragedy that breaks your heart in a communist nation is not that the churches are closed and padlocked, and just a little handful allowed to meet here, and if it ever grew beyond that handful the government would destroy it. The tragedy though is not that the government is militantly atheistic and seeks to destroy religion. The tragedy is this: that the people do not miss it; the people do not care! The great masses of people pass it by, were never introduced to it really to begin with, have no interest in it now, and do not miss the churches being closed and turned into railroad stations and granaries and monuments of atheism. “In the last days, there shall come perilous times” [2 Timothy 3:1]; there shall be a great apostasia, a falling away, an uncaring, and where there is liberty, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” [2 Timothy 3:5]. We live in that day.
Now may I speak of America, America? In my time and in my generation and in my day, I am looking upon that now, at this moment. I speak of the great milling masses on the streets of the cities in Russia on Sunday, thousands of them, thousands of them. The only difference between Russia and America is this: in Russia they have no automobile, and no boat, and no country place, and no lakeside cottage. The people are universally poor, so they mill in the streets. But in America, on Sunday in the great cities of our nation, people pour out of it by the thousands and the thousands and the thousands. Are they pouring into church? No. They are pouring into the countryside and by the lakes, and in their cottages, and in any way to make a Sunday a holiday, not a holy day! America in its pattern of life is becoming as materialistic and as secular as our atheistic, communistic enemies. We are growing that way. We are becoming increasingly like that. Religion in America is becoming less and less and less dynamic in the lives of our people and of our nation. And material things, and secular things, and amusement things, and entertaining things, the holiday things, are becoming increasingly paramount and dominant in American life. You can hear a psychologist discuss the future, you can hear a sociologist discuss the future, you can read the editorial, you can listen to the radio commentator: the weekend is always a reprieve from everything religious. There wouldn’t be one sentence in a thousand that would encourage people God-ward, Christ-ward; always it is a holiday, a holiday, a holiday. The values of American society have already become secular and material. Christ, and His church, and His message are increasingly diminutive.
This weekend, Friday and Saturday, the Medium Adult division of our Sunday school had a retreat at one of the motels between here and Fort Worth. And I went out and stayed with them in that retreat Friday and Saturday. And at the retreat was a professor from the seminary who preached here not long ago, Dr. Roy Fish. And in illustrating what was happening to our people, he said it was the same kind of a thing as happened in Germany. And he illustrated it. A young German youth felt the call of Christ to be a minister of the gospel. And he agonized before that call because it was in the days when Hitler was organizing the Youth Bann, and the call for those young people to goose-step after Hitler was everywhere paramount, appealing. Hitler won Germany because he captured the youth. Well, the young fellow finally decided to turn aside from Christ and to join the Youth Bann, and he went goose-stepping off with Hitler. And after the ruin of the Third Reich, someone was talking to him and asked him about his decision, “Why did you choose to follow Hitler and not to hear the voice of Christ in your heart?” And the German lad replied, “Sir, at that time it seemed to me that Hitler was so big, and Jesus the Christ was so small.” That attitude is pervading America. Materialism and materialistic values seem so dominant, and spiritual values seem so inconsequential; secularism and all of the rewards of pleasure and amusement and this life seem so large, from horizon to horizon, and the things of Christ seem so small. Why revival tarries.
Now let us look at ourselves. Let us look inside of our churches and inside of our hearts and inside of our testimony in this age of materialism and secularism. Now, I’m asked from one side of the nation to the other, as I will preach in a conference or a convention, I am asked, “Do you see any sign of revival?” and by the word “revival,” they mean a national turning to God. “Do you see any sign of it?” And without exception, I always answer in the same negative way: “I not only do not see any sign of revival, but I see everywhere multiplying signs of increasing disintegration and spiritual apostasy. I see it on every side and on every hand.” And if I had an hour or two, I would avow to you today and at this moment that that is the basic reason why the confusion and divisive disintegration of American national life. You think it’s in this man, or that man, or this personality, or this policy; it is not. It is because our people have forgotten God in the schools, in the colleges, in national places, in high places and in low. We have turned away from God. But to come back to us, no, I do not see anywhere any sign of that revival—but the opposite, the very diametrical opposite!
Last week there was placed in my hand a little brochure, a little booklet about like that, and it was full of cartoons. And it was entitled “Why No Revival?” and it was full of cartoons. I turned and looked at it. I never seen anything so pertinent and so a tragically descriptive of our modern life as I looked in that series of cartoons. The first one was this: “Our Modern Family Altar,” and the people in the house were gathered around an idiot tube, looking at a guy with guns on each side, plugging one another. That is the modern family altar; that was the first cartoon. The next cartoon was “A Modern Saint Wrestling In Prayer With The Powers Of Darkness,” and there he was with his “Now I lay me down to sleep…” Modern praying on the part of God’s saints, even if we bothered to do that, even if we do that. Then the other, another cartoon was in the church, and the preacher is preaching, and he’s thundering away, then back in the background are the titles of his subjects, all of them peripheral current events of the day, and then down in the corner the cartoonist had written what Paul said: “I determine not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” [1 Corinthians 2:2].
Those cartoons continue. One of them is a testimony service, and I thought, “How many times have I done that here and everywhere else I’ve ever been pastor?” I’ll stand up, and this cartoon was the preacher standing up, and saying, “Please, won’t somebody testify for Jesus? Won’t somebody stand up and say what God has done for you?” and nobody responds. Then in the cartoon he says, “We’ll now stand and have a benediction.” Why, if I were to do it this morning, I couldn’t get anyone to testify. And if I were to ask you to come up here and pray, there would be two or three of you to pray. One of the men in the church got very angry at me because I pressed that appeal to come and pray. I have given it up; I do not press it anymore. There is not the spirit of testimony or of intercession in us. We are spiritually dead, dead, dead! There is no sign of revival; there is none at all, none at all. Then another cartoon, we have a—nor do I think that I will be able to change it. Don’t think I’m talking to you as though next Sunday morning when this appeal is made for prayer, I’ll look for a great throng of you down. I do not look for it. I have given it up. There is an unmalleableness, there is a hardness of heart, there is an unresponsiveness in our souls that I cannot break. I have taken it to God; I have prayed; I have given it up. “Ephraim is joined to his idols; let him alone” [Hosea 4:17]. Let him alone. Don’t try. Don’t try. You will not respond, so I drop it. I leave it. I cannot do it, and I tell God about it, and I’ve left it in His hands.
Another of those cartoons: these people are gathering to make a request for prayer, and they’re praying for that one, and for that one, and for that one, and for this reason, for the other reason, but they don’t ever pray for themselves and confess their own need. So down in the corner, he used the modern translation, “Why try to get the speck of sawdust out of your neighbor’s eyes until first you get the log out of your own eye?” [Matthew 7:3]. Well, it didn’t end that way. The cartoons ended with two, and one was this: it was a cartoon of a church and the people were on their faces, and on their knees, and in sobs and tears confessing their sins, their sins! I am not to confess that man’s sins, brother. I’ve got plenty of them of my own to confess! I need to confess my sins. God be merciful to me. Then the last cartoon was—and I do not think I will see it—the last cartoon was a cartoon of national revival. The mother in the home was holding a newspaper, and the headline said, “The nation is swept by revival: millions are turning to Christ.” And the father is saying, “You know, there is God’s power everywhere. The churches are aflame, and delinquencies, and alcoholism, and crime have disappeared. And there is confidence in business and in government”—and the last sentence—“For God has healed our land.” All of the money appropriated in this world will not take out of the life of our people that dark black stream of crime and divisiveness. That comes from the purity of the presence and blessing of God.
Now, one great marvelous truth, and were it not for this truth, I would be so discouraged I don’t think I could continue, but there is something else to be said about revival according to the Word of God. It is this: until God takes out His holy presence, the Holy Spirit and His people, until what we call the “rapture”—that’s an old Anglo-Saxon word for the “taking away, the snatching away”—until the rapture, until the time of the end, until God’s people are taken out of this world [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17], the possibility of revival is always with us. Always!
Now listen to me carefully, listen to me carefully, for this pertains to us and is the message for us today; we, in this First Baptist Church in Dallas. I’m speaking now as long as the Holy Spirit is here, as long as God’s presence is here, there is a possibility of revival anywhere, any day, any hour. Now listen to me: when the church at Jerusalem was destroyed by legalistic Judaism, the Spirit of God was poured out in gracious power in Antioch and in Ephesus. And when the churches of Antioch and Ephesus lost their witness in formalism, the church at Malan became a flame for God! And when the churches in North Africa lost their first love, the churches of Gaul were turning the barbarians there and the pagans there to Jesus! And when the church in Rome became a cipher in God’s use and God’s kingdom, all Ireland was turning to the Lord. And when Mohammad—the avenging sword of the Lord against idolatry—destroyed all the churches in the Levant, in Asia Minor, in Palestine, and in northern Africa, at that very moment the scholars of Iona were pouring forth and evangelizing the Anglo-Saxons, our forefathers. And when France became dead in the darkness of superstition and Catholicism, the morning stars of the Reformation were beginning to rise in England! And when Italy became a field of dry stubble, at that time the fields of Moravia and Bohemia were whitening to the harvest! And when the Unitarian defection destroyed and emptied the churches of New England, at that time the pioneer preacher was pouring over the Alleghenies and evangelizing the great heartland of America, and in that great onward pressure I was converted as a boy in northwest Texas.
The possibility of revival is in any church, in any time, in any day, in any generation, and always in the world somewhere there is revival! Right now there are places in this earth where there is great searching of God, an outpouring of the Spirit of heaven, and that is my assurance for us. My fellow prayer partners and yoke ministers in this First Baptist Church in Dallas, however it is there beyond, and however there beyond, and however around us and beyond, we can have revival in this church and in this place. We can have it. God can open windows of heaven for us. God can do it mightily, and He will!
I’ve come now to the third and the last part of the sermon. I haven’t time to preach it. May I just point it out, may I just point it out? Lord—however there may be apostasy there, and falling away yonder, and denial, however we may live in a sea, in a veritable flood of materialism and secularism and indifference—Lord, we are opening our hearts, the doors of our church, our houses, homes, our souls to Thee. Lord, Lord, send us revival! We’re getting ready, Master; we’re getting ready. There are three things in it.
One: faithfulness, faithfulness; “It is required in God’s stewards, that a man be found faithful” [1 Corinthians 4:2], not that I be brilliant, or not that I be learned, or not that I be an academic theologian, or not that I have all of the answers, or not that I’m anything, just faithful. Why, I’ve said a thousand times as I preach over this country, there are fifteen thousand members in this church. There are fifteen thousand members in the church. If we were to have a meeting, and the people did nothing else but just to come, just to come, you’d have maybe three thousands jammed in this auditorium, and you’d have twelve thousand that couldn’t get in, standing out there on the outside. And if such a thing as that happened, if such a thing as that happened, you’d have the photographers of Life magazine, and Look magazine, and the Saturday Evening Post, and you’d have Time and all of the rest down here taking pictures, and publicizing it to the world: three thousand of us jammed on the inside, and twelve thousand of us out there on the outside, couldn’t get in—if we didn’t do anything but just come, just that much; but we have not that much dedication, nor are we proposing to have. I don’t look for it. I don’t look for it. You see, our souls are dead, we are not responsive. Faithfulness!
And faithfulness in our witness. I can’t convert anybody. That’s the Holy Spirit of God. Why, a mother and a father will bring to me a child and come over there to my study, and every, every week is that several times, and that little child will sit there before me; why, I never feel so unable and inadequate as I do before the least little child. How do you convert a soul? That’s God prerogative. We’re dependent upon God, we’re dependent upon God. I cannot convert, but I can witness, and I must and should. I can speak, I can invite, I can point, “There is the Lamb of God that saves the soul, that saves the home, that saves the life, that saves the nation, that saves us.” I can point to Him; faithfulness.
The second one is prayer, prayer, prayer, prayer. God made it in His infinite wisdom that He answers, but our people must ask. “Ask, and ye shall receive” [Matthew 7:7]. Well why didn’t God just do it anyway? I do not know. I’m not God. God just made it so, that we must pray. Jesus prayed. Jesus prayed, Jesus prayed, and God answered [John 11:41-44]. Why does revival tarry? Listen to the word of the prophet Isaiah:
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened—
that it cannot save; neither His, neither His heart and eyes and His ears heavy—
that He cannot hear: But your sins have separated between you and your God, and your iniquities have hid His face from you, have hid His face from you, that He will not hear.
There is a block between us and God because of our sins and our iniquities. These have hid God’s face from us, that He does not hear—why revival tarries.
Third: our consecration; what does that word “consecrate” mean? Oh, we say that means getting particularly, increasingly holy; sanctification, consecration. Oh, no! In John 17:19, Jesus says, “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, I consecrate Myself.” Well, did Jesus mean He was getting increasingly holy? Oh, no! “For their sakes I consecrate Myself, I sanctify Myself.” It’s the dedication of life for somebody else. Lord, I do this, I do this that somebody else might be blessed, and that somebody else may be in the circle of your home, may be in the circle of your family. It may be a business associate, it may be a neighbor, a friend, it may be a city, as our city in Dallas, “But for their sakes I sanctify myself, I consecrate myself, I devote myself, O God, to Thee, for them that they might be saved.”
I must close; the time has passed. But we’re on the way, dear people. We’re on the way. I’m on the way; we’re on the way. God is moving, God is speaking, God is saying, God is doing, and the Lord will answer from heaven. Now, blessed Jesus, honor this appeal to our souls this morning and give us a harvest. Do it now, blessed Lord; do it now. And you, to give your heart to Christ [Romans 10:9-10], to put your life in the fellowship of this church, a couple you, or a family you, or one somebody you, while we sing this hymn of appeal, come and stand by me. “Here I am, pastor. Here I come. I make it now.” Do it. On the first note of this first stanza, come and give the pastor your hand, and we’ll pray together and give our lives to God together. Do it now. Make it now. On the first note of this first stanza, come. Decide now, and when you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it, while we stand and sing.
Thessalonians 2:3, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:1-5
I. The apostasy
journey through northern Europe – the chill in my own soul
cathedral in which one of the great reformers turned his nation God-ward is now
an empty shell with small group of people meeting in one little spot
Norway service – handful of people expecting nothing from God
Sweden – pastor of the First Baptist Church also a senator said there are half
as many Baptists as ten years ago
Asking about state churches I found out there is not two percent of people who
attend church at all – “I am not interested”
Helsinki – one baptism the year before
Russia – thousands milling the streets on Sunday
One little Baptist church open in a city, but behind a wall, fence
Our guide’s reply to me about religion – “They are so poor and ignorantâ€¦”
Tragedy of religion in the communist state is that they do not care the church
is padlocked, nor do they miss it
of American life – Sunday a holiday, not a holy day
Adult Division retreat – Dr. Roy Fish spoke of a German youth called to the
ministry, but cast his life and lot with Hitler
“It seemed Hitler was so big, and Jesus was so smallâ€¦”
American life – materialism, secularism are so big they cover the horizon, and
Christ seems so small
II. Is there revival in the foreseeable
– only signs of an increasing apostasia, a falling away
of cartoons, “Why No Revival?”
“The Modern Family Altar” – TV
Modern Saint Wrestles in Prayer” – man saying, “Now I lay me down to sleepâ€¦”
“The Brilliant and Scintillating Testimonies of God’s Children for the Goodness
of the Grace of God” – preacher before the people saying, “Won’t somebody
a. Our prayer rail – we
have no depth of commitment
“The Prayer Meeting” – everyone else needs prayer but me(Matthew 7:3)
“Broken Christians” – on their knees, faces, weeping before the Lord(Luke 18:13)
Sweeps the Nation as Millions Turn to Christ” – father saying, “God has healed
There will be no turning in America until God does it
III. Revival is always possible
has never been a time when there was not revival in the earth
– Antioch, Ephesus
Antioch – Milan
North Africa – Gaul
Rome – Ireland
The Levant, Palestine, North Africa – scholars of Iona, Anglo-Saxons
Italy – Bohemia, Moravia
France – Reformation in England
New England – pioneer preacher crossing the Alleghenies
However it is elsewhere, here we can have revival
IV. How we can have revival
Our faithfulness and dedication in coming and in witnessing
praying – we must ask if we are to receive (Isaiah